The full 156-man field for the 2013 British Open is now set, but it took some late twilight golf in Illinois on Sunday before the last spot was filled. Since we last checked in under two weeks ago, 21 more players have earned entry into the Open Championship, golf's oldest major. Jordan Spieth provided the most dramatic qualifying moment of that group, winning the John Deere Classic on the fifth playoff hole for the last-minute exemption. Spieth went to the Quad Cities region this week with his passport, and by Sunday night he had arranged travel overseas and was on his way to Scotland.
The professional golf tours are constantly in search of the next big superstar, the next Tiger Woods. Any young American who dominates the amateur circuit and then makes noise early in his professional career is promptly hyped and projected, almost always against the impossible Tiger standard. Most recently, Anthony Kim and Rickie Fowler were next in line as the young American hope. Kim is nowhere to be found (largely due to injury) and Fowler still has just one PGA Tour win, despite some major contentions.
Who knows where this is all headed, but Spieth seems different. There are always flash-in-the-pan prodigy performances which make headlines, with almost all of those fleeting teenage careers fizzling out before pro careers are off the ground. Spieth's first big moment came three years ago, when he made the cut at the nearby Byron Nelson as a 16-year-old and then hung around near the first page of the leaderboard on the weekend (finishing in 16th). He held his own again at the Nelson the following year, and the hype was starting to roll. A first-team All-American season in Austin added to his early amateur bona fides, which he capped at Olympic last year with a low am T21 finish.
Spieth decided he had done enough as an amateur and turned pro at the end of last year. This season was supposed to be a split between the PGA and Web.com Tours. He received multiple sponsor's exemptions early in the year, mostly on the back of the name recognition from his performances at the Nelson and the subsequent amateur record. Spieth took advantage of those exemptions and was quickly popping up on the big circuit on a weekly basis. This summer, he was expected to max out the seven sponsor's invites and pepper in some Monday qualifiers, but now the 19-year-old has his card and full Tour membership.
The late victory at TPC Deere Run marked the first time a teenager had won a PGA Tour event since 1931. But after six top-10s during the aforementioned amalgam of 2013 opportunities, the win seemed imminent. The John Deere is not the deepest tourney on Tour (even Tiger started with a couple lesser tournament wins before his '97 Masters blowout), but it adds another validation point for a player not yet 20. The Open Championship will be the second major of the year for Spieth, who dominated sectional qualifying in Dallas to earn an invite to Merion. Now he's on to Muirfield, where he'll play a links-style course that he's not accustomed to yet. His career may wash out in three years, but based on everything we've seen, Spieth seems different than all the other young ones hyped as the next challenger to Tiger Woods. Given the instant and repeated success at both the amateur and professional level, Spieth is American golf's best bet. He'll never be Woods, but perhaps he's on the edge of becoming an American Rory McIlroy. But for now, he'll take the playoff victory and move on to Muirfield.
In addition to Spieth, here are the other 20 players earning final month invites:
|Expanded Top 50 from World Rankings (Week 21)|
The Royal & Ancient granted these 10 invites via the "Top 50 in Official World Golf Rankings" as of Week 21 (May 26) exemption. None of these players are inside the top 50, but the field needed to be filled out to the full 156, and thanks to many players doubling up on exemption spots (e.g Tiger Woods qualifies eight different ways, the most), the R&A opened things up to these additional 10. Gallacher and Stallings were alternates as of last week, but they're now headed to Muirfield to help fill out the tee sheet. Duke and Blixt can both credit their victories in the last month for their rise up the OWGR.
|Top 5 in Euro Tour's "Race to Dubai" (as of last week)|
|Top 5 in PGA Tour's FedExCup Standings (as of last week)|
The R&A also leaves 10 late spots open for those players on both tours who are having strong 2013 seasons and would not otherwise be exempt (again, using Tiger as an example -- he's No. 1 in FedExCup points but has already qualified so you go down the list). The Race to Dubai is the Euro Tour's equivalent of the FedExCup, but the talent in the additional five PGA Tour players is more impressive. Both Henley and English are former teammates at Georgia, and both have already picked up victories this year at the ages of 24 and 23. English has been hyped for a couple years now, and Henley's one of the best putters in the world. On top of those two, Billy Horschel is maybe playing the most consistent golf in the world over the last two months.
Those are your final 21 invites to the 2013 Open Championship, but here's a full explanation of how all 156 players earned entry either by exemption or qualification. And here's the complete list of the 2013 field for this week's major at Muirfield.
|Past Open Championship winners (60 and younger as of Sunday, July 21)|
|Past Champions, 60 and older, Finishing T10 in past 5 years|
|Top 10 from 2012 Open Championship|
|Miguel Angel Jimenez|
|Top 50 in World Rankings as of May 26|
|Bo Van Pelt|
|2012 Race for Dubai Top 30|
|2012 FedExCup TOUR Championship Qualifiers|
|Last 5 U.S. Open Winners|
|Last 5 Masters Winners|
|Last 5 PGA Championship Winners|
|Last 3 Players Championship Winners|
|T1 Order of Merit on 2012 Asian Tour|
|T1 Order of Merit on 2012 Australasia Tour|
|2012 Japan Open Winner|
|T2 on 2012 Japan Tour Money List|
|T4 at 2013 Mizuno Open|
|T2 on 2013 Japan Tour Money List after Mizuno Open|
|2012 Senior Open Champion|
|2012 U.S. Amateur Champion|
|2012 Euro Amateur Champion|
|2013 Amateur Champion|
In addition to the final spot reserved for the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic winner (Spieth), there's also a spot left open for the Euro Tour's Scottish Open winner. But that exemption was burned this year when Phil Mickelson, who'd already qualified four other ways, knocked off Branden Grace in a playoff on Sunday at Castle Stuart.
It wouldn't be an "open" unless there was some qualifying process in place for regular weekend amateurs and anyone willing to pay the qualification entry fee. But unlike the U.S. Open, the Open Championship's qualifying process is much smaller and does not yield nearly the same amount that the USGA desires for America's national championship. Almost half the field at the U.S. Open has come through sectional qualifying, but only 36 additional players made it for the British.
|Australia - Kingston Heath Golf Club, Melbourne|
|Asia - Amata Spring Country Club, Bangkok|
|Africa - Royal Johannesburg & Kensington|
|Eduardo De La Riva|
|America - Gleneagles Country Club, Dallas|
|Europe - Sunningdale Golf Club, England|
|Local Final Qualifying - All Scotland Venues|
|Gullane No. 1|