News & ToursDecember 1, 2014

How a simple, but far-reaching, rule change might impact college golf

At face value, the idea of allowing college golf coaches to substitute players in and out of their starting lineup between tournament rounds doesn't seem to be that radical a suggestion. Until, that is, you actually go and suggest it.

Oklahoma men's coach Ryan Hybl, who started talking with some of his fellow coaches about the idea a little more than a month ago, says he's only gotten positive feedback from those he's spoken with. He knows, though, that when it becomes a topic of discussion next week at the Golf Coaches Association of America's annual meeting in Las Vegas, detractors will raise their voices -- and probably loudly -- complaining that not every program can afford to bring extra players to a tournament.

"There will be some who bring up the added costs," Hybl acknowledges. "But I see it as a way to change the dynamic of our sport. I look at it as a coaching opportunity and a team-building opportunity."


In the context of team sports, being able to replace players in your lineup during a competition seems reasonable. It's hard to imagine college football or basketball coaches having to play their starters for the entirety of their games. Why then should it be that way in golf?

More specifically, there is a practical basis behind the idea. Currently the way team scores are derived in the majority of college golf tournaments, a school "starts" five golfers with the low four scores counting for the team. However, if a player in the starting lineup gets sick/injured and is forced to withdraws from a tournament, whether in the middle of a round or between rounds, the team has to use the four remaining scores without the ability to drop any other score or bring in another player to replace the injured one.

Some might say that's just the rub of the green. Perhaps, but with NCAA at-large postseason berths requiring schools have a winning head-to-head record against opponents during the regular season, if a team runs into a situation where a player is injured and it leads to a bad finish at a tournament, it could have larger consequences.

Last October, for instance, at Nike Golf Collegiate Invitational at Colonial C.C. in Fort Worth, Georgia junior Lee McCoy, among the top-ranked college players in the country, withdrew only a few holes in the first round due to an injury. The Bulldogs played with only four players the rest of the tournament and finished 10th out of 12 teams, their second-worst finish of the fall. At the mid-way point of the 2014-15 season Georgia clings to a 27-27 overall record, hampered by the 2-9 tally it had to take in Texas.

Says Hybl: "We're all just one tournament away from something bad happening."

Hybl, however, believes any discussion of a substitution rule should not be limited to just replacing injured players. It should also explore allowing coaches to make changes in their starting lineups based on performance. Again, like a basketball coach who pulls a guard who is having a poor shooting night, why shouldn't a college golf coach be able to make a change in an effort to improve his team's chances of success?

Allowing subs could potentially create more playing opportunities for the golfers, and players who wouldn't be competing could follow their teammates along with the coach and learn from watching while also becoming more invested in the team dynamic.

"Are they really getting any better by being left at home?" Hybl wonders. "How is that helping our programs?"

It's highly unlikely that any change in the rule will occur in the near future. Yet just having the discussion, says Hybl, is a positive step for the sport.

"There's a risk that we could be outsmarting ourselves as coaches, pulling guys in and out," Hybl says. "But at least it gives us the option. That's all we're looking for, the option."

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