AP’s Doug Ferguson writes, “Somewhere along the way, the U.S. Amateur seems to have lost its status, if not some luster.”
He tries to determine “when the U.S. Amateur lost its status as a major is as unclear as when the Masters and PGA Championship took over.”
And he concludes, “Golf at the highest level is now about professionals. So are the majors.”
But well beyond record book quibbling, it seems that now is a good time to ask what is causing the Amateur’s recent slide in stature, separate of the pro vs. amateur major debate?
- Date played. It's played the first week of school for many college golfers after a summer of competitive play. Not an ideal time to bring out the best in players. But the other options have problems too.
- Qualification standard. Reader Blue Blazer came out of hibernation to point out that the Amateur could give quite a few exemptions to say, the Western Amateur final 16 (since qualifying is usually held right after the Western). And of course, winners of other prestigious events like the Pacific Coast, Northeastern, Porter Cup, etc... A reasonable group of exemptions from the summer's best events would still barely put a dent in the 312-player field.
- Amateur Status. This is the most difficult area to measure, but at some point the virtual end of amateur status seems to have taken some of the life out of the U.S. Amateur. Whether it’s players (especially from big Division I programs) getting free equipment, or a significant number of former pros in the amateur ranks, the concept of an amateur has lost its luster a bit. Perhaps that's also hurting the USGA's premier amateur event?
- Big Money. Consider Michael Putnam’s decision to take a sponsor’s exemption instead of playing the Amateur at Merion (where he would have been one of the favorites). What’s the point when his career can be kick started? Granted most players don't do what he did. But after his performance, the minor gamble has turned into a potentially enormous career boost and one that many more players will look to as an excuse to turn pro ASAP.