As the 2012-13 college season tees off, Golfweek identifies the five major questions in the game.
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1. What’s going on in the coaching world?
College golf coaches with long tenures and, in some cases, hall-of-fame credentials – coaches whom most thought would leave on their own terms – have been fired or forced to resign. Randy Lein (Arizona State men) in 2011. Rick La Rose (Arizona men), Caroline O’Connor (Stanford women), Kelley Hester (Georgia women) in 2012. This sounds like something we hear about in revenue-producing sports such as football or basketball, not golf.
Today, more attention is being paid to college golf. By itself, that is a good thing and exactly what coaches want. Building multimillion-dollar practice facilities to create better environments for players and changing championship formats in an attempt to appeal to a wider base of fans has been part of the process.
Perhaps this trend, if we call it that, started in 2010 when tiny Augusta State, an NCAA Division II program in all other sports that competes in Division I golf, won the first of its back-to-back NCAA men’s titles, rattling the cages of a few athletics directors from the power leagues. Some of those ADs no doubt have their own bonuses built in for winning conference titles, no matter the sport.
Or is it simply that the world we live in is more competitive than ever across the board? If more resources are going into college golf, then a return on that investment – i.e., winning – is bound to be expected. .
Whatever the case, is this something that will continue to escalate in an environment where the majority of coaches’ salaries do not reach the six-figure mark? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing’s certain: It will happen again.
– Lance Ringler
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2. Why are there so few star players in women’s college golf?
Merely posing the question sounds like a slap in the face to the current college crop. Yes, the depth in the women’s game is stronger than ever. But, on an individual basis, there is a lack of pizzazz. We undoubtedly were spoiled by the raw talent and history-making players who preceded this bunch.
A glance at recent years’ rankings shows several top college players who were quick to win majors and play on Solheim Cup teams: Stacy Lewis, Anna Nordqvist, Azahara Munoz and Caroline Hedwell. And while Amanda Blumenherst has struggled as a professional, her time at Duke was arguably the best four-year career in college golf history. That’s a lot of buzz.
The “It” girls have been skipping college for a decade, notably since Lorena Ochoa finished her second and final season at Arizona, in 2002. That won’t change. But there always were several players who stayed in school and improved at such a rapid rate that they seemed destined for big things in the pros: Can’t wait to see what (insert name here) does on the LPGA.
Perhaps Duke’s Lindy Duncan can put the pedal down her senior year. Maybe Stephanie Meadow’s hot summer will transfer into a huge breakout season in Tuscaloosa.
C’mon, ladies. Prove me wrong.
– Beth Ann Baldry
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3. 72 or bust?
Most everyone says, “Yes.” The real question is: How to do it? Almost every major stroke-play championship in the world – pro and amateur – is played over 72 holes. One notable exception: The NCAA Championship, which in 2009 went to 54 holes of stroke play to determine the individual winner and the top eight teams for match play. Many players and coaches think that has reduced the status of the individual title, and that the champion getslost amid the excitement surrounding the team race in that final round.
Most agree that the ideal would be to have two separate championships – individual and team – much like the NCAA does in tennis.
“I feel like we have the best amateur tournament in the world,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said of the NCAA Championship. I would like to see us have two separate tournaments, with individuals playing over 72 holes. We need to find a way to do this, and I think we can.”
Added Texas A&M coach J.T. Higgins: “Combining the two like we do now makes it so difficult. I do like the match play for the team but would really like to see the individual competition be 72 holes. Then we have the best of both worlds.”
One idea floating around is to play 54 holes like the present setup, with the top eight teams advancing to match play. The fourth day, the teams get a day off and the top – pick a reasonable number – individuals would come back for a fourth and final round to determine the champion before match play begins. Players on the final eight teams who are not in the individual competition then could go out and cheer on their teammates, providinga double shot of excitement for the week.
Sounds like a workable plan.
– Ron Balicki
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4. Should the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship go to match play?
Last year’s NCAA Championship came down to one shot. Crowds gathered around the 18th green to watch it end, but that’s not always the case. Often, the 72-hole stroke-play event is a runaway, a yawner and anticlimactic.
Four seasons have passed since the men’s championship transitioned to 54 holes of stroke play with an eight-team match-play final. Devon Brouse, head coach of the men’s and women’s teams at Purdue, was one of the proponents of that change, one he said is more exciting because there are “more winners without creating any losers.”
It just needs a few improvements, he said.
