It’s time to reward elite college players

Scott Langley of Illinois, left, and Russell Henley of Georgia tied for low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Scott Langley of Illinois, left, and Russell Henley of Georgia tied for low-amateur honors at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

I am the biggest college golf homer out there, but after seeing what two of the top players in the game did this week in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, well, I think it’s safe to say these kids can play. And college golf deserves a little more recognition when professional tournament directors are handing out exemptions.

Georgia’s Russell Henley and Illinois’ Scott Langley tied for low-amateur honors at 8-over 292 in the U.S. Open. The duo finished ahead of many of the biggest names in the pro game, including Padraig Harrington, Stewart Cink, Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Steve Stricker and Camilo Villegas. Henley and Langley tied Jim Furyk and Lee Westwood.

Henley finished the year as the top-ranked player in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, earning him the Golfweek Player of the Year award. The rising senior at Georgia also was selected as the Haskins Award recipient. Langley, who also will be a senior next year, won the NCAA Championship.

I am allowed to dream or think big, right? After all, this is America, and that is my right.

OK, then: The folks at Augusta National need to somehow recognize one player from the college game and award that player an exemption into The Masters. It can be either the NCAA individual champion, the top-ranked player, Player of the Year by whomever, I don’t care. But it would be great to see one of these golfers get into the field. I think it’s clear that being among the elite in the college game for nine months is as good as winning the USGA’s Public Links title, finishing runner-up at the U.S. Amateur or winning the Asian Amateur Championship.

Another suggestion: There is so much hype and publicity for the NFL and NBA drafts. Imagine something for the college kids coming out? Maybe a 72-hole tournament where the top player gets immediate status on the PGA Tour, with the next four gaining status on the Nationwide Tour.

What would be wrong with that? It would garner attention for the PGA Tour.

Look at some of the players from college golf in the past five years that have gotten to the big leagues pretty quickly – and have done very well: Dustin Johnson (Coastal Carolina), Rickie Fowler (Oklahoma State), Jeff Overton (Indiana), Anthony Kim (Oklahoma), Ryan Moore (UNLV) and Webb Simpson (Wake Forest).

Those certainly are a couple of pipe dreams of mine, but Josh Gregory had a pipe dream at tiny Augusta State, a Division II school playing Division I golf, and look what that got him: an NCAA Championship.

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