Here's a rundown of some of the biggest changes you can expect in 2011: Only the top 10 and ties will get into next year's U.S. Open, a slight change from the previous exemption that allowed the top 15 in the field to get a free pass. Not a big deal, but it does leave five guys on the outside.
The other change this year is one that should make Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose red in the face. As Golf World's Ryan Herrington noted, the USGA has finally decided to add an exemption for players that get hot after U.S. Open sectional qualifying begins.
Starting this year, an exemption category will be added for the U.S. Open that guarantees spots in the field for the top 50 on the World Ranking as of the Monday prior to the championship. This category would be in addition to one that includes the top 50 on the World Ranking prior to sectional qualifying (in 2011 that date is May 23).
If you'll recall, Rose and Fowler both played extremely well right up until the week prior to last year's U.S. Open. But because of the early cutoff point for the field, both players were penalized for exceptional play that came after the sectional qualifying deadline. They'll now have a chance to keep the good times rolling and qualify.
It's a move that should boost fields and force golfers on the cusp of the top 50 to play until the week prior to the Open. Other changes that go in place next year include a decision to no longer fully exempt a player based on their official money list status.
They'll move to a system where the Official World Golf Rankings will play a bigger role in 2012. All in all, some really smart changes by the USGA that should make the U.S. Open field a little more competitive in the near future.