The 6th green at Sunnehanna Country Club, host of Local Qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Championship in 2024.

U.S. Amateur Qualifying changes
By Mike Dudurich  • March 13, 2024

Qualifying for the U.S. Amateur is a challenge. Just ask anybody who’s ever tried to do it.

It has become a grueling, 36-hole test that starts early in the morning and ends when the shadows start to lengthen – if there are no ties, of course.

There has been much conversation about the format over the years and in 2023 changes were finally made in the event, as well as several other events, that will be implemented in 2024.

In a nutshell, the USGA acknowledged that the number of entries and qualifying sites continue to increase, while at the same time pressure also increases the burden on the large number of host clubs and courses for the qualifiers.

The days are not only grueling for the players, but also the staffs and the maintenance crews at the courses. The course is required to give up a full day of tee times and everyone involved works 14 to 16-hour days.

The changes will make it easier in some ways, but it also will involve players having to add a day to their schedules, which means more travel, lodging and accommodations.

Obviously, preparations for the qualifiers will change. Previously, players geared up for a dawn-to-dusk extravaganza with an hour or so break between rounds.

Under the new plan, there will be 45 different 18-hole local qualifiers and 19 different 18-hole final qualifiers.

The trio of Nathan Smith, Sean Knapp and Rick Stimmel have over 40 appearances in the U.S. Amateur between them and each have slightly different perspectives on the changes.

“I probably liked it the way it was when I was younger,” Smith said. “You had to be in good shape to do 36 holes like that in the middle of summer. Maybe it’s better for older guys, but there are a lot of them still out there playing in the qualifiers.”

Knapp is a proud, card-carrying member of that ‘older guy’ club and, even at age 61, is a force to be reckoned with each time he tees it up. As a reminder, he’s won nine Amateurs, nine Mid-Ams and three Senior Amateurs in the WPGA.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Knapp said of the changes. “For the most part, the way it has been for several years has been a shootout. This way, I believe, provides a better path to the U.S. Am for the better players. I like this way better.

“I applaud the USGA for this, I really do,” he said. “For me anyway, the 36-hole was more mental than physical. But to me, this way won’t be as physical or mental. I think this will open it up to maybe even older people.”

Stimmel added a similar perspective.

“I feel breaking it up into two different qualifiers is definitely beneficial,” he said. “First of all, you have that one-hit wonder that makes it through. Second, it’s also physically an endurance battle the way it’s been. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played really good in the first round and then ran out of gas with nine holes to go.

“Plus, depending on your WAGR rankings, it gives you the chance to get an exemption through the first stage, which is huge. But either way you get there, it’s quite an accomplishment.”

This year’s U.S. Amateur will be held at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., from August 12-18. Local qualifying for the 2024 U.S. Amateur will be held on June 24 at Sunnehanna Country Club in Johnstown.

Also included in the announcement of changes, state amateurs and some of the top amateur tournaments in the country have added exemptions for its winners.

About the WPGA
Founded in 1899, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association is the steward of amateur golf in the region. Started by five Member Clubs, the association now has nearly 200 Member Clubs and nearly 37,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund and Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Fame.