Medal-match format at NCAAs divides opinion in D-2
SUNRIVER, Ore. – When NCAA championship season rolls around in the spring, Division I players will celebrate the fifth anniversary of using match play to determine a team champion. What has gone somewhat unnoticed in the past two years is that the Division II National Championship also has left a 72-hole stroke-play format in the dust. At that level, this year’s team champion will be decided by a medal-match format for the third year.
Among Division II coaches – similar to their D1 brethren – opinion on the match-play final has been divided, though the format is slightly different. The medal-match-play format in Division II allows each match to go to the 18th hole. All five matches are worth a point, which means every player counts until the end.
“A lot of stuff can happen all the way down," said California State Stanislaus head coach John Cook. "Even if you have a four-shot lead, you can lose it on the last hole, and it happens.”
Cook likes the medal-match format because it adds an element of excitment as teams battle for the eight spots available on the match-play bracket. Stanislaus finished fourth in stroke play last season, then fell in the second round of match play.
“I think it’s a good thing for us right now,” Cook said. “Does it always mean it’s the best team? No. But the bracket in NCAA basketball doesn’t always mean it’s the best team (that wins), either.”
Western Washington head coach Steve Card knows about that level of excitement. Card, who was on the NCAA Division II Men's Golf Committee when the national-championship format was changed, won’t soon forget the final minutes of stroke play last spring. He and his team watched as the last Western Washington player on the course faced a short-sided up-and-down to send the Vikings to a playoff for the last spot on the bracket. He didn't make it, but Card remembers "you could cut the tension with a knife."
“If that was just a regular third round, nobody really would have cared because Chico State was so far out in front there was no way we were going to have a chance to catch them, even if we were in eighth place,” Card said. “To know that we had a chance to get in eighth place and have a chance to play Chico in the first round? That championship dream is still alive.”
Still, there are differences of opinion. Chico State head coach T.L. Brown calls a medal-match format “a lot of golf” in a format that teams don’t see in the regular season.
Chico State handily won the stroke-play title at the end of 54 holes last spring, then lost to No. 2-seeded Nova Southeastern, 5-0, in the championship match.
“The No. 1 seed has never won the match-play side of it,” Brown said.
Brown said he would like to see the championship return to stroke play, possibly with a 36-hole cut. If match play is the wave of the future, Brown says he still would like to see Division II mirror the Division I match-play format.
“The medal-match play is too much golf,” he said. “I’d like to see match play, if that’s what we have to do.”
Any form of match play inevitably places more emphasis on the team title, as the individual winner is crowned at the conclusion of the shuffle for a match-play spot. Central Oklahoma's Josh Creel claimed the individual title last spring after a playoff with Jim Knous from Colorado School of Mines. Cook remembers more spectators watching that awards ceremony than the ceremony during which Nova Southeastern received the team trophy. Still, the individual race was a bit overshadowed, which might just be a necessary sacrifice if match play survives at the national championship.
Said Card: "The reality is that we’re primarily teams, and the team goal is to win.”