The USGA has tweaked the criteria for U.S. Open exemptions over the years without giving up two important objectives. It wants the most deserving players to be at the U.S. Open, and it wants to remain the most democratic of all majors.
The formula appears to be working.
At least half the 156-man field — usually a little more — has come through qualifying nine of the last 10 years. The exception was in 2006 when 80 players were exempt, and that was because of a few unusual circumstances. One of them was David Toms finishing bogey-bogey in 2005 to create an eight-way for 15th place. The top 15 and ties were exempt the following year, and 16 players got in through that category.
With two weeks remaining before sectional qualifying, the U.S. Open is headed toward another split — half the field will be exempt, the other half will have to qualify.
"Any time we consider an exemption change, that's the first thing we look at it," said Jeff Hall, the USGA's managing director of rules and competition. "We want to exempt those players deserving as such. But the democratic nature of the U.S. Open is very important to us."
Any proposed change goes through a series of models to make sure the majority of the field is exempt from qualifying.
Assuming that Tiger Woods does not play at Pinehurst No. 2 — he hasn't even been cleared to swing a club yet after March 31 back surgery — 49 players are exempt. There's a spot open for the BMW PGA Championship winner at Wentworth this week. And the top 60 in the world after each of the next two weeks will not have to qualify.
From the top 60 in this week's ranking, 25 players would be exempt.
The following week — after the Memorial — is the last cutoff, and it's loosely known as the "Justin Rose Rule." Rose won the Memorial in 2010 and moved to No. 33 in the world, one week after the ranking exemption was closed. In the three years since the extra week was added, no more than two players were added to the field.
"We'll take that risk," Hall said. "There's some duplication, generally, with the world ranking and the Tour Championship field. Those people tend to stay in the top 60."
Everyone on the bubble going into this pivotal week is playing either Colonial or Wentworth except for Richard Sterne (57), Charles Howell III (66) and J.B. Holmes (72). Howell tied for third at the Byron Nelson, but that was his fifth straight week. He is taking this week off.
The U.S. Open is June 12-15 at Pinehurst No. 2. The last time the Open was played at Pinehurst, the winner (Michael Campbell) came through sectional qualifying.
NEXT STOP: Now that Adam Scott has become No. 1 in the world for the first time, the next question is how long he can keep it.
Scott and Matt Kuchar (No. 4) are playing at Colonial. Henrik Stenson (No. 3) has his best chance at rising to No. 1 because he is playing in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, which effectively offers bonus points as Europe's flagship event. Stenson should be able to reach No. 1 if he places higher at Wentworth than Scott at Colonial. Kuchar would have to win Colonial.
With five players separated by an average of one point, golf could see its own version of musical chairs with the No. 1 ranking.
That wouldn't be the first time, of course.
The early summer of 1997 featured the most dynamic stretch in the 28-year history of the ranking when No. 1 changed five times in five weeks. Norman was No. 1 until Tiger Woods replaced him. Woods lasted one week until Ernie Els won the Buick Classic and went to No. 1. Norman won the FedEx St. Judge Classic the following week to return to No. 1, and then Woods won the Western Open and reclaimed No. 1 for the next nine weeks.
ACES UP: Quicken Loans didn't waste any time getting fans involved in its PGA Tour event.
The new title sponsor of the Quicken Loans National will pick one person to receive $1 million if a PGA Tour player makes a hole-in-one on the 10th hole at Congressional during any of the four rounds of the tournament.
Registration for the Quicken Loans Hole-In-One Sweepstakes began Monday at www.pgatour.com/QuickenLoans.
"First impressions are important, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate our first year as sponsor of the Quicken Loans National than to create even more excitement for an already world-class tournament," said Jay Farner, the company's president and chief marketing officer.
Odds are long, though they're still better than picking a perfect bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament for $1 billion.
Quicken Loans is extending its sweepstakes beyond the June 26-29 tournament. For every hole-in-one on the PGA Tour for the rest of 2014, the Detroit-based company will pay a year's worth of mortgage payments to randomly selected entrant. And even if there are no aces, the company will randomly picked 60 names to receive one monthly mortgage payment on their home.
There were 11 aces on the PGA Tour from Congressional through the end of 2013. The only one at Congressional was by John Merrick — on the seventh hole.
HOGAN AWARD: The superb spring season of Patrick Rodgers got even better when he was selected to receive the Ben Hogan Award as the nation's top college golfer over the last 12 months. It was hard to argue with what the Stanford junior has done.
Rodgers was medalist at the NCAA regional in Oregon last week, an amazing run in which he has won five of his last six tournaments and was runner-up in the other. His 11 career victories ties Tiger Woods for the most in Stanford history. Rodgers was part of winning American teams in the Walker Cup and the Palmer Cup, and he has replaced U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick at No. 1 in the world amateur ranking.
By winning the Hogan Award, he received an exemption to the Colonial this week. It will be the fourth PGA Tour start for Rodgers, who has announced he is turning pro after his junior season. He tied for 15th in the John Deere Classic last summer.
DIVOTS: U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick is turning pro after the U.S. Open. He has signed with International Sports Management and will make his pro debut in the Irish Open. ... BMW strengthened its relationship with the European Tour by announcing a four-year extension through 2018. The agreement means BMW stays on as title sponsor for tournaments in England (BMW PGA Championship), Germany (BMW International Open) and Shanghai (BMW Masters), and it remains the official car of the European Tour. ... The RBC Canadian Open returns to Glen Abbey in 2015. It will be the Abbey's record 27th time to host golf's third-oldest national championship.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Brendon Todd became the eighth player this year to be outside the top 100 in the world ranking and win a PGA Tour event.
FINAL WORD: "There is no secret. Good food, good wine, good cigars and some exercise." — Miguel Angel Jimenez after winning a European Tour event at age 50.