MontvilleApril 25, 2011

When A Season (Mercifully) Ends, Some Questions About D-III Linger

The worst day was the first day. That was Friday. The young ladies from the University of the South, also called Sewanee, found themselves in one of those long, hellish forced marches with bags of golf clubs on their backs. You know the kind.

The temperature at the Apple Rock course in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, was a blast-furnace 95 degrees. The winds whipped across the landscape at 30, 35 , 40 miles per hour. The course was a monster from the mind of Robert Trent Jones Sr., hills everywhere -- this was Texas Hill Country, located between Austin and San Antonio -- with seven water holes that included Lake LBJ, plus more than 50 bunkers located in the most inopportune places. The heat and the wind made the monster even more monstrous.

"This was the most difficult course in Texas in terrible conditions," said Brian Chafin, coach of the women from Centre College, another of the eight schools in the Division III Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championships, April 22-24. "You had the wind, the heat. There were no bailout areas anywhere. Everybody had trouble."

The ladies from Sewanee, alas, had the most trouble. Their slim, five-event regular season had not been good, filled with some eyebrow-raising scores that could have been submitted for maximum handicaps at any local country club. Add the conditions at Apple Rock to the high-scoring history and the results were frightful.

The No. 1 Sewanee player shot 132...

The No. 2 player shot 130...

No. 3 shot 164...

No. 4 shot 172...

No. 5 withdrew...

The ladies were an astounding 183 shots behind seventh-place Hendrix University after one round of golf, 287 shots behind first-place DePauw, the No. 2 team in the Golf World/NGCA coaches' poll. The day stretched forever as the Tigers -- the nickname for athletes from the Episcopal school, known for its academics and surprising number of Rhodes Scholars and church leaders among its graduates -- as they whacked, flailed and five-putted their way around the course.

"Maybe it took five and a half hours," said Cindy Vaios, coach of Oglethorpe, another team in the tournament. "Maybe six. It's different, remember, from just playing with friends. You have to play every shot. You have to go back to the tee when you hit out-of-bounds. You're playing real golf."

"It's not as long as you think it would be," Chafin said. "A lot of times you're just walking 25 yards to hit your next shot."

The performance was either inspiring or ridiculous, depending on your point of view. Thinking positive, the Sewanee ladies were the hard thumpers at the back of the marathon pack, running the distance in their inordinate time, far from the leaders, but still completing the course. There was dignity in simply surviving. Thinking negative, nobody should shoot 172 in a college championship. No four-person team should shoot 598, no matter how hot the temperature or how brisk the winds might be blowing. If you are going to sing a song in public, you should practice until you get it half right. (No one at Sewanee could be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.)

Should there be a qualifying standard before a team can compete in a league championship? There has been debate on this topic in the past in the SCAC and in other conferences. There no doubt will be more. This is Blue state versus Red state, Liberal versus Conservative, inclusion versus exclusion.

It also is an interesting look into women's D-III golf.

"Division III golf is a different world," Vaios said. "The talent pool in women's golf doesn't stretch as wide as it does in the men's game. For the men, after all of the golfers go to the Division I and Division II schools on scholarships, there still are some really good golfers around to play Division III. The women are a lot thinner.

"If you're shooting 85 as a high school girl, you could still get a Division I scholarship somewhere. What does that leave for Division III?" asked Vaios. "I'll recruit someone who shoots 95 and figure I can work with her. You're recruiting students. I had one girl who came here shooting 130 and wound up breaking 100 as a senior."

The rest of the weekend was slightly better -- but only slightly -- better for the ladies from the University of the South. The low round for the team was a 110, then a 116 and everything else was 120 or more. No one broke 100. The final team score was 1,621, which was 657 strokes behind DePauw, the winners.