ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) – Women golfers could be playing at next year’s British Open.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the governing body for the sport outside the United States, said Thursday it was changing its entry rules to allow women to qualify for the oldest of the four majors.

The announcement came on the same day that 16-year-old Michelle Wie was making her pro debut at the Samsung World Championship at Bighorn Golf Club.

Any woman finishing in the top five – including ties – in any of the four majors can try for the Open through regional and final qualifying.

In addition, any women meeting the entry requirements for international qualifying, final qualifying and the Open itself can enter at these stages directly.

The rule change also means that the players who finished in the top five at this year’s Women’s British Open will be able to qualify for next year’s Open. They include winner Jeong Jang, Sophie Gustafsson, Wie, Annika Sorenstam, Young Kim, Christie Kerr and Liselotte Neumann.

The three majors in the United States – the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA – have no policy barring women.

The 135th British Open will be played next year at Hoylake July 20-23.

“I am delighted that a qualification route has now been established for the best women players to gain access to the championship, competing alongside men on the same courses and from the same tees,” said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson.

The R&A’s announcement was welcomed by British Sports Minister Richard Caborn.

“I think it’s an important step forward for women’s sport,” he said. “The Open really is now truly open. Everybody can play in it regardless of their sex. I think the R&A have listened to what people think and I’m very pleased they are changing the rules.”

AP-ES-10-13-05 0736EDT

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