Deeper field, new format could create an NCAA postseason for the books

Congressional Country Club

Deeper field, new format could create an NCAA postseason for the books

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Deeper field, new format could create an NCAA postseason for the books

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The NCAA Division I postseason this year is already historic for women’s golf, and the first shot hasn’t even been struck. Match play makes its debut in the NCAA Women’s National Championship, but before possible pandemonium breaks out in the final days at Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., there is regional competition to consider.

Like the national championship, regional formats also have a much different look and feel for 2015.

Regional competition grew this year from three sites to four. The women’s game made the change from two to three regionals in 2001, and before that, the two regional competition sites were introduced in 1993. Before 1993, the committee (or the rankings) simply determined the best teams, and thus who would play in the postseason.

It’s easy to see how the game has evolved in the past 30 years. Given that history, the changes made to the game this year create a jump that is bigger than any the game has ever seen.

The women’s game is ready to evolve more and the change we might witness at the NCAA finals could turn things upside down. First, let’s look at some facts that support the depth in women’s college golf. The power rating found in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings shows that increasing depth.

During the 1999-2000 college-golf season, the power rating of the 60th-ranked team was 78.40. This year, the No. 60 carries a power rating of 74.40. That’s not even the most important number. The difference between No. 60 and No. 1 shows us how much the field has tightened.

The difference in power rating points between No. 1 and 60 in the 1999-2000 season was 5.92, and this year it is 3.34. When you multiply that difference, 2.58, by four (the number of counting scores per team), you’re left with 10.32.

What does that number represent? It means the gap between No. 1 and No. 60 has closed by more than 10 shots per round.

Plenty of teams with double-digit seeds have advanced over the past 15 years and that’s likely to continue. But how, exactly, will moving from three to four regionals change the game?

The biggest change is that it allows the entire field to play in the same wave and will eliminate tee time as a factor in whether a team advances or not.

The men, which went to six regionals in 2009, are still trying to figure out if it’s better to have more regionals with fewer spots or fewer regionals with more spots. However, the undeniable benefit to adding more regionals is that all teams will play in the same wave, which results in a tournament that runs much more smoothly and fairly because all teams will face the same playing conditions.

What we do know is that with fewer spots available, there is far less room for error. It’s much more difficult to recover from one bad round or even a shaky nine holes.

This week, 18 women’s teams will compete at four different locations with the top six teams advancing from each site. This will result in the usual 24-team field at the national championship. From there, the top eight teams after 72 holes of stroke play will be slotted into a match-play bracket from which the winner will be determined.

It’s important to note that for more than 40 years, the women’s national champion has been crowned at the end of 72 holes of stroke play. This year, that team, along with seven others, will then have to win three head-to-head matches in two days to take home a trophy.

That said, it’s going to be a long week.

Still, this year will be interesting because there is no clearly dominant team. Again using the Golfweek/Sagarin power ratings, the margin between No. 1 and No. 24 is the smallest we have ever seen.

Just 1.76 power rating points separates No. 1 Washington from No. 24 UNLV, and top-ranked Washington’s number is even a little bit misleading. Washington played the first half of its season with a slightly different lineup. Head coach Mary Lou Mulflur’s top two players left school early to turn professional, so the number is even smaller.

The only other year the power rating was less than 2.00 was in 2010, when Purdue won. Purdue was a legitimate national champion, but also finished the year ranked No. 7 – the lowest ranking we have seen a national champion carry in women’s golf.

So here we go. Prepare for a lot of change this year, and with as much parity in women’s college golf as we have ever seen, it appears we should be ready for just about anything.

The chart below lists the power rating for the No. 1 team and the No. 24 team in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings for each season.

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