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Subs are coming to Division I women’s golf.
Two seasons after the men first introduced a rule allowing substitutions in match play at the NCAA Championship, the women are following suit. The final eight teams left standing at this spring’s NCAA Women’s Championship in Fayetteville, Ark., will have the option to sub out a player – for any reason – prior to any round of match play.
This rule was initially put in place after Texas had to play without an injured Beau Hossler in the 2016 men’s final in Eugene, Ore. While no teams took advantage of the ability to use subs in match play at the 2017 NCAA Championship, several programs subbed out players last season after the sub rule was expanded to all of NCAA postseason play.
Eleven teams subbed players during regionals and five did so during the stroke-play portion of the NCAA Championship in Stillwater, Okla. – N.C. State used its sub, Nolan Mills, twice, subbing out Harrison Rhoades in Round 2 and Justin Hood in Round 3. For the second straight year, however, no subs were made during match play.
It doesn’t appear as if the women will act any differently in Year 1 at Blessings Golf Club.
“I’m in favor of (the rule) if you have an injury, and I think any time you give the coaches more flexibility it’s good,” said USC first-year coach Justin Silverstein. “But having a sixth player there might do more harm than good.”
Kent State coach Greg Robertson, whose team has made NCAA match play in each of the past two seasons, agrees.
“Obviously, you’re taking a chance if someone gets sick or hurt and you don’t bring a sixth person,” Robertson said. “But I’m not sure I’d want to take somebody and have the players in the lineup start looking over their shoulder, wondering if they’re going to get pulled or not. We just want them to go play golf.”
Silverstein’s Trojans team is deep, with potential All-American Alyaa Abdulghany not even qualifying for USC’s first two spring tournaments. But so was the 2017 USC men’s team that Silverstein was an assistant on.
“We talked about bring a sixth guy that year, which was Jonah Teixeira, who had been a semifinalist at the U.S. Amateur (in 2016),” Silverstein said. “But we agreed that we were going to roll with what we had.”
Silverstein and Robertson haven’t ruled out bringing a sixth player to NCAAs, and many coaches likely will take the opportunity to do so. But it would be surprising if a team playing well enough to make match play decides to switch things up during the most important moments of the season.
The bigger question moving forward will be if the women’s game expands the sub rule like the men did. Last year, a virus knocked several players and one team out of action at the NCAA Austin Regional. But some coaches, including Robertson, are fine with where things are currently at regarding subs.
“I don’t mind (the rule) for match play,” Robertson said. “But I just hope it doesn’t make its way into stroke play.”
PASSING THE TEST
While Oklahoma State sophomore stud Matthew Wolff continues to dominate the headlines with four victories (and possibly a fifth Wednesday afternoon at The Prestige?), it’s hard to ignore that there is hardware being piled up outside of Stillwater, Okla., too.
Vanderbilt senior Will Gordon and Florida State sophomore John Pak are each riding back-to-back individual title streaks while their respective teams also have won two straight events.
Gordon might want to consider setting up his home base in Florida once he turns pro later this year. He capped his fall by winning the Tavistock Collegiate in Windermere, Fla., before starting off his spring with a victory at the Gator Invitational in Gainesville, Fla.
It was easy for Gordon to keep the rust off. He made four different golf trips during the break, including participating in the Walker Cup practice session in December.
“In your head you always believe that you belong among the best players in the country,” Gordon said of the session at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. “But to play and compete with every one of those guys down there and see how you compare to that, it boosts your confidence. It definitely gave me some peace of mind.”
Gordon’s busy winter was a different approach than a year ago, when he took an extended break from golf to recharge after an up-and-down stretch. This winter, he spent just three days at home in Davidson, N.C., though he did put the clubs away for 10 days in favor of a family vacation sailing around the Caribbean on a catamaran.
“I think I’ve learned about myself more and what type of rest I need, and how much I need to be practicing,” Gordon said. “I’ve found a formula that works really well.”
Pak didn’t play at all during the winter, though he didn’t miss a beat with wins at the Seabest Invitational and Mobile Sports Authority Intercollegiate. The two victories pushed Pak’s season total to three, as he also captured the fall-opening Rod Myers Invitational.
But the fall wasn’t all positive for Pak. He struggled mightily, particularly on the greens, in a T-42 showing at Olympia Fields and followed that by failing to crack the top 20 at the Golf Club of Georgia. He needed a mental recharge.
“Going from shooting one of the best rounds of my life to playing one of my worst tournaments, mentally I just wasn’t there and it kind of brought me down a little bit,” Pak said. “Now here I am playing some of the best golf of my life. I just felt mentally stronger (after the break) and had more confidence and was more positive about my game.”
Pak isn’t a long hitter. In fact, he’s one of the shortest players at this level. But he’s also arguably the most accurate.
“He’s like a really good 3-point shooter in the NBA, like a J.J. Redick or Steph Curry,” FSU coach Trey Jones said. “When those guys get it going, it feels like they’re going to make every shot. John’s the same way. When he gets it dialed in, he’s one of those guys who can stick it to 4 feet again and again.
“… You don’t have to have the ball speed if you hit it that straight.”
J.B. Holmes defended his pace of play after winning the Genesis Open Sunday at Riviera, saying, “When I first got out here (on the PGA Tour) I was really slow, but I've sped up quite a bit.” His college coach at Kentucky, Brian Craig, can attest.
Craig, who was on hand to watch Holmes’ win after current Wildcats player Lukas Euler qualified for the event by winning the Collegiate Showcase, said Holmes isn’t the fastest player out on Tour, but a combination of weather conditions, a tough golf course and final-group pressure played a role in Holmes’ slow pace down the stretch in Los Angeles.
“J.B. is never going to be fast and that’s just what it is. He has his routine and he plays well with it, but he’s sped up a lot since his college days,” Craig said. “I remember at the Walker Cup after his senior year, he had to have been terribly frustrating to play against in match play because he was just slow. But he’s nothing like that now, not even close to that. He’s more methodical now. Back then he was just flat-out slow.”
Holmes remains Kentucky’s only first-team All-America selection when he received the honor as a junior. During that season, the Wildcats won two tournaments, including an NCAA regional. The next season, Holmes helped Kentucky to its first – and still only – SEC title. He finished his college career with six wins among 35 top-10s, and many draw-dropping shots.
“He hit it unfathomably far at that age,” Craig said. “It was just absolutely unbelievable how far the ball carried.”
Craig likes to tell a story about Holmes’ first college tournament. Craig was still trying to figure out just how far his freshman hit the ball. During the opening round, Craig rode up in his cart on Holmes preparing to hit his second shot into a par 5. He stepped out and walked up next to Holmes.
“He was looking dead at the flag,” Craig recalled. “I could tell he was pondering.”
Holmes said of the upcoming 220-yard shot: “I think it’s a 5-iron.”
Craig responded: “How far do you hit your 5-iron?”
Holmes, still staring at the flag, replied: “As far as I want to.”
“I said, ‘Well, then I guess it’s a 5-iron,’ and I got in my cart and drove off,” Craig said. “He hit it on the green and two-putted for his birdie.”
They want it. They got it. The Arizona Wildcats, the reigning NCAA women’s champions, received their championship rings last week. The Wildcats are ranked 10th in the country by Golfstat and won UNLV's event on Tuesday.
College golf’s Hawaii swing of sorts continues with the John Burns Intercollegiate at Wailua Golf Course in Lihue. Arizona State, Duke and Texas A&M highlight the 20-team field. On the women’s side, after a strong performance in its spring opener (runner-up at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge), UCLA co-hosts the Bruin Wave Invitational at San Luis Obispo Country Club.