How Golfers Qualify to Play in the U.S. Open

There are 156 golfers in the field at the U.S. Open each year. But how do those players make the field? Some of them qualify automatically by meeting selection criteria (such as winning majors, ranking high in the world rankings, and so on). Others play their way in through qualifier tournaments.

For the 2023 U.S. Open, the United States Golf Association (USGA), which runs the tournament, published a list of 24 "exemption categories." If a golfer meets the criteria set forth in any of those 24 exemption categories, he is automatically into the U.S. Open. Think of the exemptions this way: A golfer who meets one of those 24 criteria is exempt from having to play in a local qualifier or final qualifier tournament.

U.S. Open Exemption Categories

These are the 24 exemption categories used for the 2023 U.S. Open as published by the USGA:

F-1. Winners of the U.S. Open Championship the last 10 years (2013-22)
F-2. From the 2022 U.S. Open Championship, the 10 lowest scorers and anyone tying for 10th place
F-3. Winner of the 2022 U.S. Senior Open Championship
F-4. Winner of the 2022 U.S. Amateur Championship
F-5. Winners of the 2022 U.S. Junior Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships, and the 2022 U.S. Amateur runner-up (must be an amateur)
F-6. Winners of the Masters Tournament (2019-2023)
F-7. Winners of the PGA Championship (2018-2023)
F-8. Winners of The Open Championship, conducted by The R&A (2018-2022)
F-9. Winners of The Players Championship (2021-2023)
F-10. Winner of the 2022 European Tour BMW PGA Championship
*F-11. Those players who qualified and were eligible for the season-ending 2022 Tour Championship
F-12. Multiple winners of PGA Tour events that award a full-point allocation for the FedExCup, from the conclusion of the 2022 U.S. Open (June 16-19) to the initiation of the 2023 U.S. Open
*F-13. The top five players in the 2022-23 FedExCup standings as of May 22, 2023, who are not otherwise exempt
*F-14. The points leader from the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour season using combined points earned on the Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List and points earned in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals
**F-15. The top two players from the final 2022 DP World Tour Rankings who are not otherwise exempt as of May 22, 2023
**F-16. The top player on the 2023 Race to Dubai Rankings as of May 22, 2023, who is not otherwise exempt
**F-17. The top two finishers from the 2023 DP World Tour U.S. Open Qualifying Series, who are not otherwise exempt
F-18. Winner of the 2022 Amateur Championship, conducted by The R&A (must be an amateur)
F-19. Winner of the 2022 Mark H. McCormack Medal (Men’s World Amateur GolfRanking) (must be an amateur)
F-20. Winner of the 2023 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship (must be an amateur)
F-21. Winner of the 2023 Latin America Amateur Championship (must be an amateur)
F-22. From the current Official World Golf Ranking, the top 60 point leaders and ties as of May 22, 2023
F-23. From the current Official World Golf Ranking, the top 60 point leaders and ties as of June 12, 2023 (if not previously exempt)
F-24. Special exemptions selected by the USGA

*Note 1: For Exemptions F-11, F-13 and F-14, players must be considered eligible per PGA Tour regulations at the time the exemption is determined to qualify for the exemption.

**Note 2: For Exemptions F-15, F-16 and F-17, players must be in DP World Tour Membership at the time the exemption is determined to qualify for the exemption.

Local Qualifying and Final Qualifying

Golfers who do not meet any of the above qualifying criteria can still get into the U.S. Open field, if they are good enough. Any golfer (male or female) who is a professional, or any amateur with a USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 1.4, is eligible to playing in a "Local Qualifying Tournament" (also called "local qualifiers").

Each year, the USGA stages around 95-110 local qualifiers. These are single-round tournaments in which the low scorers from each qualifier advance to the next stage. How many low qualifiers? That number varies depending on the number of golfers in the field, and the strength of field. The local qualifiers are played in April and May at courses around the United States (in 2023 there was also one site in Canada).

Golfers who advance from local qualifying move on to final qualifying (which used to be called "sectional qualifying"). Final qualifying also includes many golfers who did not meet any of the Exemption Category criteria above but who have earned exemption from local qualifying (such as current PGA Tour members).

Each year, the USGA stages around 13-16 final qualifying tournaments, which take place in a single day and cover two rounds, 36 holes. The golfers with the best scores at each site qualify to play in the U.S. Open. As with the local qualifiers, at the final qualifiers the number of golfers from each site who qualify is determined in advance based on the number of entrants and strength of field. The final qualifiers include locations in England, Japan and Canada in addition to a dozen or so courses around the United States. They are played in late May and early June.

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