Controversy Erupts As Tiger Woods Gets Special US Open Exemption

Tiger Woods at the 2024 Masters Tournament

Getty Images Tiger Woods at the 2024 Masters Tournament

A surprise controversy has erupted after the United States Golf Association (USGA) announced Thursday, May 2, 2024, that Tiger Woods would be granted a “special exemption” to play the 124th US Open.

The official statement made by USGA Chief Championship Officer John Bodenhamer was clear in its intent. Tiger brings excitement (and viewers) to the Open. According to Bodenhamer, “the story of the U.S. Open could not be written without Tiger Woods. From his 15-stroke victory at Pebble Beach in 2000 to his inspiring win on a broken leg at Torrey Pines in 2008, this championship is simply better when Tiger is in the field, and his accomplishments in the game undoubtedly made this an easy decision for our special exemption committee.”

Tiger Wants to Play

The US Open wants Tiger Woods to play, even if his game is simply not up to par. No doubt NBC, which will broadcast the US Open, June 13-16, from the Pinehurst Country Club, wants Woods to play. Few can draw in the viewers like Tiger Woods, still. It’s important to note, however, that Woods, himself, wants to play. And he makes no pretense that he earned a spot. In a statement, Woods said “the U.S. Open, our national championship, is a truly special event for our game and one that has helped define my career. I’m honored to receive this exemption and could not be more excited for the opportunity to compete in this year’s U.S. Open, especially at Pinehurst, a venue that means so much to the game.”

That said, many do not believe Tigers Woods should receive this special exemption. Reasons are varied, including believing an exemption means a deserving player gets left out, exemptions should not be offered, not even to Tiger Woods, and that given his physical ailments and recent state of play, it would be best for Tiger to simply not even attempt another US Open. There are also some golfers who are not happy. In particular, LIV Golf’s Talor Gooch has expressed his view on exemptions not being offered to himself and other LIV golfers. Gooch has found some success with LIV Golf, but his world ranking has plummeted, as the Official World Golf Rankings do not recognize these 54-hole tournaments. Gooch has stated there should be an “asterisk” on majors trophies now since “some of the best players in the world” are prevented from competing.

Does Tiger Woods Deserve A Special Exemption

Tiger Woods is 48. He last won the US Open Championship in 2008. Scottie Scheffler was 11. But beyond the obvious reasons for garnering a special exemption–advertisers, sponsors, and TV networks all believe more folks will watch–there’s a valid justification. The US Open, as Tiger says, is our “national championship” and connects today’s golfers and fans with America’s golfing past. Tiger won the US Open in 2000, 2002, and 2008. He won three US Junior Amateurs and three US Amateurs–all tournaments managed by the USGA, same as the US Open. Tiger Woods and golf in America are inextricably linked. And he can still play.

Not since Tiger Woods turned pro in 1996, bringing millions of new fans and billions of new dollars into the game, has golf been subject to so much change as now. The upstart LIV Golf is poaching some of the world’s top players thanks to contracts that just two years ago would have seemed inconceivable. The PGA is bringing in billions of dollars from private equity. Countless younger fans are demanding a more aggressive, certainly much louder and rowdier tournament atmosphere.

Tiger Woods is the one player, still, able to link golf’s past, present, and future, and draw in the traditionalist and newbie, the PGA stalwart and the LIV Golf upstart.