“If the women are really on the ball, they will take what the men have done and make it better,” he said.
Necessary changes, he says, would include eliminating the second practice round to make room for 72 holes of stroke play, which would end with the top four teams in match-play semifinals.
“Tradition is not necessarily the only thing to make something good,” said Brouse, who notes that a match-play final mirrors two of the most exciting atmospheres in sports: college basketball’s March Madness and the Ryder Cup.
Still, women’s coaches overwhelmingly vote against such a switch, with about three-quarters voting against it in a Golfweek poll (see poll results below), including Oklahoma State head coach Alan Bratton. Formerly the assistant for Oklahoma State’s men, who won the 54 holes of stroke play in 2009 and ’10 before losing in match play, Bratton has been in the trenches. It certainly creates more excitement, Bratton says, but he thinks there may be better ways to achieve that other than match play. One of those could be a permanent venue for the NCAAs, he said.
“(Match play is) not a better way to determine the best team, but it could be an option to better promote our sport,” Bratton said. “(It’s) more fan friendly, people get it, but I think to change now would probably be jumping the gun.”
– Julie Williams
COACHES SAY . . . Golfweek asked the coaches from the top 255 NCAA Division I women’s teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings if they would be in favor of a match-play format to determine the NCAA champion. The views of the 203 coaches who responded:
• No: 152 (74.9 percent)
• Yes: 47 (23.2 percent)
• Maybe: 3 (1.5 percent)
• Undecided: 1 (0.5 percent)
Total doesn’t equal 100% because of rounding
BY RANKING . . .
• 1-50: 36 no, 12 yes, 1 maybe
• 51-100: 38 no, 5 yes, 1 maybe, 1 undecided
• 101-150: 33 no, 8 yes
• 151-200: 30 no, 5 yes, 1 maybe
• 200-255: 17 yes, 15 no
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5. Should women’s teams join the men and enact the .500 rule as a requirement for postseason play?
Talk of adding the .500 rule to women’s golf doesn’t spark much interest among coaches of the nation’s top 50 women’s programs in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. From their viewpoint, discussion about adding it ends with a resounding “No,” with more than 80 percent of top-50 coaches voting against it when polled by Golfweek. The most common explanation? There isn’t a need.
However, women’s coaches from schools outside the top 50 disagree, with almost 70 percent of that group supporting such a rule change. Overall, more than 55 percent of the 203 coaches who responded would like to see the .500 rule implemented for the women (see poll results below).
The men have played since 2007 under the rule which requires a team to have at least a .500 head-to-head winning percentage to be eligible for an at-large bid into postseason play. Tennessee head coach Judi Pavon, whose team finished at No. 15 in Golfweek’s rankings last season, has watched with interest.
“It seems to me like there’s a lot of jockeying around of tournaments even once the season begins,” she said.
“I thought that would create a real hardship during the season for people to withdraw from a tournament because the field was (too) strong or want to enter another tournament later in the year with a weaker field.”
From a mid-major standpoint, Texas State head coach Mike Akers wonders if the .500 rule might provide programs like his with the opportunity to achieve a higher ranking by getting invited to better tournaments, because big-school hosts would want a few “guaranteed” wins. In turn, a better schedule might help him recruit better players.
“You don’t see many mid-majors pop into the top 25 on (the women’s) side,” he said. “In my mind, it has to do with (the) .500 (rule).”
Should the rule go into effect someday, checks and balances might be necessary.
“If we implement it, I think we should harshly penalize anyone who backs out of a tournament,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. “Perhaps count losses to every team in the field.”
Eight women’s teams with a head-to-head record of below .500 participated in NCAA regional play last season.. Arkansas was the only one to advance to the NCAA Championship.
– Julie Williams
COACHES SAY . . . Golfweek asked the coaches from the top 255 NCAA Division I women’s teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings if they would be in favor of requiring teams to have a .500 winning percentage to qualify for postseason play. The views of the 203 coaches who responded:
• Yes: 113 (55.7 percent)
• No: 88 (43.3 percent)
• Undecided: 1 (0.5 percent)
• No opinion: 1 (0.5 percent)
BY RANKING . . .
• 1-50: 41 no, 7 yes, 1 no opinion
• 51-100: 29 yes, 15 no, 1 undecided
• 101-150: 30 yes, 11 no
• 151-200: 23 yes, 13 no
• 200-255: 24 yes, 8 no