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Love it or hate it, match play has let college golf get its wish

By Ryan Herrington

I read this tweet from early Thursday morning and smiled.


Nearly a decade ago, men’s college golf coaches were up in arms about the fact that they would turn on ESPN in late May and see results of the NCAA women’s softball tournament on SportsCenter but there was never even the threat of a mention about college golf. The observation had a chauvinistic undertone but also an overriding point. What might it take for college golf to get even a nibble of attention from mainstream media? How could college golf become part of the SportsCenter Top 10 someday?

The answer: match play. It seemed overly simplistic then and still sort of does today. But the idea of creating head-to-head contests pitting two schools against each other rather than have a free-for-all tournament with too many protagonists for the layman to sift through had its merits. Even non-sports fans know what an NCAA bracket is. If you brought one to college golf, maybe you could make a connection.

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It was in the mid-2000s when Mike Holder began having conversations with anyone who would listen about the idea of implementing match play into the NCAA Championship. The legendary Oklahoma State men’s golf coach had just become the school’s athletic director, and he was convinced that the switch would create a domino effect that could ultimately rise the tide of the entire sport. There are many in the college golf community who don’t think much of Holder, whose aggressive, stern methods have rubbed them the wrong way. But you have to credit him for having a vision.

Rest assured not everyone was in favor of the switch to match play when it came to be in 2009, and there are still many coaches and traditionalists not thrilled that a format seldom used during the college regular season is the one that decides the sport’s national champion. In the last year, the debate continued to rage as the NCAA Women’s D-I golf committee had to muscle several reluctant women’s coaches to follow suit, with match play coming to their championship next spring.

Whether you like the format or not, it’s hard not to concede that it has had the desired effect. The head-to-head nature of match play was an easier sell to TV executives when the NCAA peddled televising the championship to Golf Channel. Similarly, it’s an easier sell to producers at ESPN, who don’t have the time or desire to explain the play-5-count-4 nuances of stroke play. Alabama beats Oklahoma State for the NCAA title. It’s a sound bite, but it also fits nicely on the TV scroll.

The irony of this whole thing is that while Holder was the biggest champion for the move to match play, he and his school might actually have been most adversely effected by the change. Twice now since match play came to be, Oklahoma State has lost in the championship round, yesterday’s 4-1 defeat at Prairie Dunes against Alabama coming four years after OSU lost to Augusta State at The Honors Course. And twice in the last six years the Cowboys likely would have won an NCAA title had the old stroke-play format still been in effect, OSU having the lead in the 54-hole qualifier.

Regardless, last week was the celebration of college golf that so many people had longed for. Golf Channel offered over-the-top coverage of the championship for three straight days. (Seriously, a four-hour “pre-game” show before the championship match? Even Holder couldn’t have dreamed of that. Only thing missing from the coverage was a version of "One Shining Moment" at the end.) Next year they’ll show the women’s championship as well as the men’s. The profile of the overall sport was raised exponentially.

And, damned if college golf wasn’t mentioned on SportsCenter’s top 10.

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News & Tours

USC women end regular season where they began: No. 1 in Golf World/WGCA coaches' poll

For just the third time since Golf World resumed its women's college coaches' poll in 2001-02, the same school has been ranked No. 1 in every poll through an individual college season. USC joins the Duke in 2003-04 and UCLA in 2011-12 as the only programs to go wire-to-wire in a given year.

Before congratulating the Trojans on their accomplishment, however, it's worthwhile to note an interesting oddity: neither the Blue Devils or the Bruins actually went on to win the NCAA title that season. Duke was upset, coincidentally, by UCLA in 2004 at Grand National in Opelika, Ala., while UCLA was a distance eighth to Alabama at Vanderbilt Legends Club in 2012.

Nevertheless, USC looks to defend its national championship from a year ago and claim itsr fourth in school history when the team begins play as the top seed at the NCAA West Regional on Thursday.

poll-women-d1-0512-518.jpgA few tidbits of note from the Division I poll:

* Arkansas, South Carolina and Stanford, the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 squads in the latest poll, each set their school records for their best ever finish in a Golf World coaches' poll.

* Alabama fell from No. 8 to No. 12 in this latest poll, falling out of the top 10 for the first time since April 2008.


poll-women-d2-0512-275.jpgLynn is the unanimous choice for the No. 1 spot in the latest Division II poll. The Fighting Knights earned all 19 available first-place votes prior to finishing first at their NCAA Women's Super Regional on Tuesday and getting one step closer to repeating as national champions. The squad has claimed 10 team titles in 2013-14 and finished second in its two other appearances. The NCAA Women's D-II Championship is May 14-17 at Rock Barn Golf an Spa in Conover, N.C.

poll-women-d3-0512-275.jpgWashington U. of St. Louis retained its No. 1 ranking in the latest Division III coaches' poll. The Bears claimed five team titles during the 2013-14 season and earned 14 of the available 19 first-place votes as they attempt to win their first national title in school history. The NCAA Women's D-III Championship is May 13-16 at Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.

