Success on the collegiate level is a team effort

By Ryan LavnerMay 21, 2014, 1:00 pm

There is nowhere to hide at the NCAA Championship. Over six days and 108 holes, a team’s frailties and fears are exposed for all to see.

Each point in the 5-on-5 team match counts the same, no matter if it comes from the No. 1-ranked player in the country or No. 311. Simply, the first team to three points wins.

Some coaches contend this format dilutes the quality of play at the top, that the elite players are neutralized. Maybe so. But there is no mistaking this point: To win the NCAA Championship, it requires a team effort.  

“It makes everybody accountable,” Alabama coach Jay Seawell said. “It doesn’t matter how strong the first two or three links of your chain are. The stronger and deeper your team, the better your chances for success.”

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This theme was reinforced early, when match play was first implemented at the national championship in 2009.

That year gave us one of the most clutch shots in college golf history – Texas A&M’s Bronson Burgoon stuffing a wedge to 3 inches on the closing hole at Inverness. But what truly fueled the Aggies’ run to the title were pivotal contributions by the role players earlier in the tournament.

There was Conrad Shindler shooting a back-nine 32 just to send the team into match play.

There was Matt Van Zandt, a little-known senior whose score was dropped each round in stroke-play qualifying (tied for 120th individually). But when it came down to the No. 5 man tiebreaker for team seeding, his cumulative throw-out score was better than Georgia’s fifth player. That allowed the Aggies to avoid No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State in the opening round. Van Zandt then proved even more useful in the semifinals, when he birdied the last hole to defeat Michigan and send the Aggies to their first-ever final.

And then there was Andrea Pavan, who was struggling mightily in his opener against Arizona State. There was no hope of turning around his match, but on one of the final holes he striped a 2-iron into a long par 4.

“Ugh, I just found it,” he told head coach J.T. Higgins as he returned to his bag, “but it’s too late. I’m going to lose.”

“Yeah,” Higgins replied, “but now you’re going to help us win this thing.”

Sure enough, Pavan trounced his next opponent, 8 and 7, and then rolled, 7 and 6, in the championship. He didn’t lose a hole the final two matches.

“Everyone did something that was crucial,” Higgins says now. “To me, that was the most rewarding part.”

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NO TEAM IN RECENT MEMORY HAS AUTHORED a more improbable title run than Augusta State (now known as GRU Augusta), a tiny school near the home of the Masters that is Division II in every sport but golf.

Overlooked, underappreciated, then-head coach Josh Gregory used this battle cry in 2010 at the Honors Course: “No one wants to lose to Augusta State. It’s not embarrassing to lose to a Florida, a Georgia, an Oklahoma State. But no one wants to tell their friends they lost to Augusta State.”

But that’s exactly what happened. Twice.

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard that Patrick Reed went 6-0 in match play during his college career. That is true. Less publicized, but equally as important, were the roles played those years by the unheralded duo of Mitch Krywulycz and Carter Newman.

The only point Krywulycz contributed during the 2010 finals was during a dramatic turnaround against Oklahoma State’s Kevin Tway in the championship match. Four down with eight to play, Krywulycz won four holes in a row (three with birdies) and prevailed in overtime, giving the Jaguars the decisive point and a stunning upset.

As for Newman, he had a team-worst 73.85 scoring average during the 2009-10 season, and he had played terrible in stroke play, throwing up rounds of 82-79. Before the final round, Gregory stepped in to give his junior a much-needed confidence boost.

“You’ve been there for us every final round when it counted,” Gregory told him, “and there’s no doubt in my mind you’re going to do it again.”

The next day, Newman turned in a 73 in the final round to lift Augusta State into the match-play bracket, where he went 2-1. Newman was even better in 2011, posting a 3-0 record as the Jaguars became the first team since Houston (1984-85) to win back-to-back national titles.

“You can’t just go with four guys,” Gregory says now. “When you start the day giving up a point, it’s impossible. Someone has to step up.”

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IN 2012, TEXAS WAS THE UNDISPUTED No. 1 team in the country, a deep, talented group led by a sensational freshman named Jordan Spieth. But entering the postseason, the Longhorns had questions at the back-end of their lineup. Junior Cody Gribble and senior Alex Moon had battled all season for the fifth spot, and during the Big 12 Championship it was Gribble who was left at home. After Texas was stunned by Texas A&M at its conference championship, however, coach John Fields was forced to reevaluate his lineup for the upcoming regionals and NCAAs.

After a week of deliberation Fields opted for Gribble – and it proved the correct choice, eventually. Sure, the left-hander was towed along for regionals (27th) and NCAA stroke play (77th), but, when it mattered most, he went 3-0 in match play – the only player to go undefeated – to help the Longhorns defeat No. 2 Alabama and win their first national title in 40 years.

Gribble was on the ropes in his semifinal match against Oregon’s Jonathan Woo, but back-to-back birdies on 16 and 17 led to a 2-and-1 victory. Afterward, he told his coach, “I really believed it was going to work out, but I didn’t know how.”

Says Fields now, “That just shows you his belief at that point. It was so strong, somehow, that he knew it was going to be OK.”

Even today, Fields thinks that Gribble wouldn’t have won that match – and Texas wouldn’t have won that title – without Moon, the sixth man. Gribble and Moon spared every day in practice, made each other better, and it’s the reason why everyone on the team – not just the starters – received championship rings.

“Everybody played a part,” Fields said.

LIKE GRIBBLE, ALABAMA'S TREY MULLINAX had his own enlightening experience last May. The born-and-bred ’Bama boy had largely underachieved during his first three years on campus, and in the NCAA finals he was reeling after getting steamrolled in his first-round match against New Mexico.

