MILTON, Ga. — Today kicks off the longest week in college golf. Not until Sunday will a national champion be crowned.
How long is this week? You can compare it to that day in high school when you first picked up “Moby Dick” and noticed it was 135 chapters long – nearly 600 pages.
This week will have a lot of chapters, starting today with 30 teams converging onto the 18-hole layout at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course for a six-hour (or more) practice round played in a shotgun format.
Actual competition begins Tuesday and will continue for six more days. The first three consist of 54 holes of stroke play. An individual champion will be crowned at that point and the top eight teams will be seeded on the match-play bracket. It’s like wiping the slate clean, because from there, the winning team will have to survive three head-to-head matches to become national champion.
Match play now is in its fifth year, but this championship has a different vibe to it. That’s because California has grabbed the lion’s share of headlines this season and enters the national championship with a giant bullseye on its back. California has won 11 times in 13 starts this year, and claimed the individual medalist in nine of those tournaments.
A victory this week would take the Golden Bears to 12 on the season, which would be a modern-day record.
Most of the focus is on Cal, but Alabama is playing as good as (or better than) the Golden Bears. Using results only from the spring season, the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings give a slight edge to Alabama.
You have to figure California and Alabama are locks to finish within the top eight and find a spot in match play. California has just three losses all year and it’s doubtful that they would lose to eight more teams in stroke-play qualifying this week. Alabama has 13 losses this year, but just one (Califoria) this spring. Aside from the two heavyweights, 28 others will try to secure one of the eight match-play spots and have a shot at winning it all.
In the short four-year history of this format, the national championship has just once been the favorite (Texas in 2012 at Riviera Country Club). What has the champion typically looked like? In 2009, Texas A&M, ranked No. 14, won at the Inverness Club. Augusta State won the next two years from the No. 5 (in 2010) and No. 8 (in 2011) positions. That averages out to a ranking of seventh – which is TCU’s ranking heading into the championship.
Another completely different storyline that surrounds this week is the individual standings. College golf has been restructured and manufactured into a team sport and the individual often gets lost in the shuffle. You have not heard much about last year’s champ (Illinois’ Thomas Pieters), who happens to be back to defend his title from a year ago. The individual championship is a chapter in itself this week.
While most of the chapters have yet to unfold this week, one thing is for certain: There will be no shortage of storylines as we march toward Sunday.