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.
Seven 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.
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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.
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."
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.
"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.
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.
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 ...
The name of the school atop the latest Golf World/WGCA women's Division I coaches' poll should come as no surprise, USC claiming all 21 first-place votes after starting the 2013-14 season with an impressive comeback victory at the Dale McNamara Fall Preview.
However, take a look at the rest of the top 25 and you'll see a few new names and a few names occupying a few spots for the first time in school history.
Defending NCAA champion USC starts its title defense as the No. 1 ranked team in the Golf World/WGCA 2013-14 preseason women's Division I coaches' poll. The Trojans claimed the school's third women's golf championship when they won by a dominating 21-strokes at the University of Georgia GC last May.
All five starters return to Los Angeles, including last year's national player of the year Annie Park. Additionally, USC brings in the U.S. Girls' Junior champion Gabriella Then and five-time AJGA All-American Karen Chung as to challenge for starting spots as freshmen. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Trojans claimed 26 of the 29 available first-place votes.
No. 2 in the poll is Alabama, the 2012 NCAA champs who bring back senior Stephanie Meadow, Golf World's No. 1 player to watch for the season, and sophomore Emma Talley, the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champion.
Duke claimed the No. 3 spot, having finished runner-up to USC at nationals last May. Rounding out the top five are UCLA and Arizona State, both of whom picked up first-place votes (the Bruins getting 1, the Sun Devils getting 2).
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.
By George Henry
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- Annie Park shot a 1-under 71 to top the individual standings and help Southern California take its third NCAA women's tournament title with a record-setting team performance Friday.
Southern California finished at 19-under 1,133 -- 15 strokes better than the previous tournament mark set by UCLA in 2004 -- to beat second-place Duke by 21 strokes.
Third-place Purdue was 21 over -- 40 shots behind Southern California.
Park, a freshman from Levittown, N.Y., finished at 10 under for a six-stroke victory over Duke's Lindy Duncan. Kyung Kim and Sophia Popov tied for sixth at 1 over for Southern California, which finished second to Alabama last year by one shot.
ATHENS, Ga. -- While the third day of a 72-hole tournament is commonly considered "moving day," only the Auburn Tigers -- who drew inspiration from the brief presence of Coach Kim Evans, recovering from recent surgery to treat ovarian cancer -- succeeded in matching USC's third-round three-under 285. At 19-under 845, USC turned its 12-shot, 36-hole lead into a 17-shot cushion over Duke -- the only other team under par -- with only 18 holes remaining. Tied for third place are Purdue, UCLA and defending champion Alabama, who shot 13-over 301 Thursday.
High temperatures and low humidity nearly turned the already firm and fast UGA GC greens to hardwood tabletops, and only 15 players managed to break par. But the Trojans grinded through the front nine and shot eight under on the back to post respective scores of 69 and 70 from freshmen Kyung Kim and Annie Park, 72 from sophomore Doris Chen and 74 from junior Sophia Popov.
"I'm just honored to be playing in this championship," said Park, who leads the individual race by two shots over Alabama's Stephanie Meadow (one-over 73 Thursday) and Mississippi State's Ally McDonald after recording four birdies in her last six holes. "It takes the pressure off knowing how good my teammates are."
The lowest round of the day was a four-under 68 from Auburn junior Marta Sanz, who jumped 32 places into a tie for 14th. "On the back nine every putt went in. It was one of those days," said Sanz, who, like her teammates, benefited from having Coach Evans on site. "It shows us what life is and that we're just playing a game."
McDonald's seven-under 209 total has her well within reach of Park's lead, but because her team sits in 18th place at +30, she won't play alongside the other leaders. "I think I'm in a good position to make something happen," said McDonald. "[The leaders] have no control over what I do."
USC's big lead should take some excitement out of Friday's final round, but as has happened in the past, large leads can be erased even more quickly then they are built. However, Park and Meadow are among the favorites to win national Player of the Year honors, so there's more riding on the final round than a team and individual title, as if that weren't enough.
***Auburn's Coach Evans arrived on site yesterday and left this morning via a ride to the airport from Beans Kelly, a close friend and former Georgia women's coach. The Tigers are currently T-9 after posting three-under 285 on Thursday. "The first day, [we] seemed a bit rattled," said Auburn student assistant coach Danielle Downey. "Coach Evans flying in and the team seeing her really settled [our players]."
***Emilie Burger, the Georgia senior who qualified for the event as an individual, shot 75 Wednesday and is T-72 at +11. "It's not the way I expected to play," said Burger. "But to be able to finish my career here tomorrow is a blessing." Burger takes lessons at Atlanta Athletic Club from Chan Reeves, the nephew of former NFL player and coach, Dan Reeves.
***Amidst the entourage following Burger on Thursday was former UGA golfer Terri Moody. Moody was the first woman to ever receive a full athletic scholarship to UGA, and as a senior, won the national championship here at UGA GC in a three-hole playoff. With Moody and Kelly in her gallery, Burger had two of the biggest legends in Bulldog women's golf watching her play.