I used to think the many year-to-year changes to the NCAA postseason were difficult to follow.
Welcome to 2020.
Last March, teams were sent home from spring-break trips in the middle of tournaments and college-golf practice facilities from coast to coast were shut down as COVID became a global pandemic.
Just days into the stoppage, the NCAA canceled all spring championships. By mid-March everything had been called off for the rest of the year, but it took weeks, if not longer, for it to sink in. The most difficult part was nobody knew when they would be able to resume.
Surely college golf would be back to normal come the start of the fall season, right? Not so fast.
Golf – as in, rounds played – this past year experienced a 1990s-like boom and by mid-summer, courses were packed across the country. Adding on to that, the PGA Tour was among the first professional sports to return to competition in June.
Many junior golf tournaments went off as planned, too, but with one exception: there weren’t any college-golf coaches in the galleries. The NCAA put a recruiting dead period into effect in April and kept extending it, keeping coaches off the road and preventing them from recruiting in person or allowing on-campus visits. The dead period remains in effect still.
With the summer nearing an end, there was still much uncertainty as to what the fall season was going to look like.
There were days when signs pointed toward yes, and days when information pointed to no.
Daily Yes or No for college golf…
I will admit, I am homer! And I am cheering for college.
But, because of a big domino in the ACC announcing no fall golf for its members I will say NO to team college golf this fall.
— Lance Ringler (@GolfweekRingler) July 29, 2020
On the one hand, we thought we would see college golf because some coaches had not been told otherwise and were scheduling for fall trips. Other coaches, however, were told they could not do anything. This left us all on a seesaw during the summer months not knowing what would actually happen.
As it turned out, some teams played this fall while some teams did not. Counting men and women, there were more than 100 programs that teed it up in the fall, obviously with some travel restrictions and many social- and physical-distance measures in place. Overall, it worked for those teams.
But still, college golf felt flat. Besides a catchy tweet by the Oklahoma men’s team after winning the Colonial Collegiate Invite in late September and the UAB men and Baylor women going undefeated in three starts, there was just no buzz.
— Oklahoma Golf (@OU_MGolf) September 29, 2020
We really did not learn a lot. And until all teams are playing again, without this conference-only malarkey, college golf will resemble a 1974 Ford Pinto stuck in the mud.
But what we did learn is golf can be played in these times of social and physical distancing. Individual tournaments popped up all over the country. We ran 10 of them ourselves at Golfweek. The GCAA did three times that many. Players abided by the rules they were given and good golf was played at some very top-level venues that allowed for many players to stay in tournament shape.
One of the bigger issues with some teams competing and others not competing was what the rankings would look like. As long as college golf isn’t strictly conference only in the spring and we see head-to-head competition that can link up all teams, the rankings will be able to do what they have always done.
The SEC was among the conferences that did play in the fall, and SEC officials have already said that college golf will go on again in the spring. Teams must play within the “conference footprint” (i.e., in states where an SEC team is located), but can compete against teams outside the conference.
Coaches from the Pac-12 Conference have said they plan to play as well. The Arizona State men’s program recently released a spring season that will include nine regular-season tournaments prior to the conference championship.
— Sun Devil Men’s Golf (@sundevilmgolf) December 19, 2020
It remains to be seen how other conferences will follow.
With the calendar turning from 2020 to 2021 – thank God – hopefully the great outdoor sport of college golf will be unleashed and the Road to Grayhawk will finally have no more stop signs.