USGA Open Championship Qualifying February 19, 2019 | Liberty Corner, N.J. By David Shefter, USGA

Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen is eligible to compete in his first U.S. Senior Open this June. (USGA/John Gress)

USGA championships have often been described as the most democratic in sports. Think about it. Few get a chance to play on the same court as Lebron James or the same field as Tom Brady. But if you want to play against Tiger Woods, Lexi Thompson, Bernhard Langer, Juli Inkster and other greats of the game, that chance is available – albeit difficult – through the USGA’s Open championships.

Last year, nearly 14,000 golfers filed entries for the USGA’s four Open championships, many of them dreaming of that one shot at glory.

The first step in that process begins on Wednesday, Feb. 20 with entries going live for the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

Click here to apply to play

Every competitor – exempt or not – must file an online entry by the specified deadline.

Here are three things you should know about this year’s Open championships:

Open for All

As the name indicates, the USGA’s Open championships are open to anyone. While the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Senior Women’s Open have an age limit, the two biggest championships – U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open – don’t have such restrictions. These are open to any professional, and any amateur golfer who meets the handicap requirement. It’s what sets USGA championships apart from other global golf competitions.

For the U.S. Open, an amateur’s USGA Handicap Index cannot exceed 1.4, while the U.S. Women’s Open limit is 2.4. Because of the high volume of entries – the U.S. Open has surpassed 9,000 the last seven years – a two-tier qualifying process is employed to whittle the field to 156 players. Most entrants will compete in 18-hole local qualifiers at 111 sites, followed by 36-hole sectional qualifying at 10 sites (seven in the U.S. and three internationally: England, Canada and Japan). About half of the 156-player field is from qualifying.

Click here for a list of local qualifying sites.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the last player to win the U.S. Open as a sectional qualifier (Lucas Glover).

Entries have surpassed the 1,500 mark each of the past five years for the U.S. Women’s Open. Because of this interest, 36-hole sectional qualifying was extended to four international sites starting in 2014: England, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China. Birdie Kim (2005) is the last sectional qualifier to take the title.

Both the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Senior Women’s Open feature 18-hole sectional qualifying, with the handicap requirement set at 3.4 and 7.4, respectively. Last year, Tim Petrovic parlayed his sectional-qualifying success into a tie for second. Sectional qualifier Martha Leach, the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, tied for 10th – the low amateur in the field – in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

New Beginning

One exciting aspect of the Senior Opens is the crop of fresh faces who become age-eligible every year. In 2019, the U.S. Senior Open will welcome two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen as well as Darren Clarke and Paul Lawrie, both of whom claimed The Open Championship conducted by The R&A. Another player likely to make his U.S. Senior Open debut is Steve Stricker, 52, who missed the last two championships because he qualified for the U.S. Open, the first of which was in his home state of Wisconsin (Erin Hills).

On the Senior Women’s Open side, a pair of past U.S. Women’s Amateur champions are eligible this year: Michiko Hattori and Amy Fruhwirth.

The new exemption categories for the U.S. Junior and U.S. Mid-Amateur champions give Michael Thorbjornsen (U.S. Junior Amateur) and Kevin O’Connell (U.S. Mid-Amateur) a chance to play in their first U.S. Open. The same is true in the U.S. Women’s Open for Shannon Johnson, the reigning U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion. U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Yealimi Noh forfeited her exemption by turning professional in February, but she can still get into the field via qualifying.

View Currently Exempt Players

U.S. Open | U.S. Women's Open | U.S. Senior Open | U.S. Senior Women's Open

Venue Spotlight

The crown jewel of this year’s Open championships is certainly Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. Some call the site hosting its sixth U.S. Open the greatest meeting of land and sea, with views more breathtaking than the golf that will be on display in June.

The other three Open sites are notable as well. The Country Club of Charleston (S.C.) is a Seth Raynor gem located in one of the South’s most charming cities. The Warren Course at Notre Dame (Ind.) is on the campus of one of the country’s most recognized universities, in the shadow of “Touchdown Jesus” and the Golden Dome.

The second U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be held at a place that should be quite familiar to many of the players. Pine Needles Resort & Lodge in Southern Pines, N.C., a Donald Ross gem, hosted three U.S. Women’s Opens between 1996 and 2007.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.