The rare way this U.S. Women’s Open player snuck into the field

Harriet Lynch practices putting at the U.S. Women's Open.

Harriet Lynch had a unique journey to the U.S. Women's Open.

Jack Hirsh/GOLF

LANCASTER, Pa. — Harriet Lynch isn’t unique in fulfilling a lifelong dream this week by playing in the U.S. Women’s Open. But how she made it into the 156-player field this week at Lancaster Country Club does set her apart.

And she has rising LPGA star Gabi Ruffels to thank for it.

Like most of the 1,897 other entrants for this year’s Open — the second most behind only last year’s edition at Pebble Beach — Lynch, 23, began her journey to Lancaster CC in qualifying. Unlike the men’s U.S. Open, the U.S. Women’s Open consists of just one stage of 36-hole qualifying at 26 different sites in the weeks leading up to the event.

Lynch, in her rookie season on the Epson Tour, played in the May 6 qualifier at San Joaquin Country Club in Fresno, Calif., near where she lives. She knew the course well, having played it for five years while competing for Fresno State.

“I came back from an Epson Tour event — I made my first cut — and went straight to the U.S. Open qualifier,” Lynch said Tuesday on the range at Lancaster. “There was a lot of pressure going into it since I knew the course and was trying to manage my expectations.”

The Englishwoman posted 70-69 for a three-under 139, three shots behind Ruffels, who took medalist honors, and two shots behind 15-year-old teen sensation Asterisk Talley. Lynch had the unenviable distinction of finishing third in a qualifier that awarded only two positions in the championship proper.

The two players who made it through came as no surprise to Lynch. After dominating on the Epson Tour early last year, Ruffels cracked the top-100 of the Rolex Women’s world rankings by early May, but that wasn’t enough to make the Aussie exempt for the U.S. Women’s Open. By the time of the qualifier, Ruffels was 83rd in the world, eight spots from becoming exempt by way of the world top-75 category.

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“When I saw she was in the field, I knew it was a pretty good shot she qualified,” Lynch said of Ruffels, the 2019 U.S. Women’s Am champ. “She’s such a great player.

“And then Asterisk, there was a lot of talk going in, and she’s had an amazing season. And it was just nice to actually have a strong field and kind of put my game to the test.”

As the first alternate, Lynch was handed a card from the USGA outlining some of the ways she could have still made it into the field. When a player who qualifies from a tournament withdraws, the spot is filled by the first alternate from the same qualifying site.

Things become more complicated if an exempt player withdraws. After all of the qualifiers are complete, the USGA ranks them into the “re-allotment list” and spots in the field are filled with alternates from sites at the top of the re-allotment list.

Lynch received an email from the USGA which said the San Joaquin qualifier was 10th on the list.

But what happens if a qualifier subsequently becomes exempt? Such a scenario wasn’t outlined on the card, and that’s was what ended up happening as Ruffels finished third in her next two LPGA starts, boosting her ranking to 40th. It was a near certainty Ruffels would become exempt when the final ranking cutoff was made on May 26.

As Ruffels made her run, Lynch waited in limbo.

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“It was like a few opinions here and there, but we weren’t sure at the time,” Lynch said. “We were kind of in the dark coming in, but just tried to stay positive the whole time.”

Lynch’s card had stated there was no need for her to contact the USGA. But heading out to play a major championship is no small task. You have to arrange flights, hotels, a caddie, budget for food. It’s not the easiest or most affordable thing to do for players like Lynch who are working their way up to the LPGA.

Finally, in mid-May, Lynch made a call to the USGA, in the week after Ruffels finished third at the Cognizant Founders Cup. While USGA officials couldn’t confirm Lynch would be playing at Lancaster, they did confirm Lynch’s thinking that if Ruffels were to become exempt, the first alternate from the San Joaquin site would then qualify.

“So I was like, okay, let’s just start booking and hopefully we’ll get the call,” Lynch said. “Maybe Sunday or Monday and then just at least we’re here.”

On Sunday night, Lynch got word: She was in.

“It was pretty awesome,” she said. “Just to know that it’s official and the anxiety can calm down a little bit.”

Had Ruffels not become exempt, Lynch said she wouldn’t have made the trip to central Pennsylvania from California, given she was likely to be far down the alternate list to have a legitimate shot of getting into the field.

Qualifiers eventually becoming exempt is something that can happen, but it’s rare, a USGA spokesperson said. Akie Iwai qualified in the Japan qualifier last year, but her qualifier was held more than a month before the tournament. She ended up qualifying via her No. 50 ranking the week of the tournament.

But Lynch beat the odds.

Now, she can enjoy the week as she plays her first major.

“Someone pinch me,” she said.

Jack Hirsh Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is a 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and recently returned to the program to serve as head coach. Jack also still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as a Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at



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