The Masters doesn’t arrive for another nine months, and the golf world’s attention will be focused this week on the links of Muirfield, along Scotland’s east coast, where the British Open will be staged. But at the same time, just outside Washington, someone will hoist a trophy and book a trip to Augusta National Golf Club for April.
That, essentially, is what’s at stake in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship: 156 players for one spot in the Masters. The penultimate version of one of the U.S. Golf Association’s oldest tournaments — always held on public golf courses, open only to players who don’t belong to private country clubs — will be held at Laurel Hill Golf Club, a course that gets to the heart of the tournament, having been built on the former site of the D.C. Department of Corrections facility in Lorton, less than 20 miles south of the District.
The tournament — first staged in 1922 and commonly referred to as the Publinx — consists of two rounds of stroke play Monday and Tuesday followed by match play beginning Wednesday, with the 36-hole championship match Saturday. It has earned a number of distinctions over the years. Michelle Wie, as a 13-year-old, won the women’s version of the event in 2003 and then played in the men’s event in 2005 in hopes of winning and gaining that invitation to the Masters. She lost in the quarterfinals.
But its time has come. In February, the USGA announced it would eliminate the Publinx following the 2014 event, replacing it with a four-ball competition that will begin in 2015. The U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship will pit teams of two — not required to be from the same club, state or even country — against each other. There will, of course, be no spot in the Masters for the winner.
The thinking, the USGA said at the time, was that the public links championship had come to resemble the U.S. Amateur, which had originally been open only to USGA member clubs. That stipulation was removed in 1979, and the distinction between the Publinx and the Amateur dissipated.
This year’s field includes three established local golfers: Mark Cusic of the Southern Maryland town of California, who won the 2011 Maryland amateur championship; Brandon Cigna of Arlington, who played at Michigan State; and Brendan McKinney of Cockeysville, Md.
Michael Kim, the 19-year-old who contended into the weekend at last month’s U.S. Open, is also scheduled to compete. The national college player of the year at Cal, Kim finished tied for 17th and was the low amateur at Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia.
Admission is free for all six days of the Publinx.