What if: Duke, OK State, match play, Carpenter

Duke sophomore Lindy Duncan
Duke sophomore Lindy Duncan ( Courtesy Duke athletics )

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One of the best questions sports fans can ask during a season is, undoubtedly, What if? Today on Wildman’s Corner, I ask – and then answer – those scenarios.

1. What if Duke women fail to win a regular-season tournament this year? Would the Blue Devils still be considered a contender at the national championship? Are they even the favorite to win the ACC this year? I’m not sure that’s a real possibility. Virginia, Wake Forest and North Carolina all have won tournaments this season, but the Blue Devils have not. Golf fans want to proclaim Duke as being this great team, but they are the only team ranked in the top 10 of the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings that have yet to win a team title this season. I understand that Duke plays one of the toughest schedules, but if the Blue Devils can’t win a tournament now, what makes you think they can win the Big One in May? Duke will be a great team for years to come, but this year it just seems it won’t end the year on top.

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2. What if Oklahoma State fails to win the national championship this year? Would the Cowboys’ season be considered a failure? Will it prove that in golf there is no such thing as a home-course advantage? This year the Cowboys already have won five times in eight tournaments, and two of those came without the top college/amateur player in the world, Peter Uihlein. It is fair to say that Oklahoma State has proven to be the best team in the country when it comes to stroke play, but what happens at nationals this year? There is no doubt here: If the national championship was determined by 72 holes of stroke play, then Oklahoma State would be going for a three-peat in May. Instead, the Cowboys will be one of eight teams who will have a chance to win a championship. Upsets happen in match play, and anything can happen. However, will we forget how great a year Oklahoma State truly had if it fails to win a national title once again this year? I hope not.

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3. What if the men’s national golf championship was a 64-team match play? Would the NCAA be able to better market the championship and create a more engaging atmosphere for the championship? Ever since the NCAA switched to a match-play format, in 2009, it seems fans just don’t know how to act at the event. When fans go to the U.S. Amateur, fans attach themselves to the underdog and scream support for local favorites. At the men’s NCAAs, fans seem to walk on egg shells. Is that because they don’t want to show favoritism, or is it because fans just don’t know what’s going on in other matches? The average 9-5 desk person loves March Madness because it offers water-cooler talk, and for many, even those who have no idea what’s going have the opportunity to fill out a bracket and have some fun. Perhaps that same model could work for golf. For many, March Madness is the first college basketball games they watch all year. That could be the same with college golf if it offered something truly exciting and engaging. The scariest part of the golf brackets would be that a 16-seed truly could defeat a No. 1. Just look at what happened at the Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship, where East Tennessee State defeated Alabama. During March Madness we find out about players who lead their teams to victories and have their draft stock rise significantly. With the right format, college golf could have the same effect, as these days we are seeing younger talents reach the Tour.

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4. What if Abilene Christian University’s Alex Carpenter played Division I golf? Would he be as dominant at the D-I level as he is at D-II? In seven starts this season, Carpenter has won six times! Also, last summer, he won the Southern Amateur and defeated UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay and Auburn’s Blayne Barber. Yes, that is just one event, but still this kid knows how to win. By no means am I suggesting he would have the same success at the D-I level, but one would have to think he could win multiple times. On the other hand, can we compare him to Amy Anderson? Hidden at North Dakota State, Anderson won five times her freshman year and has won three times this year, never finishing worse than 12th in an event. Anderson made a name for herself when she won the 2009 U.S. Junior Girls Amateur Championship, and now Carpenter is making a name for himself with his victories and recent appearance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. It’s hard to determine exactly where Carpenter would rank amongst the Uihleins, Cantlays, and Vongvanijs of Division I, but like Anderson, it is clear he is a hidden gem at Abilene Christian.

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