Hot topic at GCAA Convention: NCAA individual champion

Thomas Pieters of Illinois hits his tee shot at No. 1 during the 2012 NCAA Championship at Riviera Country Club.

LAS VEGAS – Not too long ago, the Golf Coaches Association of America national convention was overflowing with talk of change to men’s college golf. That was not the case this year. In fact, it is such a quiet time at the Division I level that a second breakout session was canceled because there were no pressing issues.

The item that garnered most of the attention was the individual portion of the NCAA Championship, which has taken a back seat to the team competition. For at least the next few years, match play will be used to decide the team champion, but NCAA committee members have been forced to address the growing concern that the individual championship has become lost during championship week.

Their task: Figure out a way to get to a 72-hole individual format while maintaining match play to decide the team champion.

Only two of the six committee members were in attendance. San Jose State coach John Kennady and Georgia Southern coach Larry Mays joined Donnie Wagner, NCAA assistant director of championships and liaison to men’s college golf, to address the crowd at the Tropicana Hotel.

The individual champion has garnered very little recognition at the event, as he often plays in the morning wave and finishes on the ninth hole. The bigger issue is that the individual champion is crowned after 54 holes rather than 72 holes.

One suggestion is adding a fourth day of stroke play. This round would take place after the third day, when 54 holes were completed to determine the eight teams to advance to match play. This day would be an individual day only, with possibly the top 60 individuals and ties advancing. Teams would then start the match-play format on the fifth day of the competition. However, an extra day might need to be added to the championship. That would require additional costs and would have to be approved by the NCAA.

A show of hands by the coaching body indicated unanimous support for the idea.

There are pros and cons to this suggestion. The individual championship would return to 72 holes, which is something many people would like to see. However, if no extra day were added, teams would be forced to play the quarterfinals and semifinals the same day. With two matches in one day, a lot gets lost in the team competition, which is what happened in 2009 during the first year of match play at Inverness, when teams won a morning match and then turned right around and played again. That format was not favorable and was changed for the past couple of championships.

Here’s an idea: Why not play 72 holes of stroke play to decide the individual winner and then the top four teams play match play to decide the team champion? An extra day would not have to be added. Is there really a need for eight teams? Certainly after 72 holes, the top four teams are all worthy.

In conclusion, nothing was settled at the convention, and further talks will be required. The earliest we could see any change would be at the 2014 NCAA Championship.

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