It’s about time
The drought is over in Augusta. Finally, there’s a nice big “W” on the scorecard.
And, with the NCAA postseason little more than a month away, it couldn’t have happened at a better time for coach Josh Gregory and his Augusta State team.
The Jaguars won their first team title in four years, capturing the Hootie at Bulls Bay Invitational on March 29-31 at Awendaw, S.C.
Augusta State’s last victory was the 2005 NCAA Central Regional in South Bend, Ind. The victory at the Hootie came against a 15-team field that included nine teams in the top 50 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
It also gave a big boost to Augusta State, ranked 39th going in, as far as the .500 rule for qualification into the NCAA postseason. The Jags’ overall record moves to 71-44, which is significant because they are not affiliated with a conference.
In addition, it gives the team a major shot of momentum going into their own Administaff/Augusta State Invitational this weekend at Forest Hills Golf Club.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Gregory said. “I think it showed our guys they can compete and win at a high level and hopefully gives us the boost of confidence we need in the stretch run for the postseason.”
Most important, too, was the way the Jaguars won. Led by tournament medalist Janne Kaske’s 6-under-par 65, Augusta State closed with a 7-under 277 for a wire-to-wire victory.
The Jags finished the event at 17-under 835, eight shots clear of Virginia and 11 better than South Carolina. In scoring his first collegiate win, Kaske, a senior from Finland, finished at 14-under 199. Runner-up George Bryan IV of South Carolina shot 201.
Kaske’s final-round 65 was his lowest as a collegian, and his 54-hole total tied the school record, matching Oliver Wilson’s score in the 2003 Cleveland Golf/Augusta State Invitational.
Even before this victory, Augusta State appeared on its way to a spot in the NCAA regionals. Now, you can bet the Jags will be there.
CHANGE IS GOOD ... SO FAR: As we all know, this year’s NCAA Division I Championship finals will take on a new look with the team champion being determined through a combination of stroke and match play.
After 54 holes of stroke play, an individual winner will be crowned and the top eight teams will advance to match play to decide the championship.
Like just about everyone else, my interest in this change has been growing since it was first announced. And, like just about everyone else, I’m still on the wait-and-see road.
However, I will say that if it generates the excitement and enthusiasm as two regular-season match-play events held this spring, it has hole-in-one potential.
The Big Ten Conference held a match-play event, and all I heard were good things coming out of it, not only from coaches and players, but from fans as well.
More recently, the Golf Coaches Association of America staged the Callaway Match Play Championship in San Diego. Again, there was plenty of positive feedback.
The GCAA event was more in line with the NCAA setup. The 16-team field started with a one-day, 36-hole stroke-play qualifier. The eight teams with the lowest scores advanced to the championship bracket, and the other eight played in the consolation bracket.
The bottom line is, they all got a good taste for what is to come.
There’s an old, probably worn saying that in match play anything can happen.
That was the case in San Diego. Middle Tennessee State, the second-lowest-ranked team in the field, barely made it into the championship bracket, tying for seventh, but went on to win its three matches and claim the title.
“It’s unbelievable, really,” Middle Tennessee coach Whit Turnbow said. “I’m sure there weren’t many people who thought we had a chance. Then to come in against all these higher-ranked teams and win, well, it’s just huge. It means a lot not only for our program, but for our community and our fans.”
And how about Indiana, the team that Middle Tennessee defeated in the title match? The Hoosiers have shown they could contend at the NCAA Championship time under this new format.
In addition to that runner-up showing, Indiana won the Big Ten match-play shootout. At the Callaway, the Hoosiers finished first in the stroke-play portion before winning their first two matches.
Another team that got a big boost and no doubt gained a ton of confidence at the Callaway Match Play had to be Alabama. Although the Crimson Tide didn’t qualify for the championship bracket, finishing 12th in stroke play, they won all three of their matches to take the consolation bracket.
“I was disappointed with the way we struggled during the stroke play,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said. “But at the same time, the final two days of match play were a big plus. The guys really responded in the match-play situations. Match play was the main reason we went out there, because that is going to be the element of the NCAA Championships this year, and I really like how we performed.”
Yes, we all know anything can happen in match play. At this year’s NCAA Championship, I’m banking on it.