College golf notebook: Conference picks up match-play format, new No. 1 in men's golf, prepping for Augusta

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College golf notebook: Conference picks up match-play format, new No. 1 in men's golf, prepping for Augusta

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College golf notebook: Conference picks up match-play format, new No. 1 in men's golf, prepping for Augusta

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Since 2009, match play has determined the national champion in men’s college golf. However, only four conferences have elected to use the same format to crown a champion. Those conferences include the SEC, Sun Belt, Big South men and Conference USA, but beginning in 2020, we can add the Ohio Valley Conference to that list. The format will be 54 holes of stroke play with the top four teams advancing to match play.

The thing about match play is the best team isn’t always crowned as champion in the end. That’s why, after the coaches from the OVC voted in favor of match play a couple of years ago, the higher-ups voted to table the discussion out of fear that the best team wouldn’t end up with the league’s automatic qualifying spot into NCAA regional play. This would hurt the chances of having an OVC team reach the NCAA finals.

Bravo to the OVC administrators, but now the tide has turned. A recent vote saw the coaches in favor of match play by a count of 7-3, and the athletic directors agreed earlier this month to allow the format change.

Jacksonville State, 2018 Ohio Valley Conference champions.

“I’ve gone back and forth on this, but I do know there is overwhelmingly pro-match play sentiment within players in our conference,” Austin Peay coach Robbie Wilson said. “I know our team wants this, and I believe the head-to-head aspect is something you will see alumni, fans and administration get behind.”

Match play at the NCAA championship seems to work, unless you argue the top team after 72 holes of medal play has only claimed the title once (Oklahoma State in 2018). Still, it’s hard to deny that it has created more drama and made the championship more memorable.

At the conference level, especially for mid-major programs whose only shot at getting into postseason is through an AQ, match play is not needed. Those conference championships should want to have a format that gives the best team a chance to win and earn the right to advance to the postseason.

Take the OVC for example. Many years, the top team in the league might not even crack the top 100, and it drops off quickly from there. If the fourth-best team in the league were to win the AQ, it’s safe to say that team’s chances are very low on advancing out of regional play. However, in that year where the top team in the OVC is far better than let’s say a No. 4 seed that wins the match play and snags the league’s AQ, the top team would have the better chance of advancing out of regional competition, which is stroke play.

Match play has found it’s place in the final event of the year, but does not fit into the equation anywhere else.

Golfweek takes a loop around the country to update you on all the latest news in the college game.

Men

Can we really talk college golf without mentioning Oklahoma State’s 1-2 punch of Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland? Wolff, a five-time individual winner for the Cowboys this season, is back in the top spot in Golfweek’s Men’s Collegiate Individual Rankings. In his last 21 rounds, the sophomore has shot sub-70 16 times.

As for Hovland, the No. 2 player in Golfweek’s rankings, the Cowboy junior will play in the prestigious Georgia Cup on Thursday, which features the reigning U.S. and British Amateur champions. Hovland will take on Auburn’s Jovan Rebula, who won the British Amateur last year at Royal Aberdeen.

Rankings: Bushnell Coaches Poll | Individual player
Haskins Award Watch List: Who’s up for men’s player of the year?

Oregon State went behind enemy lines this week to defeat their rival hosts at the Oregon Duck Invitational by 10 strokes to claim the team title at 3-under. Nolan Thoroughgood, Sean Kato and Kyosuke Hara all finished in the top 10 to lead the Beavers to their first win since the 2014 Duck Invitational.

And shoutout to our friends at Rivals Cup for the update on which college program is currently producing the most professional earnings on the PGA Tour.

Women

Are the Florida State Seminoles the best team in women’s golf right now? Take it away, Lance!

Coming off their previous title two weeks ago at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, the Seminoles earned their second consecutive win earlier this week at the Evans Derby Experience at Opelika, Alabama’s Saugahatchee Country Club. Entering the final around in fourth place, Florida State was the lone team to shoot under par en route to the team title.

How impressive was the Seminoles’ four-stroke victory, you ask? This year’s Evans Derby Experience featured a field where all 14 teams were ranked in the top 45 in the country, including five of Golfweek’s top ten. No. 1 Duke, No. 4 Texas and No. 6 Arkansas finished T-2, with No 9 Florida rounding out the top five.

Rankings: WGCA Coaches Poll | Individual player
Annika Award Watch List: Who’s up for women’s player of the year?

Across the country, No. 16 Arizona State will finish its regular season at home with the PING/ASU Invitational, the program’s first tournament on its new course at Papago Golf Course, a City of Phoenix muni.

Arizona State’s Papago Golf Course.

“I mean it’s unreal. We’re so lucky to be here,” said senior Madison Kerley on ASU’s new home after leaving Karsten Golf Course in Tempe. “It’s turned into our new home. We’re here all the time. With everything we have here, if you’re not getting better something’s wrong. This place really makes you want to work.”

The Sun Devils will have their work cut out for them this weekend as they host a loaded field that features nine of Golfweek’s top 25 teams: USC (2), Stanford (3), UCLA (7), Arizona (11), Northwestern (17), Oklahoma (22), Washington (23), Oregon (24) and Furman (25).

Off to Augusta

Three of ASU’s players – Olivia Mehaffey, Alessandra Fanali and Sofia Anokhina – will be among several college golfers taking a break from their school schedule to play in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur, April 3-6.

“It is something exciting and mysterious,” said Sofia Anokhina, one of three golfers on Sun Devils’ roster who qualified for the event based on their amateur ranking. “I would say just because obviously no one knows how it’s going to go and how is you know going to turn out.”

Anokhina, who is from Moscow, originally played at Northern Arizona before transferring to ASU.

“I’m really honored to be a part of something huge and great like that for women’s golf and I’m really looking forward to compete there and see how it goes and you know just a start of something absolutely amazing,” she said.

Another Sun Devil making the trip, Olivia Mehaffey, from Ireland, echos the sentiment that this is a breakthrough moment for women’s golf.

“I’m so excited. I mean it’s it’s such a great moment for female golf,” she said. “I think it just really highlights and showcases how strong it is right now. And I’m so excited I can’t wait to get there.”

Alessandra Fanali, a freshman from Italy, will also represent ASU in Augusta. The women’s team’s coach, Missy Farr-Kaye is also going. It’ll be her first time making the trek to one of golf’s meccas.

“What you think it means for the women’s game to have this thing and this is the next step forward and I think that’s very huge for women’s golf just overall,” Anokhina said. “And it’s something it’s a history making event and I think that’s going to pose a female’s golf really much more forward. Just because obviously Augusta is welcoming the first female players competing out there and it really opens a lot of doors I think for us and something really to look forward for for the amateur golf when you kind of get past that and you think about what’s gonna be my game plan for the course.”

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