NCAA women get one last stroke-play title
In the past decade, not much change has occurred in the postseason process for women’s college golf. Change is on the horizon, however. Today, 72 teams will learn where they are headed for NCAA regional competition. Later this month, 24 teams and six individuals will make up the NCAA Championship field to be played at Tulsa (Okla.) Country Club.
This year, the path to a national title is similar to what we have seen since the first championship in 1982. In the beginning, the top 17 teams in college golf were invited to play in the championship. The first and probably last major change to the postseason format was the addition of regional play.
Regionals were added in the early 1990s, and deservedly so. First, there were two sites, and now there are three. The few tweaks the women’s game has seen have all been done due to the growth and parity of the game.
Next year a fourth regional will be added. That doesn’t mean more teams will make it into regional play or even the national championship. Another regional means the process will be more efficient. Every team in regional competition will compete in the same wave and not have to be concerned about drastic weather differences from early morning to late afternoon.
As for change, that’s about all we have seen since 1982. However, what will happen next year will be a major change and not one that was welcomed with open arms.
For the past six years, those in the women’s game have sat back and watched what has taken place in the men’s game. They have seen a complete makeover in the format at the men’s finals. To be quite honest, in my discussions with many women’s coaches, they wanted no part of it – many still don’t. The men will be using their third different format in the past six years when they play their national championship at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan., just after the women finish theirs in Tulsa.
It was a subject the women did not even want to discuss. It was eerie how quiet it would become when the possibility of a change in format at the women’s finals might be broached, even when they knew it was coming. Let’s be honest: Without television, this change would not be happening.
That also brings the coaching body to a crossroads. Change can be difficult, and the women's coaches simply don’t like what they have seen on the men’s side. That, and many don’t like disrupting what they have had in place for so long. However, a growing percentage have embraced it and seem excited about the future. After all, the championship will be televised on Golf Channel. How could that be a bad thing?
If you think about it, how could any coach not at a school named USC, UCLA, Duke or Arizona State not be excited? That foursome has won 10 of the past 12 NCAA titles and 18 of the past 24.
The volatility of match play should open the door for a few more programs to have a chance to break up that championship group.
Change is on the way, but for this year, it will be just like old times.