Methodist claimed the No. 2 spot in the latest poll, earning the remaining five first-place votes. The Monarchs are trying to start a new streak after having their string of 15 straight NCAA titles snapped last spring.


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News & Tours

USC, UCLA, Duke grab top seeds for NCAA Women's D-I Regionals

By Ryan Herrington

The three most dominant women's teams during the 2013-14 season -- USC, UCLA and Duke -- claimed No. 1 seeds when the NCAA Division I women’s regional fields were announced Monday.

The Trojans, defending NCAA champions (below) and the top-ranked school in the Golf World/WGCA women's coaches' poll, earned the top seed in the West Regional, with No. 2 Bruins headlining the field at the Central Regional. The Blue Devils, fresh off a 27-stroke victory at the ACC Championship, were rewarded with the East Regional’s top seed.

All three regionals will be played May 8-10. The top eight teams and two individuals advance to the NCAA Championships, which will be held May 20-23 at Tulsa (Okla.) Country Club.

This year's national championship will be the last played over 72 holes of stroke play, as the tournament will incorporate match play to determine a team champion, similar to how the men's D-I title is decided, in 2015.

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East Regional
SouthWood G.C., Tallahassee, Fla.
Teams (by seed)
Duke, South Carolina, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Pepperdine, UCF, Virginia, Auburn, N.C. State, Florida State, Kentucky, Tulane, Louisville, Baylor, East Tennessee State, Georgia, Campbell, East Carolina, Texas State-San Marcos, College of Charleston, Troy, Murray State, Seton Hall, Alabama State

Individuals
Lori Beth Adams, UNC Wilmington; Ellen Ceresko, Penn State; Lacey Fears, Mercer; Kaew Preamchuen, Kennesaw State; Abby Newton, Mississippi; Christina Vosters, Penn State


Central Regional
Karsten Creek G.C., Stillwater, Okla.
Teams (by seed)
UCLA, Arkansas, Alabama, Arizona, LSU, Oklahoma State, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State, Miami (Fla.), Mississippi State, California, Kent State, Kansas, Texas, UNLV, Colorado, SMU, Minnesota, Harvard, Lamar, Wichita State, LIU-Brooklyn, Siena

Individuals

Aurora Kan, Purdue; Sanna Nuutinen, TCU; Jenna Hague, Ball State; Ember Schuldt, Illinois; Kimmy Hill, Texas Tech; Stephanie Miller, Illinois


West Regional
Tumble Creek Club at Suncadia Resort, Cle Elum, Wash.
Teams (by seed)
USC, Arizona State, Oklahoma, Washington, Clemson, Wake Forest, Northwestern, Michigan State, Iowa State, GRU-Augusta, Oregon, Texas A&M, UC Davis, Denver, San Diego State, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Chattanooga, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Portland State, Detroit-Mercy

Individuals
Kayla Alison Knowles, Louisiana-Monroe; Regan De Guzman, San Jose State; Clariss Guce, CSU-Northridge; Fabiola Arriaga, UT-San Antonio; Madchen Ly, Fresno State; Alexandra White, BYU

Photo: AP Images


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News & Tours

Vagaries of match play can't keep USC women from their No. 1 ranking

By Ryan Herrington

Could match play unfairly level the playing field among college golf's top women's teams? That's the fear some have when the NCAA Women's Division I Championship committee agreed to add match play to help determine the team winner at nationals starting in 2015. If a certain team is the dominant force in stroke play thanks to its depth, but finds the vagaries of match play working against them, is that really how you want to determine the best team in college golf?

Yet the USC women did they best to prove that the vagaries of match play don't always work against the best teams. Playing at the Liz Murphey Collegiate last month in Athens, Ga., (sight of their 2013 NCAA title), the Trojans finished fourth in the 18-hole stroke-play qualifier, yet marched through the match play bracket to win their eighth title of the 2013-14 season. When you're good, you're good, no matter what format you play an event (and kudos to Georgia and coach Josh Brewer for deciding to try match play, providing a nice chance for top teams to give the format an early look before it goes into place next season).

After knocking off Arkansas in the championship match, USC remained the unanimous choice of the 20 voting coaches in the latest Golf World/WGCA women's Division I college coaches' poll. 


poll-women-d1-top-0421-518.jpgpoll-women-d1-bottom-0421-518.jpgA few tidbits from the latest D-I poll:

* The Trojans have been ranked No. 1 for 15 straight polls dating back to October 2012. It's the longest such streak since Golf World resumed the poll in 2001-02.

