USGA Open (Golf) Entries Historical Stats

The PGA thread has meandered off topic, and my last post in it gave a few stats that I copied from a TV show about the US Open, concerning the growth in the number of entries over the years. I mentioned that I was having trouble finding data for events more than ten years old, which was too bad, because it seems obvious that the number of scratch golfers entering world class tournaments is more relevant than the number of duffers playing on weekends.

Well, here I am posting while I watch golf again. But it’s worth it, because I found an official source that gives the number of US Open entries for every year, as well as a wealth of other interesting (to me, at least) info. I’m posting a bunch of the data here for any Dopers who are interested, but also so I’ll have a reference that I can easily find the next time I google from anywhere: TONY SINCLAIR US OPEN GOLF STATS.

It’s a PDF:

Just incidentally, this will fill in the gaps in the progression I gave in my previous post in the PGA thread. Rather than bury it there, where it was off topic anyway, I’ll start a new thread, and just give the data. There’s really no need for arguments about how it shows the growth of the talent pool for pro golf, the data speaks for itself. (Edit: but I’m so weak, I couldn’t resist some snark at the end).

The PDF disagrees with the source I quoted previously about the number of entrants in 1924. I think maybe it’s the PDF that’s got some years mixed up, because it talks about a boom in entries for 1924 due to Jones winning in 1923, but then gives the number of 1924 entries as about 50 less than 1923.

I’m doing this as carefully as I can with one eye on the TV, but there are bound to be typos, and I’d appreciate any responses that call them to my attention; I want this to be accurate, for future reference. I may petition the mods to let me edit this later, after I think I’ve found all the typos.

1895: 11 entries, the first US Open, 36 holes in one day on a nine-hole course, first prize $150

1898: 49 entries, format changed to two days of 36 holes each

1912: 131 entries, first time over 100

1913: 165 entries, on site qualifying for the first time, “The Greatest Game Ever Played” when Ouimet beat Vardon and Ray

1922: 323 entries, first year tickets were sold

1924: 319 entries (but see my comment about 1924 above), first year of sectional qualifying

1926: 694 entries, first time over 500, format changed to two 18-hole days and one 36-hole day

1928: 1064 entries, first time over 1000

1933: 915 entries, only year after 1928 below 1000
(my comment, not from PDF: the 1933 US Open was won by an amateur, John Goodman. It was the only time after WWI that an amateur other than Jones won it. Jones was also the only amateur to win the British Open since 1897. Remember that when people try to tell you that the amateurs were as good as the pros during the Jones era. They were not. Jones was the best player in the world, but ratio of pros to amateurs among the rest of the best was about 8 to 1, based on the number of pros and amateurs in the top 50 of the US and British Opens of that era. Which means that the amateur “majors” that Jones won were much weaker than even an average PGA event of that time, let alone our time.)

1941: 1048 entries, last US Open before it was suspended for WWII. Note the very flat growth during the Depression.

1946: 1175 entries, US Open resumes after WWII

1951: 1511 entries, first time over 1500, Ben Hogan wins his third US Open

1954: 1928 entries, first time the fairways are roped off, first year of national TV coverage

1958: 2132 entries, first year over 2000, year Arnie won his first Masters

1960: 2453 entries, Arnie wins Masters and US Open, invents pro Grand Slam, and plays British Open for the first time, rescuing it from obscurity. Just watch the numbers take off now!

1962: 2475 entries, Jack’s first pro win is the US Open, defeating Arnie in a playoff. OK, 1960 was a false alarm, but just watch the numbers take off NOW!

1965: 2271 entries, format changed to 4 18-hole days (see 1926). I solicit explanations for the fact that the number of entrants declined every year since 1962. Even if you allow several years for the kids watching TV to grow up and turn pro, you would think that Arnie and Jack would generate more interest among the already existing scratch players. Could this have been an effect of the escalation in Vietnam?

1966: 2475 entries, first year since 1959 to increase by over 100

1967: 2651 entries, first time over 2500, numbers continue to strengthen.

