This year’s NCAA championship will mark the fourth anniversary of the addition of match play. And this year, at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, there will be another change. Coaches finally will play a role in deciding the order of their lineup for the matches.
The format change was announced this past week by the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Committee. The lineups used to be determined using the Golfstat ranking system ordering each teams players 1 through 5 and pairing them accordingly. This year lineups will be determined using the same method employed at the President’s Cup matches. The better seeded team (Team 1) – determined through the 54-hole stroke-play portion of the championship – will have the first choice of putting a player on the board for Match No. 1. The opposing team (Team 2) will then name its player for Match No. 1. Team 2 will then name its player for Match No. 2 and Team 1 will name its player for Match No. 2. The process will continue in an “S” curve until the players for all five matches are named. However, Team 1 may defer in the selection process and permit Team 2 to begin the overall selection process. These pairings will be determined following the completion of play in the previous round.
This is a great move and one that’s long overdue – it’s a decision I felt they should have done right out of the gate. I remember speaking with longtime Oklahoma State coach Mike Holder, who was on the championship committee at the 2008 NCAA Championship, when the match play announcement was made that year. I suggested then that this was the way to go regarding the format of the of the match play portion of the tournament. As the years have passed, I have heard more and more from coaches who would be in favor of setting the lineups themselves and not letting a computer program do it.
While I am still not sold that this is the best way to crown a champion, I am sold that match play brings excitement to an event than can go stale late in the week. This changes brings much more drama to the event, and wasn’t that the reason for making the switch from stroke play to match play in the first place? To create excitement and try to bring more attention to the sport?
Allowing the coaches to match up players, hopefully in a setting that is open to the media, will bring the coaches directly into the game. Factors like strategy, personality and players’ strengths and weaknesses will all play a role when a coach decides who to match his player against when its his turn.