I love the fact that Middle Tennessee State won the GCAA's Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship today, knocking off Indiana in the final round at The Farms GC in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., 4-1. ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT.
As a precursor to what we might see at the NCAA Championship in June, it showed how the new format--stoke-play qualifying to cut to eight teams, then match play until you crown a champion--could lead to an exciting (and unpredictable) championship in a few months.
Here are a couple of the reasons why I'm happy with the outcome:
Middle Tennessee State was the No. 7 seed after stroke-play qualifying, then "upset" San Diego State, Florida State and the Hoosiers to claim the title. This validates the notion that so long as a school qualified for the "Elite Eight" they've got a chance at winning the NCAA title.
We've got a small, underdog school that comes away with the title. Can you imagine if this happened at nationals? It would be like Villanova taking the hoops title over Georgetown in 1985 ... a classic David vs. Goliath story with the drama that actually might get people talking about college golf who don't ordinary pay much attention to the sport.
Of course, I can here some critics of the match-play format (read: my Golfweek counterparts) pointing out how a "true" champion is far less likely to be crowned this way, and that match play won't identify the "best" team in college golf. My counter to this is that the 72-hole stroke play format didn't always do that either.
Do we really think Minnesota was the best team in college golf in 2002? With all due respect to Brad James' title team, the Golden Gophers rode a gigantic wave of emotion that year at Ohio State's Scarlet Course (recall that the school had announced that the men's golf program was going to be cut) that helped them knock off the school that actually had the "best" team, Georgia Tech, to win the national title. Same thing in 2004, where California beat the year's "best" team (UCLA) to win the national championship. Once again, it was a group of individuals, riding a wave of emotion, that came together and got the job done.
Those were great stories and some of the most entertaining NCAAs we've had in the past decade. We can get more of this, I think, with the match-play format we're about to experience this spring at Toledo's Inverness Club.
Photo courtesy of the GCAA