At the risk of being the curmudgeon at the Christmas party, the NCAA Women’s Championship, aired by Golf Channel, as it has been since the format changed to match play, was bad for golf. Not that Haley Moore’s birdie on the playoff hole to win the championship for Arizona wasn’t compelling, emotional and dramatic. Not that the tears weren’t genuine. Wednesday night’s final in Stillwater, Okla., pitting Arizona against Alabama was all of those things and more. The shots down the stretch were great. The tension that built throughout the matches had everything you’d want. It was hard not to have a rooting interest by the time the last putt fell.
But “time” turned out to be the problem. Pace of play in the final was beyond appalling. It bordered on an abomination. And the blame lies squarely with the coaches and NCAA officials who refuse to institute hard and real consequences for turning the college game into a Russian death march.
And it’s the coaches’ fault. As the matches between Alabama and Arizona tightened, every crucial shot featured at least one coach, sometimes two, walking a player through this or that. Some even lined players up on the tee. Come on people. If you have recruited an athlete who requires you to line her up, you haven’t done a very good job.
The most ridiculous coaching intrusions came on the greens. In the penultimate match, Alabama freshman Angelica Moresco had an 8-footer for birdie on the 18th hole that would have squared the match and given the Tide one more chance at victory. But rather than trust Moresco’s ability, there was head coach Mic Potter, crouching on the green, reading the break and talking to her.
“Maybe they feel as though they have to justify being there, justify the budgets that they have now,” said Julie Garner, the director of golf and head women’s coach at Rollins College, a Division II school in Winter Park, Fla., that is home to the most successful women’s program in history with 13 national championships and two members of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“I don’t think that us holding their hands is the way to help them grow, not just as players but as young adults,” Garner said. “It’s my philosophy that you should train the horses and let the horses run the race. The work happens at home. I have recruited you based on your talent, your work ethic, your maturity, and your improvement continuum. Once you’re here, I am there to support you and help you. But in competition, you need to take ownership.”
Under the old rules, coaches could walk with players in the fairways but they could not help them on the greens or in bunkers. Proponents of changing that rule (who obviously won the day) argued that coaches being involved would speed up play by helping players make quicker decisions. The exact opposite has occurred. Rather than players reading their own putts, committing and hitting the ball, they now have lengthy conversations with coaches who are looking at putts from every angle.
The last two-player match of the women’s final went off at 3:05 p.m. CDT, and the playoff ended after 8 p.m. CDT. If they’d gone one more hole, they probably wouldn’t have finished. And no matter how compelling the outcome, that would have been awful for the game.
“If I were a casual golfer or a casual fan, I would not have watched that final and thought, ‘Man, that is compelling and great for the game,’ ” Garner said. “I would have said, ‘I’m going to go make a sandwich while they talk about the shot and line up and all that other stuff.’ It’s embarrassing really.”
Ask any sports psychologist and they’ll tell you that it’s better to be decisive than to be right. Does anyone think having a coach in your ear as you line up an 8-footer makes you more decisive?
It certainly makes you slower. And that is terrible for the game.