At this rate, Golf’s Longest Day might need to rebrand to Golf’s Best Day. Granted, the competition for that title has thinned out over the last few years, at least on the men’s side of the game. The majors are still the majors, sure, but those four weeks are now also tied to the PGA Tour/LIV Golf schism, as they’re the only events where we see the world’s best players in the same spot. Some LIV players tried to qualify for the U.S. Open too, to be clear, but that’s a key aspect of the day’s charm: tried to qualify. Nothing is handed out.

The relative openness of the U.S. Open is perhaps overblown. It’s impossibly hard to make it into the final field. But compared to the rest of the pro golf world, it’s downright welcoming. Tin Cup is a film filled with quotable scenes, but a relevant one involves Roy explaining to Romeo why and how the U.S. Open is “the most democratic” golf tournament in the world, and he’s probably right. Sure, the odds are long. But if you have both the handicap and the willingness and ability to pay the entry fee, you can tee it up and take a shot. The benefactors of this system are often not the Cinderella amateurs or driving range pickers, but rather the longtime pro grinders who have never quite broken through at the very highest levels of the sport.

John Chin is 37. He first turned pro in 2010, had a season on the PGA Tour, has bounced around the KFT and PGA Tour Canada, and is currently ranked 4,410th in the world. He hasn’t played an event that doled out OWGR points since August of 2022. He’s among the very best in the world at playing golf, and yet he’s still never once competed in golf’s biggest events. Watch his Golf Channel interview with Kira Dixon, where she asks him what he thinks about the fact that he’s heading to a U.S. Open.

Note the long look down. Note the forceful exhale as he collects himself enough to offer, “It’s about damn time.” There’s an entire decade-plus of struggle and resilience packed into those four words.

Justin Lower is 35. He’s had slightly more success and consistency than Chin; he’s currently ranked 141st in the world, and has had status on the PGA Tour for a few years now. (And he won a Fried Egg Golf event in 2023.) But he’s also never played a major. Here’s his own Golf Channel interview, where he’s asked essentially the same question.

He nods, and offers the same pursed-lip exhalation to give himself a beat saying “It’s kinda everything.” Lower goes on to note that it’s a lot later in his career than he thought it would be, before breaking down further while talking about losing his dad as a teenager, and how meaningful it would be for him to play on Father’s Day at Pinehurst.

There’s more real emotion packed into a couple of minutes of interviews than we get during entire hours of regular weekend coverage. We see what the stage itself means to these players. It’s a sharp contrast to being battered over the head with the record amount of prize money on offer on a weekly basis, as if anyone at home is more or less likely to watch the U.S. Open or any other tournament because the purse gets bumped a few million dollars in either direction. The story is the competition, and what it means to the competitors not only to win but to just have a chance to compete. Chin and Lower certainly don’t take it for granted, and they’re not the only ones. Golf needs as much of that as it can get these days.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.