The seemingly inevitable took another step toward becoming reality earlier this month when the NCAA women's Division I golf committee forwarded a recommendation to the NCAA Championship/Sports Management Cabinet that match play be incorporated into the NCAA Women's Championship to help determine the team winner starting in 2015.
Carol Reep, associate director for championships and alliances at the NCAA, said the women's golf committee made its decision to back the change during its summer meeting in early July. Reep was on hand at last week's U.S. Girls' Junior Championship in Fort Wayne, Ind., where she spoke during a meeting of women's coaches and outlined the proposal.
The plan, which the cabinet will review during its next meeting Sept. 10-11, calls for the women's championship to follow an identical six-day platform to the men's championship. Teams would play 54 holes of stroke-play competition with the low eight schools advancing into a match-play bracket where en route to crowning a champion.
The individual championship would follow the new 72-hole structure recently approved for the 2014 men's championship, with the low 36 players and ties after 54 holes of stroke play competing in a final 18 holes of stroke play that would proceed the start of team match play to determine the individual winner.
While the men's championship has 30 teams competing, the women's championship will continue to have 24 schools in the field. However, how they qualify for nationals would change as the proposal also calls for expanding from three regional championships to four. Each regional would have 18 teams and six individuals competing, with six schools and three individuals qualifying for the NCAA Championship.
The decision to move toward match play reflects the changing landscape of college golf, says Reep. In December, Golf Channel announced a partnership with the NCAA that would have the cable network take a proactive, year-round role in promoting the sport, including televising the men's championship annually beginning in 2014 and the women in 2015. Having these two flagship events in consecutive weeks played under different formats, however, has the potential of confusing fans that the game is trying to attract. Given the sometimes confounding nature of the play-five/count-four stroke-play format—along with the potential for less than dramatic blowout similar to what happened last May when USC cruised to a overwhelming 21-stroke victory—match play makes for the TV-friendly alternative.
That the women might one day follow the path of the men and adopt match play has been a point of discussion since the men made the switch for the 2009 NCAA Championship. Opinions seem split, with arguments from women's coaches who are against the change not unlike those of men's coaches who have raised concerns that match play doesn't always identify the best team, not to mention the disconnect in using a format that's hardly every played during the regular season.
To that end, however, at least one prominent event appears ready to experiment with match play next season in preparation for the format's likely inclusion at NCAAs. Georgia women's coach Josh Brewer said via Twitter that the Liz Murphey Collegiate Championship will use the format when played in the spring of 2014.
Just how challenging is it to going to be to make the 2013 U.S. Walker Cup team? Consider that when the USGA announced the first five members of the squad this morning—picking Max Homa, Michael Kim, Patrick Rodgers, Justin Thomas and Cory Whitsett—the list did not include either the 2012 U.S. Amateur champion or runner-up.
Steven Fox, set to play in this week's British Open (the final spoil of his win at Cherry Hills CC last August), and Michael Weaver have a little more waiting to do if they hope to be on captain Jim Holtgrieve's squad at National GL of America when the matches are held Sept. 7-8.
Mind you, it's hard to find any fault in the fivesome that was chosen. Homa just wrapped up his college career at California by winning the NCAA individual title, while his teammate Kim, earned was the consensus national player of the year for the Golden Bears in 2012-13 and also claimed low amateur honors at last month's U.S. Open.
Rodgers, a rising junior at Stanford, brings valuable Walker Cup experience, having played for Holtgrieve and the American team in 2011 when the squad fell to Great Britain & Ireland at Royal Aberdeen.
Thomas and Whitsett, teammates at Alabama, helped the Crimson Tide win the NCAA team title in June and have excellent match-play records that surely bolstered their candidacy.
The question now is who will join this fivesome, with the remaining five spots to be filled after the U.S. Amateur this August at The Country Club. Earlier this year the USGA announced that at least two mid-amateur golfers would be picked for the team, so two of the remaining five players will come from the 25-and-older set (Nathan Smith and Todd White being the odds-on favorites).
If an American wins the U.S. Amateur this August at The Country Club, he surely will receive one of the bids.
