The U.S. Open will reduce the number of competitors in 2020 from 144 to 108 in a move announced by event organizer USBC on Thursday.
USBC said the move was made to “improve the integrity of the pattern through qualifying and allow for on-time delivery of squads” by shifting from four players per pair to three players per pair in qualifying.
At the 2019 U.S. Open, which took place last month at Victory Lanes in Mooresville, North Carolina, every qualifying squad ran late with some squads taking more than five hours to bowl eight games. With four players on a pair for eight games some players told FloBowling it made the patterns unplayable in the final couple games.
Moving to three players per pair alleviates both of those issues but it also creates a different issue as well. Losing 36 players from the field shrinks the overall prize fund from $185,250 in 2019 to a projected $159,650 in 2020, the lowest of all majors on the PBA Tour by nearly $90,000.
In comparison, here are the total projected prize funds for the other majors: PBA World Championship, $385,000; PBA Tournament of Champions, $283,000; USBC Masters, $272,500; and PBA Players Championship $246,000.
Although the top five places will pay the same at the U.S. Open in 2020 as it did in 2019, every spot from sixth to last cash, 36th place, will pay less. The cashing ratio is higher, however, with the same number of cashers with less entries.
USBC changed the U.S. Open format in 2017 to limit the number of players in the field to 144 instead of being an open-entry event. USBC said having a select field “brings a higher level of prestige to the event” and would allow the U.S. Open to be conducted at smaller centers.
In 2020, the U.S. Open will be held at Sun Valley Lanes in Lincoln, Nebraska. The 32-lane center is the smallest center the event has been at since limiting the field in 2017.
Going to a 32-lane center meant USBC had to make some sort of adjustment for 2020 because there simply were not enough lanes to facilitate competition pairs and tolerable practice range pairs, which USBC introduced in 2017.
Players only receive one ball practice on each of their starting lanes before starting competition. They receive 30 minutes of warm up on practice range pairs.
Even with limiting the qualifying squads to three on a pair, there will only be six lanes available for the practice range. That means each pair will have an average of 12 bowlers for the warm-up sessions, significantly more than previous years.
In 2017 and 2018 there were an average of 6.8 players per pair for warm-up pairs, while in 2019 the average was eight per pair. Had USBC not limited the field to 108 players, there would have been an untenable 16 players per pair for warm-ups.
The alternative could have been eliminating the practice range and returning to allowing players to practice for a set time on their starting pairs but that’s not the direction USBC chose to go.
The 2020 U.S. Open takes place Feb. 18-23 and will be broadcast live on FloBowling.