USC, LSU last standing at another tumultuous NCAAs

By Ryan LavnerJune 3, 2015, 2:17 am

BRADENTON, Fla. – Parity and an unpredictable match-play format can make for a tumultuous championship.

We saw it seven days ago, when Stanford and Baylor knocked off the favorites and reached the NCAA women’s finals.

And that’s what we have again here at Concession, where over the course of 12 hours Tuesday, Southern Cal defeated Texas and Illinois – the popular choices to win it all with a combined 15 wins this season – to advance to the NCAA Championship final.

The 13th-ranked Trojans will face No. 9 LSU in the 18-hole championship match Wednesday.

Pressed for an explanation on how we arrived here, USC coach Chris Zambri offered: “Our championship is just incredibly difficult to win.”

Hey, no one understands that better than the top seeds.

Since match play was instituted in 2009, the team that won the stroke-play portion has yet to win the national title. Illinois was merely the latest match-play casualty.

In one day, the Illini experienced the wild swings of momentum that can make match play so maddening.

In the quarterfinals against UCLA, they enjoyed big-time performances from Thomas Detry (won Nos. 15-17), Charlie Danielson (won seven holes in a row) and Nick Hardy, whose pars on the final two holes were enough to secure a 3-2 win.

In the semifinals against USC, they looked tired, hit poor shots at inopportune times and failed to make a sustained rally.

“USC beat us today,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “Their rhythm didn’t change, their walk didn’t change, and they hit good shots.”

No doubt the most clutch shots were struck by senior Eric Sugimoto, a transfer from Pacific, the team’s No. 5 man and a player with only one top-10 this season. His hybrid shot to 5 feet on 14, his two-putt from 40 feet on 15, his iron shot to 10 feet on 16, and then his amped-up 3-wood from 249 yards on 17 to close out the match were some of the best all week, given the circumstances.

Zambri joked that Sugimoto was the kind of player who showed signs “four out of the seven days a week” – or, in other words, during practice.

“But we’d known he had it all along,” said USC assistant Tyler Goulding, who walked alongside Sugimoto in the semifinals. “We knew he had those kinds of stones to hit shots when they really mattered.”

The Trojans’ appearance in the finals here will only fuel the debate as to whether the NCAA has found the right format.  

There’s little argument that the system worked in 2012 and ’14, when the top two teams in the country squared off, but there have been a few oddball showdowns that took some star power out of the event a day early.

What can be done?

It may not have mattered this week, but instead of seeding based on the four rounds of stroke play, the teams should be slotted in the bracket based on their rank entering nationals. In no other sport can the top two teams face off in anything other than the finals. So why is college golf different?

Another issue to consider: The last two weeks, on both the men’s and women’s side, coaches and players have cited fatigue. Yes, the national championship should be the most grueling test of the year, but at this point, with eight rounds in seven days, it’s almost as much about endurance as it is skill. When asked what he was going to tell his team on the eve of the NCAA finals, LSU coach Chuck Winstead replied: “Go to sleep.”

All of this isn’t to diminish the accomplishments of two richly deserving finalists.

The Trojans are coming off a last-place finish at the 2014 NCAAs at Prairie Dunes, a course that didn’t fit the team’s aggressive style of play. Zambri joked that so many of his players’ shots found the bushes, they needed a Sherpa.

Reminders of that debacle are in Zambri’s office back in LA. Tournament officials sent him a giant poster with his team’s scores, but he rolled it up and put it behind his desk, never to be seen again. A smaller version is tacked on his cabinet. Motivation.

USC won three titles this season, but none since late February. In three of the Trojans’ toughest tournaments this spring, they finished ninth, eighth and seventh.

When asked if he ever envisioned that his team would be staring at the possibility of going from worst to first, Zambri shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe, maybe not.”

OK, so, basically: No.

The Trojans are essentially a team that caught fire at the right time and capitalized on the capricious nature of 18-hole match play. 

“They deserved to win,” Small said.

The LSU Tigers, meanwhile, are a confident – cocky? – bunch with five solid players and a coach who has guided the program through lean times.

After losing in the 2014 semifinals, LSU almost didn’t even make NCAAs, after it trailed by 14 shots on the final day of regionals. Clutch performances by Brandon Pierce and Ben Taylor – the latter of whom delivered the clinching point Tuesday against Georgia – punched the Tigers’ ticket to nationals. 

Tuesday was relatively low stress, as they beat Vanderbilt and Georgia by 3-1-1 margins.

Said LSU’s Zach Wright, who improved to 4-0 in match play in two NCAA appearances: “We’re a team that doesn’t really have any weaknesses.”

Since the match-play era began, there has always been a dominant team, whether it was Oklahoma State or Texas or Alabama.

Parity reigned this year, as seven teams won five or more times. It’s revealing, though, that four of those teams didn’t even make match play, two lost in the quarterfinals and the other, Illinois, which won an NCAA-best eight times, fell one match shy of reaching the finals.

The same scenario played out on the women’s side a week earlier – favorites USC and Duke bowed out early, clearing the way for a pair of top-20 programs to fight for the title.

Yes, by now we’ve learned these NCAAs are a tumultuous championship. But that doesn’t make it any less surprising.

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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:40 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM ( Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (

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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.