* Jumping from No. 10 to No. 6, South Carolina once again broke its own school record for its highest ranking.

* N.C. State fell out of the top 25 for the first time since October 2011.


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Lynn University remained the unanimous No. 1 team in the latest Division II coaches’ poll. The Fighting Knights claimed their eighth team title of the 2013-14 season at the Bash at the Beach en route to receiving all 19 first-place votes. After the voting closed, the squad claimed its ninth victory, winning the Sunshine State Conference title by four strokes. The team takes this momentum into the NCAA postseason where it will try to defending its 2013 national title.


poll-women-d3-0421-250.jpgWashington U. of St. Louis held strong to the top spot in the latest Division III coaches’ poll. The Bears earned 16 of the 20 available first-place votes after winning four of their eight tournament starts. After the voting closed the squad claimed its fifth victory of the 2013-14 campaign with at the Illinois Wesleyan Spring Fling.

Methodist remained No. 2 in the poll, earning three first-place votes, with UT-Tyler hang in on to the No. 3 spot in the poll. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps moved up to No. 4 spot, earning the other first-place vote, with Williams rounding out the top five.
 



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News & Tours

USC women stay atop Golf World D-I coaches' poll

By Ryan Herrington

USC continues to make history as it remains ranked No. 1 in the Golf World/WGCA women's Division I coaches' poll. This marks the 13th straight poll that the Trojans have claimed the top spot, the longest such streak since the poll was resumed in 2001-02.

The last time coach Andrea Gaston's squad, which earned all 23 available first-place votes, did not hold the top spot was October 2012. The team's 13-straight No. 1 rankings exceeds the previous mark of 11 set by Duke from March 2003 to September 2004.




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USC women's win streak ends at 8, but squad is still No. 1 in college poll

By Ryan Herrington

The USC women can no longer boast of being undefeated in 2013-14 after losing to UCLA by six strokes Tuesday at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate. But that doesn't make the Trojans any less formidable than they were three days earlier. The defending NCAA champions still have the deepest lineup in women's college golf, and while their win streak ends at eight straight events dating back to last spring, they'll remain the favorite in every tournament they play between now and nationals in May.

While the most recent tournament finished after voting closed for the first spring edition of the Golf World/WGCA Division I college coaches' poll, USC would not doubt have still held the top spot in the ranking. Arguably the only difference might have been a few more first-place votes for UCLA, winners now of three team titles in five starts.


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News & Tours

Format finalized for NCAA Women's D-I Championship

By Ryan Herrington

NCAA logo.jpgSeven months removed from announcing it would incorporate match play to determine a national champion starting in 2015, the NCAA Women's Division I golf committee has finally determined just how it will do it.

On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Championships/Sports Management Cabinet announced it had approved the recommendation from the women's golf committee to use the "4-2" format model: four days of stroke play, the first three determining the eight teams that advance to match play with the last used to crown a individual medalist, followed by two days of match play with the quarterfinals and semifinals played on one day and an 18-hole championship match played the next. This is the same format being used this spring by the men at the NCAA D-I Championship.

Related: College Golf's TV Issues Are A Good Problem To Have

The women's committee proposed this model Jan. 13 after holding a teleconference in which members weight its merits against a format that would have had only three days of stroke play -- which would have determined the schools to advance to match play as well as an individual champion -- with the three rounds of match play then contested over the next three days. (This was the format that the men used the past three seasons.)

The decision to follow the 4-2 plan was made in part based on feedback the committee got from coaches at the end of 2013 after both plans were explained during the WGCA Annual Convention. Of 191 coaches who answered a WGCA survey, 101 favored the 4-2 option compared to 87 for the 3-3 format and three abstaining votes.

Arguably one of the reasons the 4-2 format received the majority of votes among the coaches surveyed is that it is format preferred by representatives of the Golf Channel, which will be televising the women's championship from The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., in 2015. Golf Channel is slated to broadcast the final three days  of the event, which means that under the 4-2 format it will be showing the crowning of the individual champion on the first day of its telecast and the team champion on the third and final day.


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News & Tours

Danielle Downey remembered gratefully by her Auburn coach

By Stephen Hennessey

There wasn't a need for a phone call or a knock at the door. Danielle Downey was allowed in Kim Evans' house at any time. She had the garage code. And utilized it nearly every day.
 
When Evans -- the Hall of Fame women's golf coach at Auburn -- was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last May, she relied on Downey, a former player back working for her alma mater, to attend to more than simply her golf team. Try walking Evans' dog. And bringing over groceries or a meal. Or simply stopping by to make her smile.
 
Downey was always there for Evans, which made the news of Downey's death in a single-car accident the evening of Jan. 30 that much more difficult to accept. Downey was 33.