1968: 3005 entries, first time over 3000. This is a big jump compared with the slow growth, or even declines, of the previous several years, so maybe 1966-68 is the real Arnie boom. You figure 14-year-olds watching Arnie on TV in 1960 are now 22 and have become scratch golfers.

1970: 3605 entries, first time over 3500. Fast growth continues. Won by Tony Jacklin, the only time a foreign player not named Gary Player won any of the three US majors between 1947 and 1979. Just sayin.

1971: 4279 entries, first time over 4000. Last year of fast growth for a while.

1977: 4608 entries, first year over 4500. Growth slowed, and entries actually dipped to 3580 in 1973. First year all 18 holes shown on live TV (ABC) final two days

1982: 5255 entries, first year over 5000, first year all four rounds broadcast live (ESPN)

1987: 5696 entries, first year over 5500, slow but steady growth

1990: 6198 entries, first year over 6000

1996: 5925 entries, no growth since 1990. Tiger bursts onto the pro scene late in the year.

1997: 7013 entries, first year over 6500 and 7000. The only year entries ever increased by over 1000. Probably just a random coincidence. Compare with the decline after 1962.

1999: 7889 entries, first year over 7500. Very rapid growth for some reason.

2000: 8455 entries, first year over 8000. Rapid growth continues.

2001: 8398 entries, first decline since Tiger turned pro. They probably just figured there was no point, after Tiger’s 15-shot win in 2000.

2002: 8648 entries, first year over 8500, entries maybe back up because it’s the first time the US Open is contested on a publicly owned course (Bethpage Black). Also first time for a two-tee start (first and tenth hole concurrently)

2004: 8726 entries, new record, last US Open without overseas sectional qualifying

2005: 9048 entries, first year over 9000

2009: 9086 entries, new and current record

2012: 9006 entries (not in PDF, but from here:,006-Entries-For-Open/
IN SUMMARY: There was a boom during the Jones era, when the talent pool approximately tripled, but was low in absolute numbers. Growth was flat during the Depression, and for several years after WWII. There was slow but steady growth from about 1950 to 1967, but no more than you would expect from the base population growth, in spite of the introduction of live TV coverage, and the presence of Arnie and Jack.

There was another boom beginning around 1966, indicating that the Arnie/Jack effect might have taken 6-8 years to manifest itself. But numbers declined after 1971, and didn’t match that year’s number again until 1976, when an era of slow growth resumed, probably due more to overall population growth than anything internal to golf. Even that flattened out after 1990, until a huge resurgence in 1997. Might be the Nick Price effect delayed by a few years, but more likely golf suddenly became the first sport of more athletes, after they watched Tiger sign a $40 million endorsement deal the day he turned pro, and realized they could play golf for 30 years or more, instead of having a two-year career on the football field before some lineman pulverized their knee. Growth was rapid after that for about the next eight years, and then flattened out again after 2005 (some schools hurt by tax cuts are eliminating minor sports), but it is holding at record high levels. Unlike WWII, it’s extremely unlikely that the two wars being fought in 2005 had more than a negligible effect on pro golf.

But in absolute numbers, which is what’s important when there is a pool of scratch golfers competing for 125 PGA Tour cards, or more importantly, just one trophy a week, the number of golfers in the talent pool seems to have been about 1000 in the Jones era, about 2500 Jack’s first year on tour (1962), about 3000 in the late 60’s, about 3600 during Jack’s best year (1973), about 6000 the year Tiger turned pro, about 8500 when Tiger went on his first assault on the records, and about 9000 when he went on his second.

It’s POSSIBLE that we got more great players from a talent pool three times smaller, but that’s not the way I’d bet. I’d bet that you’re likely to have more great players with a larger talent pool, and so they have to spread the wins more thinly. The good news for Jack fans is that if Tiger doesn’t break his majors record, nobody will, because the Asian players are coming, and they will dilute the number of wins per star player even more. The bad news is that Tiger has broken all of Jack’s other records already, and sooner or later, somebody is bound to notice that there are at least half a dozen other events played each year that have fields just as strong as the majors, playing on courses just as tough, for just as much money.