The calendar says September, so school is underway and another college golf season is upon us. There was a time in my life when I was as close to the college game as anyone else in America. Anymore, I don’t recognize college golf. It has fallen off the tracks, and I don’t understand why.
First, the new format for determining the national champion is a joke, plain and simple. The 72-hole format that served college golf for so long was abandoned. Thirty teams qualify for the finals, where they play 54 holes of stroke play. Each team counts its low four out of five scores each day. The low eight teams then advance to a match-play format, whereby teams are seeded and face off in five-on-five 18 holes matches. The winner advances, the loser goes home, until one team is left standing. Sound convoluted? It is. And it’s the only time all year long this format is used.
The end result in each of the two years this format has existed is a Cinderella winner. Texas A&M won in 2009, and tiny Augusta State claimed the 2010 title. This is just perfect for the sports socialists who run the NCAA. The championship no longer is designed to identify the best team, it is designed to give each team a chance to win the ultimate prize. With all due respect to these two winning schools, neither could have won in the old format. And neither were the best teams in the year that they won. Cinderella is fun in March in college hoops, but it shouldn’t be emulated in every other college sport.
Here’s another example of overthinking the championship: Coaches are not allowed to select the order of their team’s lineup. That is predetermined for the entire week by some undisclosed secret formula, meaning that this aspect of match-play strategy gets tossed out the window. A coach can’t put his hot man off first to build momentum, or off last to close the deal if necessary. Imagine Corey Pavin and Colin Montgomerie being told in advance what their lineups would be at the Ryder Cup next month. Ludicrous.
Why the change? Depends on who you ask. As with most things in NCAA sports, it’s probably all about the almighty dollar. In this case, there is the hope that one day the NCAA golf championship will get a fat rights fee from ESPN or Golf Channel. Somehow this format is deemed better, even though most televised golf is a 72-hole affair. I seriously doubt that a TV payday is around the corner; since you only see parents, girlfriends and agents at most college events, one can’t imagine that there is a big television audience dying to watch college golf.
Next symptom: The NCAA has made the individual championship absolutely irrelevant. And this is sad for the players. It used to be that the NCAA individual championship was among the very best amateur events in the nation. Some even whispered that the winner ought to get a Masters invite. Many of the great names in the game have this 72-hole championship on their resume, including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Kite and Curtis Strange. Now, the individual championships won by Matt Hill in 2009 and Scott Langley in 2010 are not comparable to those won by Woods or Mickelson or anyone else. No major amateur championship is determined after just 54 holes. This is an instance where the players themselves ought to rise up and take back their championship.
Next, there is pace of play … or lack thereof. Question: How many college coaches does it take to screw in a light bulb? I don’t know, but I do know how many it takes to attempt to cure the pervasive problem of slow play: 13. That’s right, a committee created to solve this thorny issue was loaded with the very people who allow it to continue. This is just laughable; slow play at the college level is at the epidemic stage, and it will continue unless each and every coach takes the following short oath: I will accept losing a tournament due to a slow-play penalty. Until then, expect to see more slow play, like at the NCAAs in June when it took one twosome five hours to play 18 holes
Finally, code of conduct. Picture the scene at the 2010 NCAA Championships at the late Jack Lupton’s homage to amateur golf, the Honors Course. Backward hats, shirts untucked, flying “f” bombs all over the place. Lupton, had he been alive, might have called the whole thing off in mid-tournament. Attention Riviera CC: You sure you really want to host the NCAA’s?
College golf wasn’t broken, and I don’t understand why the NCAA tried to fix it. Then again, this is the group that wanted to take a magical 64-team basketball tournament and ruin it by inviting 96 NCAA D1 schools to the big dance.