Fox's candidacy is bolstered by the fact he helped the U.S. win the Eisenhower Trophy at the World Amateur Team Championship last fall. After winning the Amateur title last year, he has earned spots into eight PGA Tour events, including the year's first two majors, but has failed to make a cut in any of the events.
The potential that Weaver makes the second cut seems high as the rising senior at California had a impressive college season in 2012-13, earning first-team All-American honors, and also made the cut at the U.S. Open.
Another Cal golfer also might be in the mix in Brandon Hagy, who reached the semifinals of last year's U.S. Amateur (losing to Weaver) and was a second-team All-American in college this past semester.
Additionally, there might be a third Alabama golfer on the squad before things are all said and done as Bobby Wyatt was a second-team All-American who had a 5-0-2 record in match play while helping the Crimson Tide win the NCAA title and Team USA claim the Palmer Cup in June.
Suffice it to say, the USGA shouldn't be short on candidates to round out Holtgrieve's squad.
LANCASTER, PA.—Their victories couldn't have come more differently, Alison Lee cruising to a six-stroke rout and Benjamin Griffin rallying for a one-stroke come-from-behind triumph. Yet when the two were able to compare notes after winning the girls and boys titles, respectively, at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions on a rainy Friday at Lancaster CC, they found the same intangible helped explain their successes.
Lee, an 18-year-old from Valencia, Calif., who will attend UCLA in the fall, had won her previous two AJGA starts entering what would be the final individual tournament of her vaunted junior career. Ranked No. 1 in the Polo Golf Junior Ranking, Lee said her recent play allowed her to block out the emotions of this being her AJGA swansong that might have otherwise crept into her mind.
"I've been hitting the ball really well, just playing very consistently," Lee said. "I really felt like I could go out there and play my game I'd be fine."
Fine indeed. After opening with a 70-69 to grab a share of the lead, Lee posted a third-round 67 that gave her a four-stroke cushion. With birdies on two of her first five holes in the final round, she gave runner-up Andrea Lee and third-place finisher Casey Danielson little room for hope, eventually posting an even-par 70. Her four-under 276 total was the only sub-par score on girls' side and she was the only player who didn't have at least one round over par.
By winning the AJGA's oldest and most prestigious event, Lee closed out her career with four AJGA invitational wins (all earned in the last 18 months) and nine titles overall. She also put herself in position to claim a sixth AJGA Rolex first-team All-American honor at year's end.
In contrast, victory was something new for Griffin, a 17-year-old from Chapel Hill, N.C. The rising high school senior had played 10 AJGA events prior to last November's Polo Golf Junior Classic with just one top-10 finish. But after reaching the quarterfinals of the AJGA's signature match-play event late in 2012, he carded two more top-10s in 2013, including a T-2 at Innisbrook in March and a sixth-place showing at last month's FJ Invitational.
"I've been playing so well this summer," Griffin said. "I've gained a lot of experience."
Still, Griffin knew he had to step up his play in the final round as he started the day three strokes back of Matt Gilchrest and Theo Humphrey. After a bogey on the third hole, Griffin bounced back with birdies on the third, fourth and seventh to put himself in the mix at the turn.
From there, Griffin sprung his secret weapon—a new Taylor Made putter he put in his bag at the beginning of June. After rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole, he proceed to make what he measured to be an 80-foot bomb on the 15th to claim a share of the lead with Humphrey and Adam Wood.
"Right when that happened, I felt like it might just be my day," Griffin said.
When a 35-foot birdie putt went dark on the 17th hole—after Wood bogeyed the 18th hole and Humphrey stumbled coming in—Griffin found himself alone in the lead. A clutch up-and-down from the front of the 18th green for par clinched the victory over Wood, with Griffin finishing off a five-under 65 (needing just 25 putts) and an eight-under 272 total.
"My goal at the start of the day was to get to eight under. I figured that would probably give me a one- or two-shot cushion," said Griffin, who has verbally committed to play college golf at North Carolina. "My putter saved me all day. I'm just really proud of the way I handled things down the stretch."
With his newfound status as an AJGA invitational winner, Griffin continues to build momentum with some big junior events still to come this summer—notably the U.S. Junior Amateur and the Junior PGA Championship.
Suffice it to say, he'll continued to have confidence on his side.