News & Tours
June 06, 2012

Final thoughts from Men's NCAAs

__BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF.--__After filing my story about Texas' dramatic victory over Alabama at the NCAA Championship for this week's issue of Golf World on Monday morning, I followed up with my customary phone call about an hour later to see if anybody had any questions. Thankfully there were none--if you think standing over a four-foot putt is tense, try waiting for the response when you ask if the story you've labored on pretty much all night has met with your boss' approval. I was surprised, though, at the response I got from one of the editors.

"Sounds like you got a pretty good tournament there," said the voice on the other end of the line. "Loved the reaction from Dylan Frittelli."

Granted I like to think my story captured the drama of the final day pretty well, but I got the sense that my editor had actually seen highlights of the round somewhere/somehow.

In the next few days, I've heard similar comments from other folks who knew I had been at Riviera, all of them asking me if the final day's play was exciting as they had heard. OK, I talk to a lot of people who are really into golf, many of them paid to be into it, so my sample size sometimes gets skewed. But I even had my own father, a casual fan who lives in Connecticut, said he'd heard all about the big Longhorns winning.

All I could think to myself was: How?

I bring this up because after a couple days to mull this over I've come to the conclusion that some how, some way this year's championship attracted more attention than any my recent memory. Maybe it was because it involved Texas and Alabama, name-brand programs that people gravitate to even if they don't know a think about golf. Or because it was Riviera, a classic course that even casual fans have heard of. Or that Golf Channel got some very nice shots from Sunday's play that aired on Golf Central and other GC programs. (Similarly, the Texas sports information department and the Longhorn Network were all over Sunday's championship match with solid coverage.)

Whatever the explanation, for the first time in a while I had reason to believe that college golf might be making in-roads. That maybe some time in the future, we'll see the coverage of the action go beyond the current webcast.

Our little sport is never going to be as popular as football or basketball or baseball. But it's a great place to get a glimpse of the future of the game. Hopefully people are starting to appreciate this.

A few other observations before calling it a wrap on the 2011-12 season.

Several coaches reiterated the point Jay Seawell made Sunday after his squad had just missed claiming the title. "I hope the NCAA continues to put places like Riviera on our schedule," he said. "It makes the NCAA Championship more special. I've been to a lot of them. been to a lot of special places, the Hazeltines, the Invernesses, but I think that's what made this week … that's what I'll remember the most

Indeed the NCAA golf committee has done a nice job in recent years of getting quality venues interested in hosting this event. They need to continue to do this as it only helps boost the importance of the event in the minds of players and fans.

What the current match-play format does is maximize the number of days that have excitement and drama. Starting with the final-round of stroke play where teams are jockeying to get into the top eight, then three full days of matches, you have at a minimum of four days where all the golf tends to matter in terms of the outcome of the tournament. When the debate really begins about whether the women should adopt match play down the road, that would be the best argument for it, in my mind.

What's interesting to think about is whether Martin would have had the same success Monday had his team actually won their semifinal at Riviera and competed Sunday in the NCAA final. It would have forced a late Sunday night flight to Oregon and made the turn-around time pretty quick to get ready to compete. Plus, his emotions would have been a little more tested by having either won or lost the NCAA title the previous day.

Of course we'll never know how it might have played out but my guess is that Martin would have traded his spot in the field at Olympic next week if it meant the Ducks were the ones holding the NCAA championship trophy Sunday.

OK, last one out turn off the lights. Enjoy your summer vacation.