Changes recommended for NCAA individual event

By Ryan LavnerMay 29, 2013, 9:23 pm

MILTON, Ga. – Change is coming soon to the NCAA Championship, or so we can hope.

No longer will the individual champion here be a morning finisher, or a 10-tee starter. No longer will it be a secondary storyline.

Since 2009, when match play was instituted at NCAAs, the individual champion has been rendered a mere footnote. That’s a shame too, for there is an impressive list of recent winners, from Matt Hill and Scott Langley, to John Peterson and Thomas Pieters.

Well, the NCAA Championship Committee recently made a recommendation to the Sports Management Cabinet: Bring back 72 holes of stroke play.

That’s the way it used to be, remember, pre-2009, and it seemed to work – Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald are among the notable winners in this event’s illustrious history.

Of course, such a change would cause a drastic shakeup at NCAAs, which next year will be broadcast on Golf Channel.

Currently, there is a 54-hole stroke-play qualifier that determines both the individual champion and the top eight teams that advance to match play. The quarterfinal matches begin Friday, followed by the semifinals on Saturday and the finals on Sunday.

The committee has recommended, however, that the stroke-play qualifier run Friday through Sunday, then cut to the low eight teams.

Then, on Monday – the first day of TV coverage – the low 40 individuals and ties would compete in the fourth and final round of stroke play to determine the individual champion. Those individuals on an advancing team who were not in the top 40 would essentially have a day off.

On Tuesday, the top eight teams would square off in the quarterfinal matches, followed by the semis, with the finals to be held Wednesday. The cabinet could approval this proposal in two weeks, with the new format in place for the 2014 NCAAs at Prairie Dunes.

“The NCAA Championship should be four rounds,” Cal coach Steve Desimone. “It’s the best amateur event in the world, and we’re shortchanging that. We had the best tournament in the world for amateur and college golf, and we don’t have the tournament that we once had.”

No doubt, a 72-hole tournament adds credibility to this event. College teams generally play two-day, 54-hole tournaments during the season, but only because of time constraints. Every significant amateur event is four rounds.

“If it’s going to be a major, it gives it a chance to get even more credibility,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said. “This is probably the greatest amateur event in the world. The more holes you play, the better player is going to come forward.”

Some coaches contend that the current system is unfair for players who are on competitive teams.

After all, the third round at NCAAs is arguably the most stressful day of the college golf season. The top eight teams jockey for position. The individuals – sometimes unknowingly – chase the individual title.

Those players on the top eight teams have a disadvantage, however. Their burden is twofold: They’re trying to win the individual title, yes, but they also need to play conservatively enough to keep their team in the race for one of the coveted eight spots. Meanwhile, a player on a non-contending team can freewheel.

That’s been the case in recent years.

Three of the last four individual winners have begun their third and final round on the 10th hole. Half of the four finished in the morning wave. Buzzkill.

“This (proposal),” Seawell said, “would alleviate one of those pressures.”

The proposed plan still isn’t perfect, at least to some coaches.

Most notably, the prospect of having both the quarterfinal and semifinal matches on the same day is a daunting prospect. (Stretch the event a day longer, however, and then it’s an eight-day grind, including the practice round.) Said Seawell: “I think the buildup each day and night for the kids is good.”

And, yes, the fact that match play even determines the team champion still bothers Desimone.

Only once since 2009 has the No. 1-ranked team in the country left NCAAs with the trophy. That was last year’s Texas squad, with Jordan Spieth leading the way.

This season, No. 1 Cal has won 11 of its 13 starts to set the modern-day NCAA record for most victories in a season. But with the match-play final, the distinct possibility exists that the Golden Bears could return to Berkeley with the No. 1 overall seed but not a title to show for it.

“The ultimate goal should be to identify the best team in college golf, and I don’t know that any team thinks we’re doing that right now,” Desimone said. “One day of match play can erase an incredible season. Do I think that’s fair? No. No one in their right mind would say that’s fair.”

That discussion – a significant one, it should be noted – has been tabled, at least for another year.

Now, the NCAA appears ready to shine the spotlight back on the individual champion. Compared to what is currently in place – 54 holes, a secondary storyline – that’s a promising step.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.