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Winning an individual conference championship in Division I women’s golf is about to become more rewarding.
Beginning this spring, automatic-qualifier conference medalists on non-advancing teams will automatically qualify for NCAA regionals. The decision, which was announced in the NCAA Women’s Golf Committee’s July report, changes the previous rule in which individual regional berths were determined solely by Golfstat ranking.
“We discussed it, we thought about it [and] thought it would be the right thing to do for the game and a lot of those student-athletes to have access and play their way into the championship,” Ryan Colton, Richmond’s associate athletic director and chair of the NCAA Women’s Golf Committee, told Golfweek last week.
On the men’s side, conference medalists receiving automatic regional qualification has been the status quo since 2009, when the number of men’s regional sites was expanded from three to six. But when the number of women’s regionals increased from three to four in 2015 – and the number of individuals doubled, from 12 to 24 – the change did not coincide with a new rule extending regional berths to individual conference winners.
Five years later, after receiving much feedback on the matter, the committee has finally adjusted.
“The committee feels that the women's conference medalists should receive the same consideration for selection to the championships field as the men's conference medalists,” the committee said in its report.
With the inclusion of conference medalists, that means that fewer at-large individuals will be included among the 24 individual regional qualifiers. (The number of teams qualifying for regionals will remain at 72.)
So, just how often have conference medalists been shut out in recent years? The committee determined that in the past five seasons, an average of seven players have won a conference individual title yet failed to qualify for regionals. Two years ago, there were just four instances, but the year prior featured 12 examples.
There is a proposal being discussed that would increase the number of women’s regionals from four to six – and add more individual spots, as well – but that won’t happen until at least 2023.
1. Georgia Tech got back in the winner’s circle Tuesday, winning the Puerto Rico Classic. The third-ranked Yellow Jackets clipped second-ranked Oklahoma by two shots at 32 under. Georgia finished third, 13 shots off the pace, followed by Alabama, which notched its best finish of the season behind a top-10 finish by Thomas Ponder and a T-13 showing by freshman Canon Claycomb, who was making his college debut after enrolling early this January. Speaking of first starts, Georgia Tech redshirt freshman Bartley Forrester, in the starting lineup for the first time in his career, shared medalist honors with Oklahoma’s Garett Reband and College of Charleston’s Logan Sowell at 9 under. “To see all my hard work pay off with a win is the most gratifying feeling,” Forrester said. “I hit the ball probably the best I’ve ever hit it.”
2. Entering this week’s IJGA Collegiate Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico, the Virginia women were ranked 41st in Golfstat, hadn’t finished better than eighth this season and hadn’t won since last season’s fall opener. That changed Tuesday as he Cavaliers shot 8-under 280 in the final round to rally past South Carolina and win by two shots over LSU. The Gamecocks ended up third at 1 under, seven shots back. Beth Lillie (T-6) and Riley Smyth (T-10) notched top-10s for Virginia, though they finished well back of individual winner Amanda Doherty. The Florida State senior closed in 4-under 68 to finish at 10 under and capture her first college victory. LSU stud freshman Ingrid Lindblad finished second, a shot back, and now has four top-5s this season. Two more highly ranked freshmen, South Carolina’s Pauline Roussin-Bouchard (No. 6) was third and Arizona State’s Linn Grant (No. 8) was T-6.
3. Florida was one of the four women’s team hit hard by LPGA Q-Series this year. After an 11th-place finish at their spring opener, the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, the now-Sierra-Brooks-less Gators won their second tournament of the season – and first without Brooks – on Tuesday at the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate. Florida shot 23 under to win by 16 shots over Miami. Gators sophomore Clara Manzalini and Miami’s Anna Backman tied for first individually at 7 under.
4. Florida’s counterparts on the men’s side also were victorious this week, winning the Gator Invitational, their home event, on Sunday for the first time since 2011. The Gators blitzed the field, too, winning by 18 shots over runner-up Vanderbilt. Florida freshman Ricky Castillo won medalist honors for the second straight event, shooting 13 under (closed in 63-64) and winning by eight. He is the first Florida player since Bank Vongvanij in 2011 to win in back-to-back starts. “Ricky is kind of setting the new standard for our team,” Florida head coach J.C. Deacon said. “It helps when you have a thoroughbred like that who's running away with golf tournaments and pushes everyone else to be better. There's a pretty big gap that he won this tournament by and I know that's going to light a fire under all the other guys.”
5. USC junior Gabi Ruffels had a rough start to the season, not finishing better than T-20 in the fall and even failing to make the lineup in the team’s second event. But the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion opened the spring with a T-12 finish last week in Palos Verdes and then added an individual victory Tuesday at the Rebel Beach Intercollegiate. The Trojans dominated the weak field, winning by 22 shots and placing four players inside the top 5. That mean Ruffels mostly had to hold off her teammates for her second career college title, and she did, winning by two shots over USC senior Allisen Corpuz.
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The Prestige at PGA West wraps up Wednesday in Palm Springs, with Texas and Pepperdine among those fighting for the victory. Also coming up on the men's slate is the John Burns Intercollegiate in Hawaii, where Arizona, Texas A&M and BYU headline the field. On the women's calendar, the Bruin Wave Invitational begins Monday.