When the NCAA Men’s Division I regionals were expanded for this year, there were consequences – intended and otherwise.
No longer will three marathon days of golf, starting at dawn and ending in near-darkness, be held hostage by the slightest weather blip. Now that there are six regional sites instead of the traditional three, the fields will be far more manageable.
However, the pressure to finish near the top and advance will be greater than ever. Only the top five teams and the best individual from a nonqualifying team will earn spots in the NCAA Championship on May 27-30 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
In years past, each regional hosted 27 teams and six individuals – 141 players. This year, each site will have 75 players (14 teams and five individuals at three regionals; 13 teams and 10 individuals at the other three), meaning they can start in one wave.
For the players, coaches, fans and media, it’s a big improvement.
Yet there’s the matter of what’s next. And there’s a big difference mentally in having to finish 10th or better under the old format to advance and having to place among the top five this year to move on.
In looking at the selections and site fields announced May 4 by the NCAA Golf Committee, here’s my take on who will make it to Toledo:
Northeast (at Galloway, N.J., Golf Club) – Clemson, Alabama, Illinois, Wake Forest, Kent State. Darkhorse: No. 11 seed Minnesota.
Southeast (RedTail Golf Club, Sorrento, Fla.) – Georgia, Indiana, Central Florida, Augusta State, South Carolina. Darkhorse: No. 12 seed Charlotte.
Central (The Club at Olde Stone, Bowling Green, Ky.) – Washington, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, East Tennessee State, UCLA. Darkhorse: No. 8 seed Louisville.
South Central (Karsten Creek Golf Club, Stillwater, Okla.) – Oklahoma State, Arkansas, TCU, Chattanooga, LSU. Darkhorse: No. 8 seed Baylor.
Southwest (University of Texas Golf Club, Austin, Texas) – Stanford, Florida, UNLV, Texas Tech, Texas. Darkhorse: No. 9 seed Texas-Arlington.
West (Lake Merced Golf Club, Daly City, Calif.) – USC, Texas A&M, Arizona State, San Diego State, UC Davis. Darkhorse: No. 8 seed Colorado.
Expect surprises, because they happen every year.
But that should just get us prepared for the upsets we might see at the NCAA Championship finals, where a new medal/match-play format will be used.
After 54 holes of stroke play, the individual champion will be crowned and the top eight teams will move on to match play.
Each match will pit two teams – i.e., the No. 8 seed vs. the No. 1 seed – with each of those five head-to-head matches being worth one point. Win three points and your team advances.
This format will continue to attract controversy. It’s long been said that anything can happen in match play. I expect that to be the case during this year’s finals.
But the drama will generate interest and excitement – even if it might not produce the best team as the 2009 champion.