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USGA relaxes U.S. Open exemption rule for U.S. Am winners

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No longer will the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur champions have to make the difficult decision of retaining amateur status to take advantage of the exemption into the U.S. Open.

The USGA announced today that, beginning in 2020, regardless of whether a player turns pro or remains an amateur s/he is still guaranteed a spot in the national open.

Previously, players were only entitled to the U.S. Open/U.S. Women’s Open spot if they maintained amateur status, leading to much handwringing over the decision to turn pro.

“We believe this change gives our champions an important option as they choose whether and when to embark on their professional careers,” said John Bodenhamer, USGA Senior Managing Director, Championships. “Given the significant purses awarded at the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, we realize how important it is for players to make the most appropriate decision for his or her career, and the positive impact it could have at the outset of their professional careers.”

We’ve seen different schools of thought regarding the “to turn pro or not to turn pro debate,” but what just befell Viktor Hovland is a perfect illustration of the complications created by the old rule.

Hovland, who won the 2018 U.S. Amateur, elected not to turn pro ahead of the 2019 U.S. Open and played (brilliantly) as an amateur, finishing tied for 12th and turning pro after the event. Fast forward to the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and Hovland isn’t among the 125. Had he been able to compete at Pebble as a pro, he’d have earned enough points to be playing The Northern Trust this week. Instead, he’s heading to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals to try to lock up his card.

The 119th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship is going on now at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point., Mississippi. The U.S. Amateur begins August 12 at Pinehurst.

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  1. Travisty

    Aug 6, 2019 at 8:43 am

    Finally a smart move by the USGA! Many of the kids who want to turn pro and capture a Tour card will now have more opportunity to do so before the US Open hits, instead of trying to make all that money in the back half of the season once they are officially allowed to turn Pro. This certainly would have helped out Hovland a little this year. This is a great decision by the USGA.

  2. tom

    Aug 5, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Good move … but decades too late.

  3. Johnny Newbern

    Aug 5, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    Such a good move. Well done.

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Tour Photo Galleries

Interesting photos from Tuesday at the RBC Heritage – Part 1: The putting green

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This week, the PGA Tour is decompressing in Hilton Head for the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, and GolfWRX was on-site Tuesday to spy a glimpse into the bags of some of the world’s top golfers. The field of 134 is getting ready to battle starting Thursday on the tight treeline Pete Dye designed course, for the $7.1 million purse with $1.28 million going to the winner.

Don’t forget you can check out all our image galleries in the GolfWRX Tour Equipment forum.

Armlock is building momentum on tour

We spotted both Henrik Norlander and, in a stunning twist, Kevin Kisner working with an armlock putter on the practice green at the RBC Heritage. Kisner is generally not one to switch, but it looks like based on the sideways grip, flat part aligned with the face, he’s taking a big cue from Bryson.

Fleetwood working with a new wand

Coming off a disappointing week at the Masters, it looks like Tommy is ready to try something new on the greens and by the looks of it, it’s shafted with an LA Golf graphite putter shaft.

So clean

Equipment free-agent Chris Kirk’s raw finished Odyssey prototype looks spectacular as its oilcan finish takes on a deeper patina.

It’s all about those drills

Practice is an important part of building consistency, and this drill sure does a lot for keeping everything locked in place.

On the level

There is no better way to work on hitting straight putts than making sure you are actually working on a level surface. This digital level proves that some of the best training devices can be found at your local hardware store.

That alignment is a ten out of ten

We spotted Callaway staffer Chase Seiffert working with an Odyssey Stroke Lab Ten with a very unique set of sightline dots—the more the merrier.

Scotty Cameron appreciation

Sometimes you just have to stop and enjoy the classics, and this “bullet soled” blade is a thing of beauty. The closest thing to this in the retail market is the Coronado released in 2010—maybe we’ll see an updated version in the future?

Chicago’s finest

Kentucky native John Augenstein must be a big fan of Chicago, not the band, but golf companies that originate in the land of the Cubbies and da Bears. Not only is he sponsored by Wilson Staff, but he also has this lovely Bettinardi DASS (double aged stainless steel) custom in the bag with a LAGP graphite shaft (Bryson sure is rubbing off on people).

From Chicago to Texas

Speaking of custom putters, we also spotted this Edel blade being used along with one of the most simple training devices you will probably ever see—who said putting had to be hard?

Don’t forget you can check out all our image galleries in the GolfWRX Tour Equipment forum.

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Hello, Hideki! Japan receives its second Augusta champion in eight days

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Hideki Matsuyama expressed great respect for the victory achieved last week by his countrywoman, Tsubasa Kajitani. Matsuyama understands well the bright-hot spotlight under which golfers from their country operate, and he has both benefitted from its warmth and felt its burn. Unlike Kajitani, Matsuyama entered the final round of this week’s Masters with a sizable lead, every reason to win and every opportunity to lose. Although he lost three of his four shots of advantage, Matsuyama held on to the one that mattered and became the first male major champion from Japan.

