Entries open for the 78th U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach next Wednesday, which means the most highly-anticipated women’s golf event of the year is drawing near. Golf fans get to watch the men compete every year at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, as well as the occasional U.S. Open, but July 5-9 will be the first time the best females in the world take on the iconic course.
Once entries open, players also have the chance to apply for a special exemption. Those are few and far between, of course. Patty Berg received the first special exemption back in 1977, as well as ones in 1978 and 1979.
Juli Inkster is also a three-time recipient, landing special exemptions in 1983, 1994 and 2013. It’s doubtful that Inkster, a two-time USWO winner who hails from Northern California, would get a fourth exemption, but don’t be surprised to see the 62-year-old try to qualify.
Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr received special exemptions in 2021 at The Olympic Club. It would be surprising to see either player receive a second one.
Annika Sorenstam would be a no-brainer to receive a special exemption. The three-time USWO winner has never asked for a special exemption. She played last year at Pine Needles after earning her way in with victory at the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
Sorenstam, of course, came up short at last year’s USSWO and said that she didn’t plan to play as much in 2023. She would have to officially request the exemption for Pebble (which the USGA would certainly green-light), but hasn’t yet decided.
Rose Zhang, a former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, is exempt into the USWO after winning the Mark H. McCormack Medal for top amateur a third time. However, should the Stanford player choose to turn professional after the NCAA Championship, she would no longer be exempt. Zhang could always go through qualifying, but it’s worth noting that Michelle Wie West received a special exemption both as an amateur and a young professional before joining the LPGA.
Inkster, a three-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, also received her first special exemption shortly after turning professional as did two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Vicki Goetze-Ackerman (1993).
Laura Davies, 59, has expressed a desire to play at Pebble Beach, noting at last year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open that she might try to qualify. Davies, winner of the 1987 USWO and 2018 U.S. Senior Women’s Open, received a special exemption in 2009. The first British player to win the championship, Davies’ victory caused the LPGA to change its constitution, giving her automatic membership.
Of course, special exemptions aren’t given out every year. From 2010 to 2012, no player received one. The same was true for 2022.
Here’s a list of of the players who received special exemptions from 2000 to 2021: