NCAA Golf Championship Takeaways (Video)


Aug 22, 2013; Southampton, NY, USA; Golf clubs sit in a bag during a USA Walker Cup Team practice at The National Golf Links of America. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For the past two weeks I’ve watched the best women and men in collegiate golf battle each other, the weather, and the baffling Concession Golf Club greens on their way to individual and team NCAA Division I Golf Championships.  In the end, Stanford won the women’s national championship and LSU took the men’s trophy home.  Who would have predicted that these two first-time winners would emerge victorious over top-seeded schools like Washington, UCLA, Florida State and Texas?  And what do these apparent upsets say about the championship and the state of collegiate golf?

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The 2015 championships used a new format.  Fifty-four holes of stroke play determined which teams advanced to match play and, combined with an additional 18 holes — 72 hole total — determined individual women’s and men’s champions. Then came quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of match play — a minimum of 36 holes — in a single day with the two teams surviving the semifinals deciding the national championship in a final match.  It was a grueling format designed to test every aspect of the players’ and teams’ athletic talent, and there was considerable grumbling about it before the first ball was struck.

Then play began and the evidence of the format’s durability and viability piled up.  As the week of women’s golf unfolded I grew convinced that the format was giving the players an opportunity to stretch out their technical and mental games in a way that 54 or 72 holes of straightforward stroke play could never provide.

Emma Talley edged out Gabby Lopez and Leona Maguire by a single dramatic shot to claim the individual women’s championship mid-way through the first week.  Bryson Dechambeau followed suit, edging out Cheng-Tsung Pan by a single dramatic shot to claim the individual men’s championship this week.  It was golf at its finest, the stuff that dreams are made of.

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I’m still remembering Emma Talley’s 148-yard, up-the-hill, into-the-wind shot out of that fairway bunker at the last that set up her winning birdie putt.  And I’m still smiling at Bryson Dechambeau’s strip tease and admiring his determined save from the hazard. Those are the kinds of shots that come out of the bags of champions!

The image of the Maguire sisters, Duke’s Irish girls who are clearly outstanding athletes and destined for greatness, taking a moment to compose themselves after their team’s loss, will not easily fade from my memory.  I can only imagine what they said to each other while their backs were turned to that intrusive Golf Channel camera and they struggled to accept an unacceptable loss.

Before the first week of the 2-week collegiate golf-a-thon had ended the grumbling and negative speculating about the new format — would eight rounds in seven days and the use of match play to select the team champion be a fair test of individual and team skill — had morphed into unconditional endorsement.

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  • The women’s match play rounds put the format to the test.  Duke and Baylor needed extra holes to determine which team would advance from the semifinal to the final round.  Then, in the final round, Stanford and Baylor did it again, going to extra holes in a contest so evenly matched it was heart-stopping.

    Stanford’s coach, Anne Walker, summed it up:

    "“The quality of golf that the nation just witnessed … I’m sure there’s a lot of people at home that can’t believe how good these guys are.  .  .  And to have it showcased on a national stage, I think that’s a really big deal. It’s changed the championship a lot.”"

    Then the men took the field and the process started all over again, a week-long test of skill, endurance, and heart that ended with another unlikely victory.  LSU, like Stanford, wasn’t a top-seed going into the week’s contest.  And yet the eight rounds, one after another, day after day, twice found the team that could pull together and stay the course.

    Perhaps the most important takeaway from the 2015 NCAA Golf Championships is the clear evidence of a new parity in collegiate golf.  It the contests that played out on the links at Concession Golf Club are a true test of talent and training, I’m leaving these two weeks knowing that collegiate golf is no longer a sport dominated by three or four powerhouse teams.

    Next: Which Tiger Woods Will We See At The Memorial?