He did five things very well on Sunday, and we’re going to run them down for you in this summary of Masters Sunday, golf’s high holy day.

1. From Z to Z: In the beginning and the end, there was Zalatoris

By the time Hideki teed off, he had lost half of his lead. By the time he tapped in for bogey on the first green, he had given back one more shot. Young Will Zalatoris, Dallas native and former Wake Forest golfer, had started day four with a pair of birdies and had reached nine deep. Matsuyama addressed his ball on the second tee, knowing that momentum usually chose the chasers. He fearlessly ripped driver down the left-center of the fairway, giving him a look at the green in two. His approach was shy, in the sand, but his recovery was exquisite, and he converted the putt for a momentum-altering birdie. Zalatoris would play wise beyond his years, as he had all week, and would compel Matsuyama to make bogey at the last to preserve his margin of victory.

2. Make early birdies—and bounce back

Matsuyama followed his birdie at the second with a pair at eight and nine. He turned in 2 under par and opened up a needed gap as Zalatoris stabilized, and no others gave chase. Jon Rahm was making a move, and would ultimately shoot 66 to tie for fifth position. It wasn’t until he reached Golden Bell, the beguiling par-3 12th hole, that Matsuyama made another mistake. Fooled by the wind, he airmailed the green, landing in the rear bunker on the fly. He wisely played to the fringe, rather than risk a shot into Rae’s Creek. He took two putts for bogey but diverted the big number from his scorecard.

As he had done at the second, Matsuyama made a bounce-back birdie at the 13th. His drive was a bit right, and his approach went safely long and left. His surgical precision with a wedge brought his recovery pitch to a stop 18 inches from the hole. The birdie steadied his nerves, and he narrowly missed another birdie at the 14th. Although he would bogey three of his final four holes, double bogey or worse was never a possibility.

3. Hit greens and make putts—and avoid the sand

Over the course of four days, Hideki Matsuyama hit 13, 14, 12, and 11 greens in regulation. He saved his best putting for the weekend. averaging under 1.5 putts per green from Saturday morning to Sunday evening. When he missed a green, Matsuyama found a way to get the ball close for a saving putt, unless he found the sand. On the week, he was three of seven for sand saves. Granted, the miss at the 72nd hole wasn’t critical, but that still made him 50 percent. Given the size of Augusta National’s bunkers, and their placement, had he found more sand, Matsuyama might not be responsible for planning a dinner menu next April.

4. Ignore your playing partner (or, from X to X)

Did you think that Zalatoris was the only, late-alphabet challenger to Matsuyama? Playing partner Xander Schauffele made the day’s strongest run at the overnight leader. After moving from 7 under to 8 under at the second, the new X-Man imploded with bogey-bogey-double from the third to the fifth. As attention turned to other challengers, Schauffele regrouped and made birdies at seven and eight to re-enter the top 10.

As the back nine dawned for the final group, the Californian still wasn’t in the mix, until he chopped four more strokes off his score. Birdies at 12 through 15 brought him to 10-under par. Had he stayed there, he would have joined Matsuyama in a playoff. Alas, the winds of Berckman’s farm surged at the worst possible time, and Schaufele’s tee ball at the 16th ended up in Jones’ pond. Triple bogey ensued, and Schauffele finished in a tie for the third spot.

While the Xander firework show took place, Matsuyama persevered. In a hilarious video with Tiger, Jason Day, and Rory, teacher Hideki comments that “Japan is a modest culture, showing emotion and celebrating is not common.” Neither, it seems, is losing your cool and choking. Hideki simply didn’t choke.

5. When it’s your week, seize it

Unlike Justin Rose, who opened with 65 and never again broke par at the 2021 Masters, Matsuyama played his first three rounds under par, culminating with a pure 65 of his own. His third round was the only bogey-free round of the tournament until Jon Rahm matched him on Sunday. Matsuyama was on pace to join Zalatoris as the only golfers with four rounds under par until his late-round struggles resigned him to a closing 73.

What does all of that mean? It means that Hideki Matsuyama arrived in Georgia playing well. He parlayed his experience and his current form into a shot at the title, and then he simply out-played and out-witted the competition. Augusta National rarely reveals why a certain player won and a certain player did not. The results are what the history book says, so when your chance arrives, seize it. Like Tsubasa Kajitani had done eight days before, Hideki Matsuyama did on the second Sunday of April.

