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NCAA Cure Worse Than The Crime

MILTON, GEORGIA | Well, at least they tried. That seemed to be the sentiment after a controversial slow-play ruling at the Men’s NCAA Championship cost Texas A&M a shot at a national title. Yes, there was sympathy for the Aggies, but slow play is a pox on our game. Beards grow thicker and children taller during most college rounds. Something had to be done. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t have been this. Here is what happened: With A&M on the cusp qualifying for match play, Ty Dunlap, the Aggies’ anchor and one of the longest hitters in a field full of bombers, needed to play his last five holes even par for the team to advance. The fifth hole, (his 14th) was a drivable par-4, so Dunlap and his fellow competitors, Greg Eason of Central Florida and Jon Rahm from Arizona State, waited for the green to clear as they had on every shot since the third tee. Then, Rahm and Eason hit their drives long and into precarious spots while Dunlap drove it short and made a quick birdie. That is where the trouble started. The group ahead made two birdies and a par on No. 6 (a par 3) and the threesome was gone in minutes while Eason and Rahm struggled with their pitch shots. That put Dunlap’s group out of position through no fault of his own. Down the stretch, with the pressure mounting and everything on the line, Dunlap hit two errant tee shots, one of which resulted in a drop and the other a pitch out. But he made a 50-footer for birdie and two-putted from 40 feet at the last to seemingly advance his team into match play by one shot. But then the group was summoned before the rules committee. Dunlap and Eason were assessed retroactive one-shot penalties for slow play. Rahm was not given a penalty. Rahm’s team, Arizona State, got into a playoff for the final match play spot while the Aggies went from celebrating their finish to putting their shoes back on and refocusing for a four-team playoff as well. Texas A&M lost on the first extra hole. “I really feel like they earned a spot in match play and it got taken away from them,” Aggies coach J.T. Higgins said afterward. “The rules guys dug their heels in. [The players] had some bad times, but they also had a lot riding on it. Eason was playing for an individual championship and he knew it and Ty was playing to get us into match play and he knew it. They were both grinding.” The problem wasn’t the bad times: it was the fact that no one informed the players of their times or their penalties while they were on the golf course and could do something about it. Dunlap played his final hole assuming a five was good enough. The official clocking each player must have known that a penalty would be coming. “It isn’t that penalties shouldn’t be given; we all agree that we have to speed up play,” said Georgia coach Chris Haack, an independent observer of the incident. “The problem is the inconsistency.” During the first round, for example, Georgia’s T.J. Mitchell was called before the committee and told that he had five bad times. The USC player in Mitchell’s group had 10 bad times. Neither was given a penalty. “How did those guys not get a penalty and then at the most crucial point in the championship a kid trying to get his team into match play gets one when they were only out of position for the last four holes?” Haack said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.” It didn’t make sense to Higgins, either. The coach asked the committeemen where Dunlap’s bad times occurred, but they would not divulge which shots were deemed to have taken too long.


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