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U.S. Open: 'They can't keep you out'

Some fellow from Social Circle, Ga., shot 93 in local qualifying for the men's U.S. Open the other day in Pinehurst and went home while those who shot 71 or better advanced to a regional qualifier.

A woman named Abigail Smith turned in scores of 92-94 in Sanford to miss advancing to a regional qualifier for the women's US Open by 41 shots.

But they can always say they entered the Open.

As Roy McAvoy told us in "Tin Cup," the Opens are the most democratic tournaments in the world.

"They can't keep you out," he said. "They can't ask if you're a garbage man or a bean-picker or a driving range pro whose checks are signed by a stripper. You qualify, you're in."

Well, it's almost that simple. If you're an amateur, you must have a handicap index of 1.4 or better. If you're a pro they don't ask any questions. They just take your $150 and put your name on the list to try to qualify.

Good luck. Players who have to go through all phases of qualifying almost never win the tournament. Think about it. You play your way into the Open and waiting for you there are Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Bubba Watson, and maybe Tiger. Or if you're a woman, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Na Yeon Choi and maybe Michelle Wie are on the greeting committee. Those are not the guys in your Saturday morning foursome or the gals in the nine-holers club.

This year, 8,300 men entered to play at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., in June and 1,205 women entered to play at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs in July. Deduct the five or six dozen who automatically qualify for each of the Opens before you even start shooting for the moon and you don't have a lot of room for bogeys in the qualifiers.

David Fay, who spent 21 years as executive director of the USGA, calls them "vanity handicaps" claimed by many amateurs and "vanity games" submitted by a lot of pros. Ams who couldn't break 80 if you let them keep score and gave them an eraser turn in phony scores to get their handicap low enough. Pros who think they are better than they are and just need a chance, pros who are dreamers or just want to feel the sweet pain of competition or who simply want to get out of the shop for awhile fire their entry fee off to the USGA, shine their shoes and hit the road to the nearest qualifier.

Why not? This is a democracy, you know.

The USGA will let you in one time but if it's obvious you have no business competing at that level, you won't be back unless you get a lot better. If you don't shoot within eight strokes of the USGA Course Rating, you get a letter asking for evidence that you're capable of playing on the national level.

In other words, the guy from Social Circle and the lady who missed by 41 shots won't be back next year.

Still, they entered a U.S. Open. That's something they can say. They just need to leave out the details.