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5 things we learned Saturday at the Masters

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With the field reduced to 54, the question on most interested minds was, which Augusta National Golf Club would feature on Saturday? Would it be the frugal layout that gave fits to competitors on day one, or would the generous version from day two make a return appearance? If you asked Hideki Matsuyama, it was the latter. Pose the same question to Adam Scott or Cameron Champ, and the answer would differ markedly.

On Saturday, there was a bit of movement from the chasers, and a sense of protect what you have from the leaders. We learned a few things about the tournament, the course, and the competitors on day three, and we’re happy to share them with you here.

1. Billy Horschel backs down from nothing

Literally and figuratively. The Florida man ripped a 5-iron into Rae’s Creek on the 13th hole, but rather than take a penalty drop, Horschel doffed his shoes and socks, rolled up his Saturday whites, and waded on in. Well, sort of. First, he slid down the slope, and then he waded in. His recovery was clean and left him with a run at birdie. Despite the new splotch of Augusta green on his trousers, Horschel made bogey at the 14th, but closed with three birdies over his final five holes, to finish at 4 over. Horschel won’t win the tournament this year, but we’ll remember his plus-fours for quite some time.

2. Hideki pulled a Justin

No sense in waiting until point number five, to discuss the round of the day. Hideki Matsuyama has often been mentioned with Jumbo Ozaki, Ryo Ishikawa, Isao Aoki, and Shingo Katayama as a prime Japanese candidate to break that country’s male major championship winless streak. Matsuyama began day three at 4 under, three shots behind leader Justin Rose. Matsuyama drew on two memories on Saturday to move rapidly up the leader board on the inward half. His low amateur prize of 2011 reminded him of his previous success at Augusta National. More recently, countrywoman Tsubasa Kajitani raised the champion’s trophy last week at the same course, after winning the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

Matsuyama began his march toward the top spot with a birdie at the seventh hole. Despite his length, he was unable to make four at either of the front nine par-5 holes. On the inward half, Matsuyama posted birdies at 11, 12, 16 and 17, and put the icing on the 65 cake with eagle at the 15th. Thanks to his 65, Matsuyama will play in the final group on Sunday with Xander Schauffele, who closed quickly as well. Will he bring a major title of his own to the Pacific island nation? This time tomorrow, we will know.

3. Xander and Conners post 68s to move into top six

If you took Corey Conners front nine, and paired it with Xander Schauffele’s back nine, you’d have a Hideki. Conners began play at 2 under par, and moved to minus six after the day’s fourth birdie on the 9th hole. The young Canadian dropped back with bogey at 10 and 14 but rebounded quickly with birdies at 15 and 17 to return to six-under. It might be premature to cast Conners as a dark horse for Sunday, but should his penchant for dropping birdies check in on day four, a Maple Leaf might don a green jacket for the second time in the storied event’s history.

Xander Schauffele finds himself exactly where he wants to be. The California native backs down from no competition, and thanks to a strong inward half, he arranged a final-group pairing with Matsuyama. Schauffele began the day at 3 under and improved by one shot by the end of the first nine. The 2017 Tour Championship winner feasted on the long holes coming home with birdie at 13 and an eagle of his own at 15.

4. Zalatoris and Rose stay in contention

The hardest task in championship golf is to build a lead into a bigger lead. Tiger Woods spoiled many of us with his ability to do that. The second-most difficult thing to achieve is to preserve your position, with all the distractions and pressure. Justin Rose and Will Zalatoris began day three at 7 and 6 under par, respectively. Rose began the day with determination, making birdie at the first two holes. He gave those shots back at four and five, and played a bit of back-and-forth over the next 13 holes. He ended the day at even-par 72, to remain in the chase at 7 under. Was it disappointing? For a player of Rose’s stature and record, yes. Can he bookend his Thursday 65 with another on Sunday? Probably not.

Will Zalatoris came into the final pairing on Saturday in a decidedly different position from Rose. Zalatoris made his name on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020 and has made the jump to the PGA Tour with unexpected success. The young Texan began the day at 6 under and improved by one stroke by day’s end. Zalatoris had four birdies against three bogeys and once again avoided the big number that derails so many dreams. The former Wake Forest golfer will tee off with Conners in the third-last pairing on Sunday. Being a bit out of the limelight might serve him well, and don’t be surprised if he becomes the first Masters rookie since Fuzzy Zoeller to wear green on Sunday.

5. And the winner will be…

If you haven’t realized it by now, we don’t pick winners well. We tapped Brian Harman after round two, and the Georgia Bulldog shot 2 over par on day three. We have abandoned the lefty, and are going with a player we haven’t mentioned yet. He’s tall, dark, and Australian, and the word on all the tours is that Marc Leishman is so much better than his record indicates. We think that the real Marc Leishman stands tall on Sunday and moves past Matsuyama and all the rest to become the first Aussie since Adam Scott to win the title.

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