The Niggle: How long should we honour our champions
DM: This is going to come up in July, which will almost certainly be Tom Watson’s last Open – unless he does something ridiculous like nearly wins it some 30 years after his heyday, but that’s a ludicrous suggestion…
As it stands in the Open, you can play until you are 60, and past champions earn a four-year exemption by finishing inside the top 10, which is what Watson is currently using.
As a spectator and fan, I would contend that seeing past champions at the Open does nothing but enhance the experience, and I would rather encounter Mark Calcavecchia, for example, than Masanori Kobayashi (Japan Open champion) or Rhein Gibson (Australian IFQ graduate) at Hoylake.
Harrington’s situation is a little different – he’s missed out on the Masters and US Open but will of course be at the final two Majors of the season as a past champion. That feels about right to me and serves as a sobering reminder how quickly a professional golfer can fall from superstar to rank and file.
The reality is that if Harrington was good enough to play in this year’s US Open then he would have qualified outright MT: Previous winners of the US Open are eligible for 10 years – I’d quite like it if, like the other Majors, they received an invite up until they reach a certain age, say, 55. While you want the strongest field etc the week is added to nicely with the stories of what has gone before in the championship.
JT: I think ten years is about right for the US Open. You always want the best players of the day playing in Majors and if you had too many past champions in the tournament it could start devaluing the field. I don’t want to see other Majors go the way of the Masters and allow all past champions to play because I think it makes for a better tournament without some of them. The reality is that if Harrington was good enough to play in this year’s US Open then he would have qualified outright. There are 15 exemption categories along with international qualifying after all! The only point I would add is that it might be nice to allow players who win a Major three times a lifetime exemption. That would mean some truly great stars of the past would always get to play in an event that they helped shape the history of.
JM: Former major winners, along with the Amateur champion and US Amateur winner should be allowed to play for as long as their name is on the trophy!
Our team have had their say on the issue, but what do you think? Let us know by commenting below