Conner O’Neil had his phone buzz 11 times with text messages from family and friends congratulating him on winning the Golfweek Division III Fall Invitational.
Only O’Neil couldn’t check them because he hadn’t even turned his scorecard in yet.
With his family in Green Bay, Wis., and unable to make the trip to Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort to watch O’Neil capture his second win of the fall season, the O’Neil clan followed along through the player-entry live scoring feature on Golfstat.com that has added a welcome wrinkle to Division III golf.
“It started out as a way to get around not having volunteers, but it has opened up our tournaments to an audience who wouldn’t be able to see it otherwise,” said Oglethorpe head coach Jim Owen. “It’s been tremendous.
Owen, one of player-entry scoring’s biggest proponents and flag-bearers, said his team will play in 11 events this year, and all 11 will use player-entry live scoring.
In college golf, volunteers are crucial to keeping score. In most Division I events, volunteers typically are stationed three holes apart, and when each group of players comes to a hole where a volunteer is set up, each player reads his or her score off to that volunteer, who then will typically radio those scores to another volunteer who is keeping score.
However, Division III schools often have trouble securing volunteers at their events. So Owen set out to find a way to counteract that issue. He teamed with Arizona head coach Jim Anderson, who, despite heading a Division I program, also has problems securing volunteers, and a few other members of the college golf community and came up with the idea to have players enter their scores after each hole.
Under the player-entry system, before a round begins, one player either volunteers or is assigned to be the scorer for that round. That player receives the link to the scoring entry website and a password that he or she only needs to enter once. After each hole, that player will open his phone and pull up the website, type in each player’s score and press next to move to the next hole. All in all, about five buttons are pressed.
“It probably takes less time than pulling out a scorecard and writing down the scores,” Owen said.
While the intention was simply to find a way around the lack of volunteers, there have been plenty of unintended benefits to come from the player-entry system.
For instance, Owen says his program has received more visibility because the tournaments his team is in show up on the front page of Golfstat.com in between tournaments featuring Division I powerhouses like Illinois and Texas.
It’s also probably an easier and better system in general.
Having a daughter, Michaela, who plays Division I golf at Auburn, Owen knows how the Division I system works, updating every three or sometimes six holes instead of every hole.
At the same time the Golfweek Division III Fall Invitational was being played, Michaela Owen was playing with the Tigers at the Pinehurst Challenge. So he tried to follow along on Golfstat.
“I like to mess with (Auburn head coach Melissa) Luellen and call it their not-so-live scoring,” Owen said. “I check and see her score and then won’t see anything change for an hour – sometimes an hour and a half.”
As is the case with any new technology, the player-entry system has had its detractors – in particular at the Division I level. The initial reaction was that having the players enter their scores would be a burden while they competed.
However, after talking to many Division III players, it became clear they don’t view it as such. In fact, many of them enjoy doing it.
“I will pretty much always volunteer to do it,” Oglethorpe’s Patrick Mills said. “I love doing it. I like being able to see how I’m doing, but also how the rest of our team is doing. It helps foster a sense of team unity if I go up to the guys and know exactly how they did and ask them about what happened.”
Now, not everyone is as enthusiastic about player-entry scoring as Mills is. But, those that aren’t don’t seem especially bothered when it comes their time to be the scorer.
For now, the player-entry system remains merely a tool. It can serve as a system to double-check scores, and as a general guide for how people are doing during their rounds. But there’s at least one coach who hopes it continues to expand in the future.
“Honestly, I’d like to see us do away with the paper scorecards all together,” Texas-Tyler coach Michael McMunn said. “I don’t know how far off that is, probably 10 years I guess, but I love the mobile scoring system.”
If the process isn’t moving quickly enough for McMunn at the Division III level, he should experience it at the Division I level.
I just want them to have a little bit more responsibility.
The top golf programs have been more reluctant to adopt the player-entry system thus far. The most obvious reason why is the volunteers are still in high supply.
“I think (player-entry scoring) is going to be used when necessary, but the first choice is still going to be volunteers,” Anderson said.
There’s also still a section of coaches who think the system ends up being an unnecessary burden on the players.
But for a coach like Anderson, whose home course is nearly an hour off campus, there are fewer volunteers to help out. So the Wildcats are inherently making the transition to player-entry scoring quicker than other Division I schools.
The player-entry system will only become more popularized as time passes. Even if coaches view it as a burden on players, some, like Cal head coach Walter Chun, will ultimately decide it’s a necessary burden.
“I know not all coaches like it,” Chun said. “It can be a burden for the players. But when you look at it, college golfers have it made. The coaches take care of travel, provide food, provide lodging, provide airfare, take care of where they’ll practice, take care of communicating with manufacturers, provide golf balls, gloves, uniforms everything.
“College golfers need to have some responsibility. It’s the little things like saying ‘you’re going to do live scoring, make sure your phone is charged.’ I just want them to have a little bit more responsibility. Our job is to teach them how to be responsible.”