Why force two championships
into one tournament?
There are those who criticize the powers that be in men’s college golf for not leaving well enough alone when it comes to the postseason, which concludes this week at Riviera CC near Los Angeles with the 115th
NCAA Championship. Since I started covering the collegiate
game in 1997, I’ve seen the Division I men’s committee implement a 36-hole cut at nationals, then scrap it, try a 54-hole cut,
eliminate geographic allocations for entry into regionals, create
the “.500 rule” for qualifying and, most significantly, incorporate match play to determine the team champion. As the
mantra goes, if change is good, then more change is better.
In the committee’s defense, though, all this tinkering has
created a championship as entertaining as any in
competitive golf. The 54-hole stroke-play shootout
at nationals, with 30 schools fighting to earn one of
the eight spots in the match-play bracket, has
evolved into a three-day stress test that makes
taking a biochemistry final feel like recess. And say
what you will about using a format that schools
rarely play during the regular season, the head-to-head showdowns match play creates have only
enhanced the championship’s atmosphere.
Still, there is one more tweak I’d propose that
could make the postseason even more compelling:
Establish a separate stroke-play tournament to
crown an individual champion.
This is not a new idea, or one without inherent
impediments. The cost, in dollars and labor, to stage
another championship, much less figuring out when to
schedule it on a crowded calendar, are not small issues. Yet
they aren’t so large as to keep from discussing its merits.
The struggle college golf faces, particularly when trying to
appeal outside its fan base, is that it takes an individual sport
and tries to re-engineer it into a team affair. Maybe I’ve hung
around too many coaches, but I’ve bought into their recruiting pitch, appreciating the team-first philosophy they
espouse and even believing (mostly) that players do defer
personal glory while playing for the pride of old State U.
The problem is that the hybrid setup of the NCAA
Championship undermines that notion when it tries to
identify an individual winner (during the 54-hole stroke-play qualifying) while also determining a team champion. It
creates a mixed message as golfers are playing for different
goals that can be at odds with each other.
The last two years the individual winner—Illinois’ Scott
Ideally, 2011 champs Augusta State and LSU’s
Peterson would have won separately, not in tandem.
Langley and LSU’s John Peterson—fin-
ished his round the morning of the third
day, walking off the last green to little
fanfare since it wasn’t clear whether he’d be
leading at day’s end. Meanwhile, golfers
competing in the afternoon had difficult
questions to ponder: Do I play aggressively
in an attempt to chase the individual title—and risk my team’s
chances of advancing to match play? Or do I look out for my
team and let the medalist honors slip away? Whatever the
answers, the competition becomes compromised.
The dilemma disappears with a separate individual
event. Limit it to 72 players and extend it back to 72 holes
( 54 is a sore point for many). Hold it prior to the team
championship at the same venue to help reduce costs. The
host site would need to give up its course a little longer, but
the “big event” feel of having the two consecutive tournaments would be a publicity booster.
College tennis holds separate team and individual
competitions, so there is a precedent. The NCAA would
restore the prestige of being the medalist, then allow the
team championship to take center stage with players
focused solely on competing for each other.
Yes, it means tweaking the system yet again. But it would
be a change for the better more than simply change’s sake. n