The NCAA College Golf Championships will wrap up this month at Rich Harvest Farms outside of Chicago, and I’m sure it will be an exciting conclusion to a great season.
Thirty teams will compete for the championship, after having successfully advanced through the Regional Finals a couple of weeks ago.
The format has changed since the days that I competed, and I like the change the NCAA has made.
When the teams arrive at Rich Harvest Farms, they will compete in a 72-hole stroke play event over 4 days.
The individual champion will be crowned after these days, while the Top 8 teams will then move on to a match play bracket to determine the team champion.
I was fortunate to compete in three NCAA Championships as a member of The University of New Mexico golf team beginning in 1991. Back then, the championship only consisted of the 72-hole stroke play event.
Also, the most compelling element of the championship was to see which individual would finish second to Phil Mickelson for the individual championship.
Yes, I played during the ‘Phil Mickelson Era’, and he was terrific.
As a member of the Arizona State golf team, Mickelson dominated college golf. However, his team did not dominate. Oklahoma State was the dominant team back then, and they are still very strong today.
However, since the format has changed to a match play bracket, there seems to be many more teams capable of winning the championship each year.
That is a good thing.
Ever since the championship instituted the match play bracket in 2009, the NCAA team championship seems to be open to a more diverse winning team. Since 2009, lesser known golf programs such as Texas A&M, Oregon, and Augusta State have won team championships.
This is largely due to the new match play format.
If a team is good enough to qualify for the bracket, the field becomes wide open.
In 2012, the NCAA Championship was held at the famed Riviera Country Club. I am particularly fond of that tournament because my former college coach, John Fields, led his University of Texas team to the championship.
It didn’t hurt that the team was led by a young phenom named Jordan Spieth.
Having said that, Coach Fields was an incredible mentor to me during my years at The University of New Mexico. Three years after I graduated, he accepted the coaching position at Texas.
During my time at New Mexico, Coach Fields created an environment for his team that was family oriented. His team became an extension of his family, and I am forever grateful for the experience he provided to me.
I feel certain that other coaches offer this same experience to the young men on their teams, and that is what makes the college golf experience a great one.
Whichever team is crowned champion at this year’s NCAA Golf Championship, I know they will cherish the competition and memories they will experience.
College golf will continue to thrive under this new tournament format, and that should excite those of you with juniors aspiring to become a college golfer.