PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — One of the highlights of the first round of the U.S. Open came from the clubs of Viktor Hovland, the Norwegian amateur playing in only his second major.
Hovland, the world’s top-ranked amateur and winner of the 2018 U.S. Amateur, bolted out to a four-under run in his first seven holes that left him tied for second place, just one stroke off the lead. (He tumbled back down the leaderboard with a double-bogey on the 8th, but stick with us here.)
Now, when you play as an amateur, you forfeit your right to win any cash at the tournament. Which is a bit of a shame, given that the purse this year is a record $12.5 million. But given that winning an amateur tournament is one of the easier ways to qualify for the tournament — “easy” being an incredibly relative term here — playing in the U.S. Open is seen as its own reward.
If you make the tournament as an amateur, you can’t backdoor your way into a payday; if you surrender your amateur status, you lose your invitation to the tournament.
Ah, but what if you win the tournament? What then? Same rules apply, they just hurt a bit more. To wit: you get a trophy, you get a medal, you get love and affirmation ... and you get absolutely zero coin.
If an amateur wins the whole tournament, the next pro will get the winner’s share. Back in 1930, Bobby Jones won the tournament as an amateur and got a nice round zero. Macdonald Smith, who finished second, got the winner’s share of a healthy $1,000.
The exact prize money for 2019 hasn’t been announced. But if Jones had won the tournament in 2018 — well, first, that would be amazing, because he’s been dead for nearly half a century. But he’d be giving up a winner’s share of $2.16 million.
If an amateur finishes in the money, he just gets effectively removed from the prize-money consideration, and everyone below him jumps up a notch.
And if, somehow, there was a playoff where an amateur defeated two or more pros, the pro with the lowest score in the playoff would get the winner’s share. Strangely enough, this too happened once, back in 1913, when Francis Ouimet defeated Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a three-hole playoff. Vardon topped Ray, so he picked up the meaty first-place check of $300, while Ray got the second-place share of $150.
Regardless of how he fares this week, Hovland’s had about enough of this amateur stuff. He’ll turn pro in advance of next week’s Travelers Championship, and at that point he can start making some actual money instead of handshakes and trophies.
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