PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

The Loop

Thoughts from the GCAA convention, Part II

January 23, 2008

Aside from the ".500 rule" and all the ancillary questions it raises, there was another topic that received much debate at the GCAA convention: the structure of the men's NCAA Championship in 2008-09 and beyond.

As reported here since August, the NCAA men's golf committee already has gotten initial approval to change the structure of nationals to a 54-hole stroke-play event with the top eight teams advancing into a bracketed head-to-head tournament to determine the eventual champion (the individual winner would be crowned at the end of stroke play). The only obstacle that would keep this measure from becoming reality is if an NCAA budget committee ruled against the proposal when it's reviewed in April.

Just what the bracketed head-to-head tournament will look like, however, remains uncertain. A medal/match-play format was part of the original proposal to the NCAA, but golf committee chairman Mike Holder said that no specific format has been adopted officially and that the committee will entertain any and all suggestions as it prepares to discuss the matter at its own annual meeting in June.

As coaches weighed in on the matter, four options seemed to pick up some interest:

Medal/match play. School A and B rank their players 1 to 5 and have them play five 18-hole matches, the winner of each being player with the low medal score. Each match is worth a point, with the winning team being the one that claims at least three points.

Match play. Same as above, only each individual match follows the rules of match play. This was how the team championship was

Five count four scoring. All five players on School A and B play 18 holes, with the high score dropped to get an aggregate team score (similar to the way most current tournaments count individual day scores). The school with the low aggregate team score wins.

Five count five. All five players on School A and B play 18 holes, with all scores counting. The school with the low aggregate team score wins.

While the first plan has been the most talked about, it's the one I least prefer. No college team currently plays any tournament under this format, so to make it the way you decide the national championship seems to bit unusual. Certainly some tournaments might change their own format to somehow mimic this, but it's a case of the tail wagging the dog.

When you think brackets in golf, you think of match play, so I can see the second plan having some merit. On the plus side, everyone is familiar with how match play works and it has the potential for creating upsets (at November's Callaway Match Play Championship, run by the GCAA, four of the eight winners in the first round had the lower seed). Conversely, this is a team format that's hardly ever played ... the Callaway/GCAA event is the rare exception). Moreover is creating an environment for upsets really what you're trying to do when you're playing for a national championship. Are you trying to identify the best team? In theory, if you have a very good No. 1, 2 and 3 player and your No. 4 and 5 man couldn't break 90, you could still be the national champion.

Plan C has been advanced in recent months by Charlotte men's coach Jamie Green, whose comments about how his local media covered the 49ers' T-3 finish at last year's NCAAs helped spur that change in format altogether. (Charlotte associate athletic director Darin Spease is also on the men's golf committee.) It makes a good deal of sense to me. Five count four scoring is how almost every tournament is run throughout the season so getting used to the style of scoring isn't difficult at all. If your team's score is better than your opponent's, you advance.

Opponents of the plan say it allows a player shooting a 65 to cleaning up after a teammate's 76, but I'm not sure I see a problem with that. If you're a good enough coach to have recruited a player who can shoot a 65 and help out his team like that--rather than only be able to earn 1 point for his team in a match play setting--more power to you.

Truth be told, I like Plan D best of all. Count all five players and lets really see who has the best "team." The problem with this is if you have a player that's DQd or must withdraw with an injury or illness, that team likely would have to forfeit ... not the best way to decide things, particularly if it happens in the final match.