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Looking Ahead to the 2011 NCAA Division I Championship

By Ron Balicki
GCAA Contributor

Question: In looking ahead toward the 2011 NCAA Division I Championship, what did we learn from this fall’s Ping/Golfweek Preview at Karsten Creek Golf Club?

Answer: Not much more than we pretty much already knew.

First, host team Oklahoma State will be the favorite going into the national tournament. Karsten Creek is an extremely tough and challenging course, but it’s one these talented Cowboys play just about every day. So, yes, they will have that home course advantage.

But I, for one, am not ready to hand over that first-place trophy to Oklahoma State just yet. What the Preview clearly showed was the Cowboys still have some work to do and they are not totally invincible even at Karsten Creek.

It started out looking that way when Okie State shot even par on a cold and windy opening day for a nine stroke lead. That margin shrunk to one over Georgia and Georgia Tech when two rounds were complete.

While the Cowboys built a big lead early on in the final round, they gave some back and with the two groups to finish, led by only three. They did hang on and their 14-over-par 878 total gave them a four-stroke victory over UCLA. Georgia was third at 19-over 883, with Texas A&M and Augusta State, winners of the last two NCAA Championship, tying for fourth at 23-over par.

Still, Karsten Creek proved to be the winner that week. UCLA sophomore Pontus Windegren was the only individual to finish under par, winning with a 214 total. Oklahoma State’s Peter Uihlein and Georgia’s Hudson Swafford finished at even par.

Six of the 15 teams shot 50 over par or higher and the average individual score for the three rounds was 76.44, or 4.44 over par.

The last time Karsten Creek hosted the NCAA Championship -- in 2003 -- Clemson won with a 39-over-par 1,191, two shots better than Oklahoma State and six lower than UCLA. Individually, Arizona State freshman Alejandro Canizares was the only sub-par player, winning with a 1-under 287.

I’d bet the house, the dogs and the cats no team finishes the 54-hole stroke play portion of the 2011 championship under par and less than five players -- if even that many -- end up in red figures.

What again could become an issue is pace of play. Remember back in ‘03, the NCAA Golf Committee cut the field in half after three rounds. There wasn’t supposed to be a cut, but 6-plus hour rounds brought it about.

Pace of play at the Preview was decent, all things considered. It was just a little over five hours in tough weather conditions the first round, about 4:50 the second round, and just under five hours the final round.

However, there were only 15 teams -- 75 players. Come NCAA time, there will be 30 teams and a total of 156 players. Huge difference.

And the rough at the Preview wasn’t as thick and long as it more than likely will be in the spring. I mean, a player could actually see his ball if it strayed a little off the fairway. That was hardly the case back in ‘03.

No doubt, the NCAA Golf Committee and rules officials are going to have to stay on top of things. In fact, the process has already begun.

Donnie Wagner,, assistant director of championships with the NCAA, and Darin Spease, golf committee chairman from Charlotte, were at Karsten Creek during the Preview getting the lay of the land and forming a game plan.

“This is a great golf course and at the end of the day, that’s the ultimate test,” Spease said. “I think we’ll see a lot of good and exciting golf, especially in match play.

“We’re going to pay close attention to pace of play,” Spease said. “We’d love to get 156 players around in five hours.”

So, too, would everybody else.

Can it happen? Probably not. Then again, I have been known to be wrong from time to time.