"She was a special kid," Evans said Monday before flying out to attend services in Downey's hometown of Rochester, N.Y. "I'm going to miss her dearly. And the Auburn community will miss her." 

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Downey at the 2002 NCAA Championships, where she finished tied for runner-up. Courtesy: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
 
Evans said the accident occurred less than half a mile from Downey's home in Auburn, Ala. Initial reports stated that Downey lost control of her car, which then flipped multiple times. Downey was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

A report from the Auburn Department of Public Safety, released Monday evening and reported by the Associated Press, showed that Downey had alcohol in her system at the time of the crash.
 
In the early morning hours of Jan. 31, Evans happened to be awake when she received a call from associate head coach Andrew Pratt. Evans phoned Downey's father, Michael, who immediately drove from Tampa, Fla., to Auburn. Michael Downey stayed with Evans as they made arrangements.
 
"For me, I'm celebrating her life," Evans said. "I'm glad I was able to get to know her and her family for the time that we had her."

Evans recruited Downey as high schooler in upstate New York to come to Auburn in the late 1990s. Downey made her mark as a player by winning the SEC title in 2000 and finishing tied for second at the 2002 NCAA Championship, still the best individual showing by a Lady Tiger at nationals in school history.

A year later Downey turned professional and made it onto the LPGA Tour from 2006-'10. When her playing career wound down, she stayed on the pro circuit caddieing for Sarah Kemp (full time) and Laura Davies until calling Evans a little more than a year ago to tell her, "It's time I hang it up, coach."

Evans offered Downey the chance to help administratively with the Auburn golf teams, but her role on campus took a different dynamic when Evans' illness was diagnosed on the eve of the 2013 postseason. Downey stepped in as the interim coach while Evans met with doctors to determine her treatment, overseeing the squad as it claimed a sixth-place finish at NCAAs, its best result in the last eight years.
 
Every morning and every night during the championship, Evans said she and Downey spoke. And there were multiple text messages throughout the day to keep the 20-year head coach up to date on her team's status. 

And then through the summer, Downey continued to assist Evans. She even drove Evans to multiple chemotherapy treatments and to her first blood transfusion.
 
"She was a blessing," Evans said. "Occasionally, she'd call and say she was coming over. But most times she didn't have to knock. She was family for me."

Last fall, Downey took the role of Director of Golf Operations for both the men's and women's golf teams, and along with Pratt, helped guide the team with Evans finishing her cancer treatments.
 
As Evans spoke on Monday, she had just gone through the 190 text messages she received about Danielle last weekend. Which she didn't mind at all. To her, it was a fitting tribute to a player and friend she'll always remember.
 
"Someone asked if I needed help answering them, and I said, 'Heck, no.' I want to answer every one of them," Evans said. "I can't wait to talk about Danielle, and say thank you to them for reaching out.
 
"I still need to look at my emails and thank them for reaching out. And I'm still writing thank-you notes for what people did for me all last year. I have lots of thank yous, which I certainly don't mind doing because I am very thankful. And especially thankful for Danielle."
 
Evans says her own health has progressed as her doctors predicted. And she should be on schedule to coach the team in Puerto Rico later this month as the spring season begins.

A memorial service for Downey is scheduled for Feb. 13 at Auburn Arena.


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News & Tours

Final fall women's college coaches' polls

If you're a school not ranked No. 1 in the final Golf World/WGCA women's Division I, II or III coaches' poll, optimism might be a fleeting concept as the first half of the 2013-14 season has wrapped up. Given how entrenched USC, Lynn and Methodist appear to be in their respective polls heading into winter break, why bother with the spring campaign and lets simply hand out the NCAA trophies right now?

Of course I say this in jest. Talking to some coaches of teams chasing the No. 1s in each of the divisions, they appreciate the level dominance their opponents have shown in the fall. Yet at the same time the chasers believe they have played well enough that on any given week they could be victorious over all comers.

"We have a tremendous amount of respect for USC and what they've accomplished," said UCLA women's coach Carrie Forysth. "But I think we are confident that our team is capable of winning every tournament we enter. That hasn't changed this fall."

With that, here are the final fall polls. Read into them what you will as schools gets some rest before the spring season calls.








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News & Tours

Familiar feel to latest college women's poll: USC No. 1

By Ryan Herrington

I promise there is some surprise in the latest Golf World/WGCA women's Division I coaches' poll. It's just not with team that's ranked No. 1.

USC returns to the top spot, winners of its first two fall events and in the middle of a school-record five-tournament win streak dating back to last spring. However, the Trojans weren't the only school to receive first-place votes.

Indeed, where the interesting news comes from this time is that five other programs in addition to the Women of Troy had at least one coach pick them as the best team in the land.

See for yourself ...

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July 28, 2014

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