NCAA seeding minimizes season-long accomplishments

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2014, 11:15 am

When it was over, Cal coach Steve Desimone led his shell-shocked team into one of its hotel rooms outside Atlanta.

What could he say?

An hour earlier, arguably the greatest season in college golf history had come to a cold, cruel conclusion. In the semifinals of the NCAA Championship, Thomas Pieters had defeated Max Homa (pictured above at right with teammate Joel Stalter) in 20 holes to earn the decisive point. The final score was Illinois 3, Cal 2.

“Absolute heartbreak,” Desimone said. “Crushing heartbreak.”

And now the team’s five players were in tatters, eyes red, as they staggered into associate head coach Walter Chun’s room. Their heads were spinning, their hands shaking, and in the immediate aftermath there were flights to catch, awards to claim, qualifiers to play.

Suddenly, after nine long months, after five hard-fought days at NCAAs, all Desimone had left was 15 minutes.

He faced the group, cleared his throat and delivered the most difficult speech of his 35-year career.

A YEAR LATER, Desimone is still coming to grips with the fact that his team didn’t even reach the finals.

The 2012-13 Golden Bears won 11 of 13 events, a modern-day record. They were 173-3-1, head-to-head, against other teams. They finished the season more than 6,000 shots ahead of their opponents. All five of their starters were ranked in the top 25 nationally – three were first-team All-Americans, the other two second-teamers.

But for the fourth time in the past five years, the No. 1 team in the country left the NCAA Championship without the trophy.

That’s part of sports, of course – the best team doesn’t always win. Alabama was ranked No. 2 last year, won seven of its last eight starts, dominated the match-play bracket and deservedly captured its first men’s title in school history.

Which team was better, Cal or Alabama? Unfortunately, we’ll never know, and lately that’s been an all-too-familiar refrain. 

Since 2000, the No. 1 team entering NCAAs has captured the national title just twice (2003, ’12). Since match play was implemented in 2009, the team that led the field after stroke play – the squad clearly in the best form entering the final stage – has yet to win.

That would seem to suggest that the NCAA finals are slightly askew, but one small tweak to the format could ensure that at least Nos. 1 and 2 have an opportunity to meet in the finals. 

Whether they do, of course, is entirely up to them. Just ask Cal.

THE MATCH PLAY ERA got off to both a rollicking and rocky start.

In 2009, the top two teams in the country were Oklahoma State and Georgia. That year at Inverness, the Cowboys won the stroke-play qualifier while the Bulldogs lost a tiebreaker and settled for the eighth spot.

Because the seeds in the match-play bracket are based on the stroke-play standings, not an overall national ranking, one side of the draw had the Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 7 ranked teams. The other: 8, 14, 21 and 30.

Some reward for a great season: Oklahoma State and Georgia squared off in a win-or-go-home first-round matchup.

The No. 1 Cowboys lost the wildly entertaining match on the final hole. A few hours later, the No. 2 Bulldogs were gone too, having run out of steam in the semifinals. By day’s end, the top two teams in the country had been sent packing.

“An absolute crime,” says Texas coach John Fields.

Oklahoma State also boasted the No. 1-ranked team heading into the NCAAs in 2010 and 2011, only to leave each time without the title to validate it. Though in 2012 college golf fans finally got the championship match they were hoping for – top-ranked Texas vs. No. 2 Alabama – it was only because of a fortunate match-play draw. (They were Nos. 3 and 1 seeds, respectively, after stroke play.) They just as easily could have seen Oregon and San Diego State in the final match.

An instant classic, probably not.


IMAGINE THE SAME format in college basketball: 

Connecticut runs the table during the regular season, dominates the conference championship, and its first-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament is not South Dakota State, Weber State or Wofford. No, it’s Kansas. Or Duke. Or Syracuse.

That’d never happen.

In fact, in the NCAA Tournament, the top seeds are nowhere near each other – they’re on opposite sides of the bracket, unable to even meet until the semifinals.

In no sport can the two best teams ever face each other in the first round … except, of course, in college golf.

At its biggest event, the NCAA ignores seven months of results and rankings and sets the all-important match-play bracket based on a 54-hole qualifier.

“They’ve obviously tried to make the regular season important,” former Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw said, “but at the most important juncture of the season, we throw it out. At the end it doesn’t matter what we do all season long. If the regular season means something, then it has to mean something all the way until the end.”

A national ranking determines which teams make the cut for regionals.

A national ranking determines the pairings for the first two rounds of the NCAA Championship. 

Why does a national ranking not determine the seeds for match play? Why not input one more 54-hole result into the system – there will be little, if any, fluctuation – and set up the bracket based on that yearlong ranking?

After all, the goal of any championship is to determine the best team – not the one that receives the luckiest draw.

Obviously, this tweak wouldn’t guarantee that the top two teams meet in the finals. But at least it would ensure that Nos. 1 and 2 have that opportunity – an important distinction, especially now with a live-television audience to consider.

“Moving forward it makes tremendous sense to go back to the original seeds,” Fields says. “I think it’s fair and I think it’s healthy, because then you’ve got the real deal right there in front of you.”

A YEAR AGO, right there in front of Desimone was a group of devastated kids who were gathered in a hotel room. They ached. They searched for understanding, for an explanation, for solace.

“It was my great honor and privilege,” Desimone said softly, “to coach the best team that has ever played college golf.”

The impromptu team meeting marked the last time they’d ever be together in the same room, all seven of them. At the NCAAs there are no long, emotional goodbyes. The finality is swift, merciless.

“That hit home for all of us,” Desimone said. “Our dreams had come crashing down. You know that it can happen, everything falling apart, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it does. It was probably the most difficult time of my career, and it took me awhile to recover from that.”

Fifteen minutes later, and they had already gone their separate ways – to their award ceremonies, to their qualifiers, to their families. Even now the head coach can’t begin talking about his 2013 team without first sighing deeply.

“Sports are fraught with disasters and disappointments,” he said. “All you can do is prepare your players for when it inevitably comes.”

And hope that the next No. 1 team doesn’t suffer the same heartbreak.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”