Merion Calling All Tin Cups for the U.S. Open

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COMMENTARY | So, you want to be the next Tin Cup, you say? The old guys at the club convinced you to try to slug it out through local and sectional qualifying, beating out thousands for a coveted U.S. Open spot, stand toe to toe with the pros, become the darling of the golfing world, and make one of the most spectacular finishes in major championship history? Well, at 5 p.m. on April 24, all of the potential Tin Cups were in -- U.S. Open entries were closed.

And this is why we love the Open: anybody can get in. Or, rather, anybody who can consistently put together a 75 and probably fire the occasional 60-something or other can get in. It's the most democratic event on the planet, in any sport, on any professional level. You don't see -- well, aside from the '76 Philadelphia Eagles, who actually did hold open tryouts -- NFL teams opening up roster spots to anybody who can run a sub-five second 40 or throw around weights like dolls. NBA front offices don't just invite any kid who can rain 3-pointers on the blacktop.

The U.S. Open does -- the golf version of that at least.

Last year, when the Open traveled to The Olympic Club in San Francisco, the USGA had to wade through 9,006 entries. It was just the fourth time in the event's history that entries surpassed the 9,000-entry threshold and was only 80 shy of the all-time record, set in 2009 when it was held at Bethpage Black.

For all you hopefuls and reverse-sandbaggers (yes, everybody knows that when you go out there and hack a 96 at your local qualifier, you're not actually a 1.4 handicap or below. Rick Reilly did a fantastic piece on you lot), here's how the Road to Merion, this year's venue, shakes out.

A little more than 94 percent of you will begin your Open quest with local qualifying, an 18-hole test hosted at courses all over the map. Eighteen holes, as everybody knows, is not a lot of holes. You snipe one out of bounds on the third tee and scrape together a triple-bogey and that's probably the end of the road. Hey, there's always next year. But there are always a few scratches or plus-handicappers that invariably play well -- really, really, well -- and it's on to sectionals.

We started with more than 9,000 of you in the local qualifiers. Now at sectionals, that number is already deflated to around 500 (last year's was 550). The good news -- or bad, depending on how you look at it -- with sectionals, is that this stage is 36 holes, meaning there is more time to make up for a bad hole, but also more time to have one.

At sectionals, the local qualifying champs are lumped into a field with those who received exemptions from stage one. This group includes pros from various tours around the globe and "elite amateurs who meet certain performance criteria," as described by the U.S. Open website.

This is where most of our Tin Cups will find themselves in well over their heads. Just take a look at a few of the names from the 16 who qualified from just one sectional qualifying site last year: Davis Love III, Blake Adams, Charlie Wi, D.A. Points, Steve Marino, Scott Piercy. There is a monumental difference from winning the club championship and winning a qualifying spot in the U.S. Open. Here, have a glance at some of the guys who were cut from that same qualifier: J.B. Holmes, Kevin Stadler, Jhonattan Vegas, Jimmy Walker, Ryan Moore, Ben Curtis… you get the idea.

There are always, of course, our U.S. Open darlings, wrought from the local and sectional qualifiers. Beau Hossler showed us that a kid with braces can take on the most elite field in the world after brawling through the qualifiers. Had it not been for a final-round 76, he would have hovered around the top 10 (he finished T29, 6-over).

This is what makes the Open fun. Are we likely to see another Hossler, some anonymous high school teen who climbed the leaderboard after squeaking through qualifiers? Realistically, no. But that's the beauty of the U.S. Open: we won't know. It's the mysterious element it provides, that "who in the world is this guy?" moment on Saturday when the field should have been trimmed down to former major champs and world leaders, that we love.

By June 4 we will have our field. And maybe, just maybe, we'll have a Tin Cup in it.

Travis Mewhirter has been working in the golf industry since 2007, when he was a bag room manager at Piney Branch Golf Club in Carroll County, Maryland, and has been involved, as a player, since 2004. Since then, he has worked at Hayfields Country Club, where the Constellation Energy Classic was formerly held, and has covered golf at the high school, college, and professional levels.

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