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NCAA Men's Championship: 72 hours later

TOLEDO--Chairman Darin Spease and the rest of the Division I men's golf committee faces an interesting--and perhaps unexpected--dilemma after the debut of the new match-play format resulted in a highly successful NCAA Championship last week at Inverness Club.

What can it do for an encore?

Let me tell you what I think it can't do--or at least shouldn't do just yet: expand the field of teams that advance to match play from eight to 16.

Here's why (and hang on with me and my analogy): I love chocolate ice cream. I go to Dairy Queen and get three scoops and I'm happier than a golf fan who opens his mail and finds a free ticket to the Masters. The next time I go to Dairy Queen, though, I don't go order six scoops thinking it's going to make me twice as happy. It's actually going to give me a stomach ache.

Point being, more is not always better. Lets wait another year (or two) to see how the Great Eight model plays out and maybe then we can talk about Sweet Sixteen. When you're starting with 30 schools and eight advance, I think that's a pretty good percentage (26.7 percent to be exact). You raise it to 16, or more than half the participants, and now it feels too much like the NHL playoffs, where everybody gets in.

Moreover, having the cutline at eight schools created just the right kind of drama in stroke play. Not only did you have a Cinderella story in Michigan getting inside the cutline and staying there but you had the near disaster of the No. 1 team in the country, Georgia, almost play its way out of match play with a bad third round. (And don't forget, eventual champion Texas A&M nearly coughed up its ticket to match play on Thursday too. I know J.T. Higgins hasn't.)

So, members of the D-I men's golf committee, I have a favor to ask. When you hold your annual post-championship meeting later this month, do exactly what so many coaches ask of their players:

Stay focused and be patient.


Some other thoughts with the championship now behind us:

1.) If the D-I committee just can't help itself and must tinker with something about the championship's format, it should consider letting the coaches of the teams that advance to match play set their line-ups. I can't take credit for this idea--my friends at Golfweek have espoused it for a little while--but it makes great sense. Coaches would be forced to coach, devising strategies as to what order their players should go out. Coach A selects, then Coach B counters. Coach B gets the next pick and Coach A counters. If noting else, it would give us lowly media types another great storyline to blog, twitter or facebook about.


2.) I really wish Clemson coach Larry Penley was around to watch the two days of match play at Inverness Club. I don't think it would have changed his mind about the format--Penley is the most strident critic of the change from stroke play--but I think he might have softened his stance a little.

Here's why the match-play thing works:  Any individual match doesn't require a fan to really know much of anything about the two players they're watching to make it a compelling match. The golf being played takes care of that all by itself. With all due respect to Texas A&M's Bronson Burgoon and Arkansas' Andrew Landry, they aren't the most high profile of college golfers yet their championship-deciding match created high drama.


3.) Throwing off my objectivity cap for a second, I can't tell you how good I felt for Burgoon on Saturday afternoon after he pulled off that second shot on the 18th. Here was a young man who was melting before everyone's eyes and you couldn't do a thing about it. I was seriously getting nervous about the long-term ramifications a collapse of that nature might have on Burgoon. Then, in one swing, all the pain of that final hour disappeared.


4.) Too bad the match play didn't produce any drama, huh?

I thought the Georgia-Oklahoma State quarterfinal showdown was incredible and then it gets topped in roughly 27 hours.


5.)
Burgoon's shot got me thinking of the best shot I've ever seen in my 12 years covering college golf. I have to admit, I've struggled for three days now to come up with a better one.


6.) I had a very prominent agent e-mail me yesterday to complain about the relevance of the Ben Hogan Award in light of the fact NCAA medalist Matt Hill of N.C. State, who's individual victory at Inverness Club was his seventh in his last eight starts and his eighth of the 2008-09 season, was not even among the 10 semifinalists picked for the honor.

A couple points:
A) I am a voter for the Hogan Award.
B) I voted Hill among my choices for semifinalists, but was outvoted.
C) Out of respect for the GCAA, the Friends of Golf and Colonial CC, I won't comment about how to improve the nomination/voting process until I share my thoughts with them first.
D) That a prominent agent, who is a big believer in college golf, would be so distressed about this subject suggests there is at least a perception problem that needs to be addressed.


7.)
I've got a proposition for Jamie Lovemark and USC to consider. I won't think of either party any less if they take it or leave it, but just give it some thought.

Unless Lovemark already has signed with an agent or an equipment company (which at last report was not the case), the 21-year-old from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., should announce that he is actually returning to USC for his senior year. That would let him afford himself the use of USC's medical facilities and help him hopefully fully recover from the fractured rib he suffered earlier this month and which sidelined him for the national championship.

In exchange for "letting" him back on the team, Trojan coach Chris Zambri should allow Lovemark to enter PGA Tour Qualifying School later this year, even if it means missing a few fall college events. If Lovemark plays well enough to get a tour card, or even a Nationwide Tour card, he can then turn pro and be on his way. If he doesn't, however, USC has his services for the spring semester, giving them a better chance to win the Pac-10 title and advance in the NCAA postseason.

Under this plan, both sides potentially benefit. If Lovemark's game takes off after he's back on the course, he can go on to the pros with no regrets. If he can't get a card, however, he can have one more college season to get his game (and his reputation) to where they were at their height, the summer of 2007 when he won the NCAA individual title and nearly won a Nationwide Tour event.


8.)
Sad to see Ohio State coach Jim Brown retire after 36 seasons as the Buckeyes' coach. Good man who was good for college golf.


9.)
If the Ohio State athletic department doesn't announce in the next month that Buckeye associate head coach Brad Sparling has been selected to succeed Brown, then it has made big mistake. Sparling had been intregral in recruiting a top-10 freshmen class that will arrive in Columbus this fall and also had laid the foundation for a top-notch event that Ohio State will host at Muirfield Village in the fall of 2010, to be name after Jack Nicklaus. The Buckeyes apparently have already lines up several top-ranked schools to play in the tournament, and in turn will get reciprocal invitations into their events, thus elevating OSU's own schedule.

If this kind of effort doesn't make Sparling a deserving pick, I'm not sure what does.
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