What Is the US Open Playoff Format?

What happens when the US Open is tied after 72 holes

Tiger Woods celebrates making putt that forced a playoff at the 2008 US Open
Tiger Woods got pretty excited when he made a putt to force a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open (Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in that playoff). Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images

The U.S. Open is a 72-hole golf tournament. But what happens if two or more golfers are tied for the lead after four rounds of play? They play an extra two holes — perhaps more if they remain tied..

The Current US Open Playoff Format

Beginning in 2018, the USGA switched from an 18-hole playoff to a two-hole, aggregate score playoffs. Any golfers tied following 72 holes of play continue on for another two holes. Their combined scores on those two holes determine the winner.

And if two or more golfers remain tied after those two playoff holes? They keep playing in a sudden-death format, until one of them wins a hole and, therefore, the tournament.

Once upon a time, all four of the professional majors in men's golf used 18-hole (or longer) playoffs. Over the years, the other three — The Masters, British Open and PGA Championship — did away with the 18-holer and switched to shorter playoff formats.

But the USGA stuck with the extra day of play, requiring a full, 18-hole playoff. Until 2018, when the switch to the two-hole, aggregate score format was made.

Which holes are used in the two-hole playoff is based on the golf course in use and its setup, and is determined each year prior to the start of the U.S. Open.

How the US Open Playoff Format Evolved

The U.S. Open playoff format has changed a few times through the years. In the early years of the tournament - late 1800s, early 1900s - an 18-hole playoff was used. But if the participants were still tied after that extra 18, they played another 18 holes. This resulted in some playoffs going 36 holes (first 18, still tied, so another 18), which first occurred at the 1925 U.S. Open.

Then the USGA switched to a 36-hole playoff by design. That was first used at the 1928 U.S. Open. But following what happened at the 1931 tournament - explained below - the USGA switched back to an 18-hole format in 1932 forward. However, they kept the proviso that if the golfers were still tied, they played a second 18.

Sudden-death didn't enter the picture for the first time until the 1990 U.S. Open, when the USGA switched to an 18-hole playoff followed by sudden death if the golfers were still tied.

And, finally, in 2018, the USGA went to the current two-hole, aggregate score format.

That Time the US Open Playoff Lasted 72 Holes

So what happened at the 1931 U.S. Open? As noted, the USGA began using a 36-hole format (18 holes in the morning, another 18 in the afternoon) in the mid-1920s. But if the golfers were still tied after that 36 holes? They played another 36-hole playoff.

And it actually happened once, at the 1931 tournament. That year, playoff participants Billy Burke and George Von Elm wound up playing a 72-hole playoff. A 72-hole playoff that followed a 72-hole tournament - 144 holes in all that year. See our 1931 U.S. Open recap for the details.