Coaches discuss new ways to crown NCAA champ

LSU senior John Peterson (right) is congratulated by his father, David, after Thursday's third round of the NCAA Championship.

LAS VEGAS – The most-discussed item among NCAA Division I coaches at the Golf Coaches Association of America annual convention, which concluded Wednesday at the Tropicana Resort and Casino, barely was mentioned at any of the formal sessions. But it drew plenty of interest and talk at an informal D-I breakout portion and centered around the crowning of the individual NCAA champion.

For the past three years, the NCAA medalist has been determined after three rounds (54 holes) of stroke play, with the team champion then determined after the 30-team field had been cut to eight, which then participated in match play.

Just about all coaches present agreed the individual championship should consist of 72 holes, and discussion dealt with how that can be accomplished.

Again, coaches - and I definitely agree - thought that since the format for the finals went to stroke/match play, the individual winner seems to have gotten lost and not received the true recognition he deserves.

The past two national champions, Scott Langley of Illinois (2010) and John Peterson of LSU (2011), played in the morning of the third round as their teams were out of contention. By the time the afternoon wave was completed, and all the attention centered on which eight teams would advance to match play, the medalists were close to being forgotten.

“We have some of the greatest college and amateur players in the world out there competing, and we need to do something to really showcase this, and especially our champion,” Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said.

One way to do this, and something that drew plenty of discussion, was to have two separate championships - one for individual and one for team, much like NCAA tennis.

This certainly would eliminate a situation that recently happened where nine ranked players did not compete at the NCAA finals because their teams did not qualify out of regionals and they just missed out on the one spot available from each of the six regionals for individuals to advance from teams that did not qualify.

“While restricted to the top college players, what you would have is one of the best, if not the best, amateur tournament in the world,” Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw said. “It would rank right up there with the U.S. and British amateurs.”

A 72-hole stroke-play event for the top - you pick a number between 78 and 156 - players in the country. It could be played before NCAA regionals and finals, and thus make those two competitions strictly a team affair.

Of course, then you are dealing with finals for those on the semester system and additional missed class time for those on the quarter system.

No doubt there are a lot of details and obstacles that would have to be worked out, not only from within the institutions, but within the NCAA governing body.

But I, for one, think it can be done and would be a tremendous boost for college golf.

The thing is, this subject has been talked about for years. But it’s been just that - talk among coaches (and media like myself). Now, however, it appears it will officially be brought before the NCAA Golf Committee, which then can bring it to the NCAA Championships Cabinet.

“We are definitely going to continue to pursue this idea,” Heppler said. “I think, and I know a lot of other coaches feel the same way, we should determine our individual champion over 72 holes of stroke play.”

Whether the NCAA would go along with two separate championships is probably iffy, at best. Maybe, though, if proposed in a proper and positive manner.

But here’s another scenario - and one I think has some solid merit - for doing just that and having it done during the NCAA finals.

As currently in place, the 30 teams and six individuals who are not members of those teams play 54 holes of stroke play. The top eight teams still advance to match play, but then they are given a day off.

On that day, the top - again, you pick a number - individuals return for the final 18 holes to determine the champion. Teams return the following day and begin the match-play process.

Actually, I kind of like this idea, especially when members of teams who have a player(s) in the final day individual field can then come out, follow him and cheer him on.

When the day is over, the individual champion would gain all the attention he truly deserves.

Who knows what will come about in all of this, but I really like the idea that at least now the coaches are planning on doing something to help change things.

I know the NCAA Golf Committee is listening to them. Now all we can hope for is that the powers above within that organization also lend an attentive ear.

As far as I’m concerned, it would be a win-win situation for college golf and the NCAA Championship.

• • •

In other GCAA convention news:

While there wasn’t much going on as far as controversial or debatable topics, the convention certainly proved most informative and entertaining.

There was a wonderful list of speakers this year, touching on a host of topics and areas within the game.

It started with Corey Ciocchetti, a motivational speaker and teacher at Denver University. He was followed by Jim Holtgrieve, captain of the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup team who will be at the American helm again in 2013 when the Cup takes place at National Golf Links in New York. Next, coaches were treated to messages from two of the game's most respected instructors: Jim McLean and Dave Stockton.

John Reis, one of the top USGA rules officials from the Greater Cincinnati Golf Association, kept coaches well informed of some of the new changes to the Rules of Golf for 2012, and Stephen Clar, associate director of academic and membership affairs for the NCAA, kept everyone up-to-date on various legislative proposals and recommendations that will be voted on and/or reviewed by the NCAA.

And, of course, the main highlight of the convention was the GCAA Hall of Fame Banquet. While it did run a bit long, it was great to see the award recipients as they were honored.

The five coaches inducted into the Hall of Fame were Archie Boulet of Bryant, Jimmy Russell of Odessa, Ken Hyland of Malone, Vince Jarrett of Abilene Christian/Houston, and Mike Wydra of UC San Diego.

Gary Hart of Karsten Manufacturing was the second noncoach to be elected and inducted.

Christian Newton, assistant coach at Georgia Tech, was presented the Jan Strickland Award; John Bermel of Northern Iowa the Labron Harris Award, the late Jack Jensen of Guilford the GCAA Distinguished Service Award; and John MacDonald of Temple the GCAA Honor Award.

All in all, a great evening, and certainly for all these deserving honorees.

“There weren’t any big controversial topics this year, and actually that’s not a bad thing,” GCAA executive director Gregg Grost said. “But we had a great turnout, with a lot of new, young coaches, and I’d say this was one of the best conventions we’ve ever had.”

The GCAA will be returning to Las Vegas and the Tropicana for its 2012 convention. It will be held a week later, on Dec. 10-12.

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