News & ToursMay 31, 2013

Proposed NCAA format change impacts match play

__By Ryan Herrignton

__[#image: /photos/55ad761eadd713143b42714e]|||Ollie emotions.jpg|||

MILTON, GA.—Ollie Schniederjans says he usually doesn't get emotional on a golf course. But after securing the third and deciding point to send Georgia Tech to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship Friday afternoon, the sophomore covered his face in a towel for a half a minute, hiding his excitement/relief besides the first green at Capital City Club's Crabapple Course as fans cheering on the host school continued to applaud his triumph.

"The whole Georgia Tech nation is watching a playoff hole to go to the next round, and it's all on me," said Schniederjans, whose match with UNLV's Kevin Penner was decided on the first extra hole after the Georgia Tech golfer hit a clutch approach to two feet and then make the birdie putt. "The whole Georgia Tech nation is on my shoulders. I felt that. It felt awesome to get it done. I care a lot."

Yet a year from now, if a plan recommended by the NCAA men's Division I golf committee and under review later this month by the NCAA Championship/Sports Management Cabinet is approved, the emotionally spent golfer would have to collect his thoughts and return to the course in short order to play with his team in the semifinal round.

The quick turnaround would be the lone hiccup to a well-intended concept to bring back a fourth round of stroke play to crown an individual NCAA champion. Under the proposal, the eight teams advancing to match play would continue to be determined over 54 holes of stroke play. Meanwhile, the top 40 golfer and ties after three rounds would play another 18 holes used exclusively to settle the medalist race. To keep the overall championship at six days (seven counting the practice round) while adding an extra day of stroke play, the proposal calls for the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of match play to be contested on one day rather than two.

The intent of the change is to restore some of the prestige to the medalist race that many coaches believe has been diminished when match play was added to the championship in 2009 and the individual competition reduced to 54 holes. At last December's GCAA annual convention in Las Vegas, the vast majority of coaches in attendance agreed they were in favor of making the individual competition a 72-hole affair again—something they say would help legitimize the winner in the eyes of the wider golf community.

But at least one coach is questioning whether the extra round of stroke play comes with too big a trade-off.

               "I don't think it's right to ask [Ollie] to put on a new shirt and be ready to tee it up again in 20 minutes [after a match like that]," said Georgia Tech coach __Bruce Heppler__. "You can't ask them to do that for the sake of 40 guys playing an individual tournament."

Heppler contends the focus of the nationals is to crown a team champion, something that was emphasized when match play was added in 2009. That first year at Inverness Club, the quarterfinals and semifinals were played the same day, where Georgia pulled off an emotional quarterfinal victory over top-seeded Oklahoma State only to have to return to the course almost immediately to play Arkansas in the semifinals. Emotionally spent, the Bulldogs couldn't advance to the finals. The next year, the three rounds of match play were spread out over three days.

"It doesn't make any sense. We're here to determine a team champion," Heppler said. "You saw how big that trophy was last night [given to medalist Max Homa]. It's not nearly as big as [the team trophy]."

Heppler believes that 54 holes to crown the individual champion is still a legitimate measure. Given that this point of view is very much in the minority, and unlikely to be reversed, Heppler hopes the NCAA golf committee would alternatively consider adding a seventh day to the championship proper to keep from consolidating match play rounds. (The proposal does not add the extra day because of cost issues involved and the potential that extra expenses might keep the Championship/Sports Management Cabinet from passing the proposal.)

"We've got two weeks to fix it," said Heppler, alluding to the Cabinet's review. "I don't see a need to add another 18 holes to the individual thing to legitimize it if that costs you to having to play 36 holes in a day in match play."

The question is can he'll find enough folks who agree with him.

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