This year in women’s NCAA Division I golf, a record number of players will compete in postseason play. Sixty-three schools and six individuals – 321 players total – will qualify for three regional championships (a first), with eight teams and two individuals from each region advancing to the national championship.
Also for the first time, the champions of several conferences – from the Mid-American to the Ivy League – will automatically qualify for the postseason fiesta. Dianne Dailey, Wake Forest coach and head of the NCAA women’s golf championships committee, figures this expansion will lead to at least nine schools advancing to regionals that never before have seen postseason action.
This is a fantastic step for women’s golf, and reflects the continued advancement of women athletes and women in general. These increased opportunities afford more young women the chance to pursue not only an education, but also a sport they can play for a lifetime – and possibly for a living.
No longer is it a choice between one or the other – golf or academics. Young women can have both.
Advice to today’s college players (and to up-and-coming juniors): Embrace this opportunity.
The changes to the postseason structure in Division I indicate the NCAA’s awareness and commitment to the expanding arena of women’s golf. This commitment, however, is only one manifestation of the sport’s changing face.
Last year’s emergence of the Big 10 Conference as a force caught the attention of interested parties across the country. The days of using poor weather and limited practice opportunities as excuses have passed, and these schools are ready to stake claim to a piece of the competitive pie.
• Every season new women’s golf programs pop up across the country. In the last few years, such established institutions as Tennessee and Louisville have started programs. Other schools have resurrected programs after years of abandonment. Examples include North Carolina State, which restarts this fall under the coaching of Page Marsh Lea (a former North Carolina player), and Nevada, which boasts Angie Yoon (ranked No. 36 at the end of last season) as an individual contender for an NCAA crown and LPGA Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan as an assistant coach.
• Even in smaller divisions, schools are creating programs. Partly because of Title IX, Florida Southern – a perennial Division II men’s powerhouse – added a women’s program six years ago. The Mocs have won 11 men’s national championships, and as of last spring, they now boast a national title for the women, too.
If you need a specific example of the expanding landscape of women’s golf, consider Hana Kim. A top student and AJGA All-American, Kim raised more than a few eyebrows last fall when she decided to bypass the many warm-weather colleges knocking on her door for the inclement weather of Chicago and the rising program at Northwestern. A native of Southern California, Kim didn’t see geography as a problem. Instead, she views the blend of academics and athletics as her ticket to the best possible future she could create for herself.
Many collegiate golfers have aspirations to play at the professional level. No longer does this mean they have to matriculate from a warm-weather institution. Becky Iverson, a Michigan State alum, is close to making her first Solheim Cup team. Heather Daly-Donofrio graduated from Yale in 1991 and later became coach of the program. By 1998, she was a card-carrying member of the LPGA.
Some players who may not make it to the pro level are using their college experiences to stay associated in some capacity with the game. Women who played college golf (this writer included) are reaping the benefits of the rounded student-athlete experience. The education, the people met along the way and the confidence gained by excelling at a sport and being a member of a team have contributed to many exciting careers in the golf field.
In addition to playing professionally, former college players are working as agents (reigning U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Alissa Herron), industry sales representatives (Callaway college rep Christie Parks), journalists (former Duke Blue Devil-turned-Golf Channel reporter Kelly Tilghman), golf administrators (SBC Futures Tour exec Tracy Kerdyk) and, of course, college coaches.
The fact is, the future is open to today’s collegiate women players and it’s looking brighter every day. Kudos to the NCAA, the universities and the golf industry for increasing opportunities for women. Now it’s up to you, the players, to use them to your advantage.