Making the U.S. Open: Qualifying and Exemptions Explained

Amateur players must have a have a Handicap Index of 0.4 or better to enter U.S. Open qualifying

, GolfLink Editor
Updated February 14, 2024
Adam Hadwin at the 2022 U.S. Open

Adam Hadwin at the 2022 U.S. Open

    Adam Hadwin at the 2022 U.S. Open
    Rob Carr
    Getty image license

Think you have what it takes to play in the U.S. Open? The USGA invites you to try.

As a true Open, the championship is open to all. Getting there is simple, but not easy. For an amateur to qualify for the U.S. Open, they need to first get their handicap down to 0.4 or lower. Then they’re eligible for an 18-hole local qualifier, and if they play well enough there, it’s on to a 36-hole final qualifier. Those who play well enough in the final qualifying advance to the field of 156 who play in the U.S. Open.

In addition to open qualifying, the USGA also gives exemptions to players who meet certain criteria (see below for complete details).

U.S. Open Qualifying

The U.S. Open takes place every June and qualifying begins all over the United States in late April and runs through early June.

A U.S. Open Qualifier is a golf tournament in which players compete for the right to play in the U.S. Open. U.S. Open qualifying takes place in two stages; Local Qualifying, and Final Qualifying.

In 2023, a record 10,187 players entered U.S. Open qualifying for a chance to tee it up at The Los Angeles Country Club. 

U.S. Open Qualifying
Stage Participants (2023) Sites Qualifiers
Local 9,693 109 530 (5.5%)
Final 878 13 64 (7.3%)

Local Qualifiers

The first step to qualifying for the U.S. Open is to advance through an 18-hole Local Qualifier.

In 2023, 109 local qualifiers were staged across the United States from late-April through mid-May. Roughly the top 5.5% of players who enter Local Qualifying advance to Final Qualifying. The exact number of players who advance from each local qualifier depends on the field size at each event. For example, 83 golfers competed in the Local Qualifier at Brentwood CC in Los Angeles in 2023, and five of them advanced. The smallest local qualifier in 2023 was at Palmer Golf Course in Palmer, Alaska, where 16 players tried, and one advanced.

Any professional golfer or amateur with a Handicap Index that does not exceed 0.4 is eligible to enter. Amateurs with a Handicap Index not exeeding 1.4 could enter U.S. Open qualifying prior to 2024, but the USGA changed that standard in 2024. In 2023, 9,693 golfers entered Local Qualifiers and of them, 530 advanced to Final Qualifying.


Final Qualifying

Callum Tarren reached the 2022 U.S. Open through qualifying

Callum Tarren reached the 2022 U.S. Open through qualifying

    Callum Tarren reached the 2022 U.S. Open through qualifying
    Warren Little
    getty image license

The second and final step in qualifying for the U.S. Open is the aptly-named Final Qualifying stage.

Players who advance through local qualifying, and those who were exempt from local qualifying, head to one of 13 Final Qualifying sites. In 2024, 10 of those 13 are contested in the United States and one each is held in Japan, England and Canada.

Final Qualifying is played over 36 holes in a single day, known as Golf's Longest Day. Roughly the top 7.5% advance to the U.S. Open. The exact number of players to advance from each site is determined by the number of players and the strength of each site’s field. In 2023, 64 out of 878 players qualified for the U.S. Open. U.S. Open final qualifying is held in late-May and early-June.

In addition to the 530 golfers who advanced through local qualifying in 2023, 348 more players were exempt into final qualifying, bringing the total number of players to attempt to qualify for the 2023 U.S. Open to 10,187.

While golf's most popular players have typically earned an exemption from U.S. Open qualifying by the time they become household names, some top-level tour players must attempt to earn their way into the U.S. Open alongside the golfing public. Here are some of the biggest names to attempt U.S. Open qualifying in 2023. Those marked with a (Q) made it through to the U.S. Open.

  • Sergio Garcia (Q)
  • Graeme McDowell
  • Henrik Norlander
  • Adam Long
  • Luke List (Q)
  • Stewart Cink (Q)
  • Nick Dunlap (a)(Q)
  • Lucas Glover
  • Erik Van Rooyen
  • Cameron Champ
  • Aaron Baddeley
  • Peter Uihlein

It's likely we will see even more big-name pros attempt U.S. Open Qualifying as most professionals who compete in LIV Golf will see their world ranking drop, and miss out on opportunities to qualify through the PGA Tour by winning PGA Tour events or reaching the PGA Tour Championship.


U.S. Open Exemptions

Speaking of those paths to the U.S. Open throug the PGA Tour, the USGA gives out exemptions into the U.S. Open to golfers based on their credentials, and after the USGA added four exemptions for 2023, there are 24 different categories in which a golfer can earn an exemption into the U.S. Open, including by receiving a special invitation from the USGA. Many of which include earning a ticket through performance on the PGA Tour. The 24 exemption categories are:

# Exemption
1 Winners of the U.S. Open Championship the last 10 years
2 Top 10 finishes, including ties, from the previous U.S. Open
3 Reigning U.S. Amateur Champion
4 Reigning U.S. Amateur runner-up (must be an amateur)
5 Winners of the Masters the last five years (including current year)
6 Winners of the PGA Championship the last five years (including current year)
7 Winners of the Open Championship the last five years
8 Winners of the Players Championship the last three years (including current year)
9 Winner of the most recent European Tour BMW PGA Championship
10 Those players who qualified for the previous season-ending Tour Championship
11 Multiple winners of PGA Tour events that award a full-point allocation for the FedEx Cup from the conclusion of the previous U.S. Open to the current year U.S. Open
12 The top 10 aggregate point earners (who are not otherwise exempt) from the three-event U.S. Open European Tour Qualifying Series
13 Winner of the Amateur Championship (must be an amateur)
14 Winner of the Mark H. McCormack Medal (top-ranked in WAGR & must be an amateur)
15 Top 60 point leaders and ties in the Official World Golf Ranking three weeks prior to the U.S. Open
16 Top 60 point leaders and ties in the Official World Golf Ranking one week prior to the U.S. Open
17 From the previous year's Asian Tour Final Order of Merit, the top finisher who is not otherwise exempt as of three weeks prior to the U.S. Open
18 From the previous year's ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia Final Order of Merit, the top finisher who is not otherwise exempt as of three weeks prior to the U.S. Open
19 From the current Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, the leading player who is not otherwise exempt as of three weeks prior to the U.S. Open
20 Latin America Amateur Champion (must be an amateur)
21 NCAA Division I men's individual champion (must be an amateur)
22 Previous year's Korn Ferry Tour season points leader (KFT Regular Season and KFT Tour Finals) 
23 Top 5 in current season's FedExCup standings as of May 22 4 weeks prior to U.S. Open
24 Special Exemptions selected by the USGA