Notes British Open Solheim Cup US Drought

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The final stage of qualifying for the British Open will be held next Monday and Tuesday at four courses near Royal Liverpool, filling most of the 156-man field for a championship that is shifting focus from an open competition to a global one.
 
Gone are the days when tour pros from around the world had to travel to Britain the weekend before the Open and walk the fairways alongside players who had dreams, but not pedigree.
 
Now, there are 25 ways for a tour pro to get into the British Open without leaving home.
 
That includes four exemptions for top finishers at the Mizuno Open in Japan, two from a special money list in Japan, two from a special money list on the PGA Tour, and the highest finisher not already eligible at three PGA Tour events leading up to the British Open. Spots also are given to the Japan Open and Canadian Open champions.
 
When the dust settles, only about 56 spots are awarded to those who compete in 36-hole qualifiers -- 44 of those going to 'International Final Qualifying' held in Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe and the United States.
 
'We feel we have a good balance, in particular a good international balance,' R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. 'Our exemption criteria covers overseas tours that the U.S. Open doesn't. We believe we're reaching out to the players.'
 
The U.S. Open now has overseas qualifying in Japan (three spots available) and Europe (eight spots). Michael Campbell came out of the European qualifier before winning last year at Pinehurst No. 2, and he might not have come to America to try for a spot in the field.
 
USGA executive director David Fay considered adding more spots overseas, but didn't want the U.S. Open to become a closed shop.
 
'You run up against numbers,' Fay said last week at Newport Country Club. 'They (British Open) get 2,100 or 2,200 entries. We're pushing 9,000 entries. We want to retain the openness of the Open. We have more than half the field come through qualifying.'
 
Almost half, anyway. The U.S. Open field included 76 players who had to qualify, including 26 who went through 18-hole local qualifying and 36-hole sectional qualifying. That amounts to 49 percent of its field.
 
The British Open will end up with only 56 players from 36-hole qualifiers, or 36 percent of the field.
 
'We think we run the most democratic golf tournament in the world,' Fay said. 'If you have the ability, you can give it a shot.'
 
There's room for only a dozen of those dreamers next week at local final qualifying in England, although Dawson is comfortable with how the British Open establishes its field. It's the oldest championship in golf, one known worldwide simply as 'The Open.'
 
'We think there are a lot of very good golfers in far-flung parts of the world,' Dawson said. 'They may not be known because they don't play in the States, but we like the Open to be an international event.'
 
SCHEDULE CLASH
When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused the Ryder Cup to be postponed and moved to even-numbered years, the Solheim Cup felt its best option was to move away from the men's event to odd-numbered years.
 
Now there's another scheduling conflict.
 
The Solheim Cup already has been set for Sept. 14-16 in Sweden, typically a slow part of the golf season.
 
But then the PGA Tour revamped and tightened its schedule around the new FedEx Cup, which will end Sept. 14-16 with the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.
 
Should the LPGA Tour consider moving the matches back a week? Not this time.
 
'We did look at it,' said Chris Higgs, chief operations officer for the LPGA Tour. 'The good and bad thing about the Swedes is they are so well prepared. As soon as it was announced in 2003, they were asking us to confirm dates.'
 
Higgs said too many plans were in place for Sept. 14-16 for the Solheim Cup to change the dates now. He noted that because of the time difference, the Solheim Cup will be over before the final round of the Tour Championship begins.
 
Still, one of the tournaments will lose coverage it might have otherwise had.
 
Higgs said the Solheim Cup likely will move in 2009, when it is played at Rich Harvest Farm outside Chicago. One date the LPGA Tour is considering is the week after the PGA Championship, which is the week before the FedEx Cup playoff system begins.
 
AMERICAN DROUGHT
The LPGA Tour is perhaps the most global circuit in golf, a point proven in the majors.
 
Annika Sorenstam's playoff victory Monday in the U.S. Women's Open made it eight consecutive majors won by international players, extending the longest U.S. drought in history. The last American winner was Meg Mallon at the 2004 U.S. Women's Open.
 
And there's no evidence the streak will end anytime soon.
 
Americans have won only four of the last 25 majors, a short list that includes the 43-year-old Mallon, 46-year-old Juli Inkster and Hilary Lunke, who hasn't had a top 20 on the LPGA Tour since winning the '03 U.S. Women's Open.
 
The best hope appears to be Michelle Wie, a senior-to-be in high school who has finished in the top five at five of the last six majors.
 
SAHALEE SENIORS
Sahalee Country Club had the 2010 PGA Championship taken away from it when PGA of America officials wanted to lock up Whistling Straits in a long-term deal. And while PGA officials promised Sahalee another 'championship,' the Seattle club appears to be going in another direction.
 
USGA executive director David Fay confirmed that Sahalee is interested in hosting a U.S. Senior Open. The first opening on the schedule for a U.S. Senior Open would be 2010, which might be a more than a little coincidental.
 
Not only did Fay say that he likes the Pacific Northwest, 'there's a well-known player with roots in Seattle who is getting to the age he might be able to play.'
 
Fred Couples would be eligible for his first Senior Open in 2010.
 
DIVOTS
Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie are the only players to finish in the top 10 at all three LPGA Tour majors this year. ... Watching the final group inside the ropes in the final round of the Women's Open was Sandra Gal, a 21-year-old German who attends Florida. She missed the cut in her first Women's Open, then stuck around to watch how the leaders went about their business. ... USGA executive director David Fay says he has suggested that the British Open use Oakland Hills for its U.S. qualifier next year. ... The top three players for LPGA Tour player of the year are separated by nine points -- Lorena Ochoa (148), Sorenstam (140) and Karrie Webb (139).
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
Annika Sorenstam made only three bogeys on the back nine during five rounds of the U.S. Women's Open.
 
FINAL WORD
'I'm seeing a different part of the golf course again, and this part is a lot prettier.' -- Annika Sorenstam, on hitting more fairways.