After spending a few days on vacation, I used my Thursday to try and wrap my head around this Talor Gooch U.S. Open exemption controversy. At this particular divisive moment in (golf) time, every little grievance or maneuver takes on heightened scrutiny and receives extra shouting. This one seems especially silly and doesn’t have anyone looking particularly good. A few notes:
1. Gooch, who recently won two straight LIV events overseas, escalated this into an aggregate-able situation with comments on a podcast last week where he called attention to the subtle tweak in the U.S. Open exemption language for the 2023 tournament. In 2022, players who qualified for the previous year’s Tour Championship were exempt into the U.S. Open. In 2023, only players who qualified and were eligible for the Tour Championship were granted exemptions into the U.S. Open. Gooch was not eligible for last year’s Tour Championship since he was suspended by the PGA Tour after joining LIV in June.
2. It’s a subtle change, and regardless of intent, it seems targeted, sneaky, and unnecessary. Mike Whan’s comments to Golf Channel do little to change that appearance. “Any time we make changes to our criteria going forward it impacts somebody and that stinks, but we can only look forward.” He also added, “I hope [Gooch] gets in but we’re not going to change our criteria,” which… I guess that’s within the USGA’s rights, but this all still looks bad on paper given that they changed this particular piece of language when it clearly was going to remove Gooch’s spot.
3. Whether there was a grand plan to remove Gooch’s auto-exemption or not, this tweak was always going to have this result. LIV is puttering along out there, always looking for reasons to be aggrieved. Within that context: why give them something to shout about? It feels like an own goal on a peripheral matter — one player out of 156, and Talor Gooch at that.
4. I think we’re at a point when an existential threat posed by LIV is muted, and if you’re the USGA, which has been less impacted by LIV than the PGA Tour anyway, this is swerving into a controversy that could have been avoided. On more critical matters, golf organizations should tell the LIV guys to lay in the money beds they’ve made and pipe down. On the less critical matters, and I’d say this is one, don’t give them another reason to shout about being victims.
5. Gooch tweeting that he won’t even try to qualify, something he is still allowed to do if he wants to compete in his national championship, is complete chickenshit. Even if you think they did you dirty, go try and qualify for one of the four majors. You’re playing some of the best golf of your life and you turned down a shot at one of the most important competitions in your sport because you’re mad about a rule change. It’s hard to have sympathy for you when you do something like that.
6. Phil is now up at the bulletin board with his string connecting the dots, hollering about collusion and tweeting that this (again, “this” is an exemption for Talor f’n Gooch) is part of the plot for Whan to engender support from Jay Monahan for the USGA’s rollback. The linchpin in all of this, naturally, is a Talor Gooch appearance at LACC that must be obstructed.
7. Nobody looks good in all of this. Some look disingenuous and short-sighted, some look whiny, some look unhinged.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.