Ever since BYU qualified for the 2016 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship, conversation and controversy has exploded around the team’s unique situation. Carrie Roberts, the BYU women’s head coach, has heard it all on the subject, including many mixed reactions, and she doesn’t mind fielding the inquiries.
But if you claim you’re sure the situation will play out a certain way, well, kindly prove your clairvoyance or back off.
“I find it interesting that people are coming up with these scenarios (for us) at NCAAs, and it’s like, ‘How do you know?’ ” Roberts said. “You’ve never seen a team in this situation.”
When it comes to college golf, Roberts is spot on. The situation at hand has never come about in men’s or women’s golf.
BYU has a strict no-competition policy for its student-athletes on Sundays, as the university, affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Provo, Utah, cites the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” in explaining the no-Sunday mandate. For BYU, Sunday is a day of rest, and, according to NCAA bylaws, the governing body must accommodate the Sunday exception – even if it means altering an NCAA Championship schedule.
That never had been an issue for the men’s or women’s national championship in Division I golf. Both competitions used to be stroke-play-only, a setup that allowed the action to finish before Sunday. That changed with the move to a stroke-play-match-play combination, but no BYU individual or team had qualified for either NCAA Championship since that alteration. (The change emerged for women last year, and the BYU women hadn’t made it to nationals since 2007. The men’s format changed in 2009, but the BYU men last got to nationals in 2006.)
But that will change soon.
At next week’s NCAA Women’s Golf Championship, to be played May 20-25 at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club, the third round of stroke play will take place on Sunday. Except, that is, for BYU.
In order to accommodate the Cougars’ Sunday restriction, the NCAA will have BYU play its first round on Thursday, May 19 – the practice-round day for every other team. The Cougars will play in third-round conditions, i.e. Sunday hole locations, in order to simulate conditions on the day they will miss. The Cougars then will play Friday and Saturday with the rest of the field, sit out Sunday, and then play Monday if they survive the 54-hole cut. On Thursday, the group will go out in singles, with other teams and coaches able to watch BYU’s progress. You can go here for the NCAA’s full list of adjustments.
“I know the NCAA started to think about what to do on this a few years ago,” said Roberts, in her sixth year as the BYU women’s head coach. “It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. We trust that the NCAA has done its due diligence, and we’re grateful that they are accommodating us.”
The NCAA has been even better positioned than some might think. Bruce Brockbank, the BYU’s men’s head coach, is in his third year on the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Committee, a group responsible for managing the men’s championship.
Brockbank said that the BYU situation already was being discussed during his first year on the committee. On the men’s side, two or three options on accommodations, including BYU’s playing 36 holes on Saturday, were thrown around.
“They were asking me questions about our situation, and I just gave them as much information as I could,” said Brockbank, in his 24th season as BYU’s coach. “The NCAA has done a lot of work on how to figure out the best scenario for this.”
Whatever the thoroughness and Roberts’ correct statement that we can’t know what to expect, the speculation on this subject isn’t likely to subside soon.
In fact, more questions than just the tournament’s logistics emerge. For one, how strict is the no-Sunday policy beyond competition? Is practice allowed? How about travel?
The women’s team has traveled on Sunday, Roberts said, so there’s no ironclad restriction there. But it is still a day of rest, so, like competition, practice, Roberts added, does and will not occur any Sunday.
PGA Tour player Daniel Summerhays, who competed for BYU in 2002-03 and in 2005-07, said the men’s team followed that practice path when he played for the Cougars. Well, at least, there was no organized team practice on Sunday, that is.
“Maybe along the line in my time there, a couple of guys here or there would sneak out by themselves to go practice on Sunday,” Summerhays said. “Go out and chip and putt, something like that.”
But what if a BYU player wants to play professional golf? The NCAA’s bylaw for accommodation does not exist on the pro circuit, which means a golfer really can’t make a living on the PGA Tour or the LPGA if Sunday is a no-play day.
Roberts, Daniel’s cousin and the daughter of three-time PGA Tour Champions winner Bruce Summerhays, would play on Sunday following her BYU playing career as she embarked on an LPGA career that lasted from 2002 to ’04. Daniel says the quandary of Sunday play is no small matter.
“(The no-Sunday rule) was a pretty big deal for me when I was deciding to play professional golf or not, because Sunday is a holy day for me,” Daniel said. “It was a personal decision to play golf on Sunday. For me, it was the right thing to do. But the Sunday thing was definitely a wrestle and a factor in whether I wanted to go pro.”
Back to the NCAA Championship, though, because there are still some things to clear up there.
From the mixed reactions, Roberts has heard some call BYU’s situation an advantage, while others have pointed to it as a disadvantage. When it comes to the former crowd, the Cougars come in as the 20th-ranked group among the 24-team field. So there’s an inclination from some to say that BYU will advance to the match-play top eight only if Thursday conditions happen to be particularly favorable and give the team an artificial boost.
Roberts sees otherwise.
“The only people that see it as an advantage look at the weather, and they say if BYU gets through (to match play), then it was an advantage,” Roberts said. “Well, no. If we get through, it’s because we’re talented.”
Then there’s dealing with the unique experience of the entire rest of the field having the chance to peek in at your whole first round of competition.
Roberts has informed her players of that situation, but she doesn’t see it as something that should be an issue.
“I’ve told them, golf’s an interesting game. It comes with interference; it comes with distraction,” Roberts said. “In the process of playing well, when a distraction comes in your head, you have something to replace it with. You try to remember what you’re trying to do rather than something we can’t control.”
Like her cousin, Roberts may have chosen to play on Sundays during her professional career. But being back at BYU, Roberts stands behind the no-Sunday principle.
“The church gives you your individual agency to make your own decisions,” Roberts said. “But our team is representing BYU and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and that’s the policy, so we’re going to uphold it.”
And if anybody is waiting around for the Cougars to change their Sunday stance, well, they’ll be sitting there forever.
“BYU will never be able to compete on Sunday,” Brockbank said. “No-Sunday play is something I believe and I feel strongly about it. On the other hand, you don’t want to force it on anybody. We don’t want to make anyone miserable, but we want to play when we’re good enough to be there.”