Trailing once again in the semifinals against Georgia Tech’s Shun Yat Hak, Mullinax made six 3s in a row, winning Nos. 7-12 en route to a 4-and-3 victory. A day later, he withstood a championship match with six lead changes by two-putting from 60 feet on the last for a 1-up win over Illinois’ Charlie Danielson.

For years he had watched as Alabama stars Bobby Wyatt and Cory Whitsett racked up high finishes and accolades. Finally, something had clicked.

“I learned I could play with those guys,” said Mullinax, who parlayed that match-play success into a strong senior campaign, with a victory at Isleworth, six other top 10s and a No. 13 national ranking. “It took that match to realize it.”

“In that one match,” Seawell said, “that’s how Trey became the player he is today. I could see it that night at dinner, in his final match. That’s what can happen. In those tough moments, I saw him truly grow as a player.”

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”

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Videos and images from Tiger's Tuesday at Torrey

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 7:45 pm

Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Torrey Pines South, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since missing the cut in this event last year. Here's a look at some images and videos of Tiger, via social media:

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Power Rankings: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:59 pm

The PGA Tour remains in California this week for the Farmers Insurance Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, with weekend play exclusively on the South Course.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to to submit your picks for this week's event.

Jon Rahm won this event last year by three shots over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan. Here are 10 names to watch in La Jolla:

1. Jon Rahm: No need to overthink it at the top. Rahm enters as a defending champ for the first time, fresh off a playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge that itself was preceded by a runner-up showing at Kapalua. Rahm is perhaps the hottest player in the field, and with a chance to become world No. 1 should be set for another big week.

2. Jason Day: The Aussie has missed the cut here the last two years, and he hasn't played competitively since November. But he ended a disappointing 2017 on a slight uptick, and his Torrey Pines record includes three straight top-10s from 2013-15 that ended with his victory three years ago.

3. Justin Rose: Rose ended last year on a tear, with three victories over his final six starts including two in a row in Turkey and China. The former U.S. Open winner has the patience to deal with a brutal layout like the South Course, as evidenced by his fourth-place showing at this event a year ago.

4. Rickie Fowler: This tournament has become somewhat feast-or-famine for Fowler, who is making his ninth straight start at Torrey Pines. The first four in that run all netted top-20 finishes, including two top-10s, while the last four have led to three missed cuts and a T-61. After a win in the Bahamas and T-4 at Kapalua, it's likely his mini-slump comes to an end.

5. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has become somewhat of a course specialist at Torrey Pines in recent years, with six top-10 finishes over the last eight years including wins in both 2012 and 2016. While he missed much of the second half of 2017 recovering from injury and missed the cut last week, Snedeker is always a threat to contend at this particular event.

6. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama struggled to find his footing after a near-miss at the PGA Championship, but he appears to be returning to form. The Japanese phenom finished T-4 at Kapalua and has put up solid results in two of his four prior trips to San Diego, including a T-16 finish in his 2014 tournament debut. Matsuyama deserves a look at any event that puts a strong emphasis on ball-striking.

7. Tony Finau: Finau has the length to handle the difficult demands of the South Course, and his results have gotten progressively better each time around: T-24 in 2015, T-18 in 2016 and T-4 last year. Finau is coming off the best season of his career, one that included a trip to the Tour Championship, and he put together four solid rounds at the Sony Open earlier this month.

8. Charles Howell III: Howell is no stranger to West Coast golf, and his record at this event since 2013 includes three top-10 finishes highlighted by last year's runner-up showing. Howell chased a T-32 finish in Hawaii with a T-20 finish last week in Palm Springs, his fourth top-20 finish this season.

9. Marc Leishman: Leishman was twice a runner-up at this event, first in 2010 and again in 2014, and he finished T-20 last year. The Aussie is coming off a season that included two wins, and he has amassed five top-10s in his last eight worldwide starts dating back to the Dell Technologies Championship in September.

10. Gary Woodland: Woodland played in the final group at this event in 2014 before tying for 10th, and he was one shot off the lead entering the final round in 2016 before Mother Nature blew the entire field sideways. Still, the veteran has three top-20s in his last four trips to San Diego and finished T-7 two weeks ago in Honolulu.

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Davis on distance: Not 'necessarily good for the game'

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:28 pm

It's a new year, but USGA executive Mike Davis hasn't changed his views on the growing debate over distance.

Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, Davis didn't mince words regarding his perception that increased distance has had a negative impact on the game of golf, and he reiterated that it's a topic that the USGA and R&A plan to jointly address.

"The issue is complex. It's important, and it's one that we need to, and we will, face straight on," Davis said. "I think on the topic of distance, we've been steadfast to say that we do not think increased distance is necessarily good for the game."

Davis' comments echoed his thoughts in November, when he stated that the impact of increased distance has been "horrible" for the game. Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who claimed there was "no evidence" to support Davis' argument.

That argument, again reiterated Tuesday, centers on the rising costs associated with both acquiring and maintaining increased footprints for courses. Davis claimed that 1 in 4 courses in the U.S. is currently "not making money," and noted that while U.S. Open venues were 6,800-6,900 yards at the start of his USGA tenure, the norm is now closer to 7,400-7,500 yards.

"You ask yourself, 'What has this done for the game? How has that made the game better?'" Davis said. "I think if we look at it, and as we look to the future, we're asking ourselves, saying, 'We want the game of golf to be fun.' We want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what scores you should shoot versus necessarily the equipment.

"But at the same time, we know there are pressures on golf courses. We know those pressures are going to become more acute."