(January 20, 2017) -- Three months after the NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee decided against substitutions in college golf, things have changed course.
Substitutions will now be permitted for the match play portion of the men’s NCAA Championship. This change will go into effect starting with the 2017 NCAA Championship, set to be played at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., from May 19-24.
The Competition Oversight Committee, meeting in Nashville, Tenn., for the 2017 NCAA Convention, came to this conclusion.
The Men’s Golf Committee chimed in on the decision, stating that it believes teams should be able to substitute a player at a coach’s discretion.
“(NCAA Division I Men’s Golf) Committee members believe the new policy benefits the injured or sick golfer’s team, but it also would prevent the opposing golfer from having to sit out perhaps the most important match of his competitive career because of a forfeit,” the NCAA’s report on the change said.
A substitution rule for NCAA match play had become a hot topic after what happened last year at the NCAA Championship in Eugene, Ore. Texas’ Beau Hossler, the winner of the Haskins Award Presented by Stifel, suffered a shoulder injury during the match play semifinals. The ailment would eventually be diagnosed as a torn labrum that would require surgery. At the time, though, Hossler tried to stick it out, but would be unable to play for Texas in the NCAA final against Oregon. That forced the Longhorns to forfeit his match and play the Ducks four-on-five for the NCAA title, which Oregon won, 3-2.
The Division I Men’s Golf Committee had been expected to submit a recommendation on the substitutions issue as early as January after the Competition Oversight Committee tabled the discussion in October.
At the time, the Oversight Committee stated it had received some support for the substitution concept in match-play competitions but that the Committee didn’t support substitutions in the stroke-play portion of the NCAA Championship.
The substitution rule had remained a hot topic at last month’s Golf Coaches Association of America National Convention.
In the wake of the substitution rule now being allowed in NCAA Championship match play, coaches weighed in.
Texas’ John Fields, the head coach most directly hurt by the inability to substitute last year, was actually against substitutions in the beginning but is now in favor of the idea.
“I was not in favor of it at first blush due to scholarship limitations and easily attainable academic aid that is available to some schools but not all. (which creates an unlevel playing field per squad depth),” Fields said. “I have been quoted as saying, ‘Whatever the NCAA (Division I Men’s) Golf Committee deems fit, I would fall in love with it!’ The Committee has the ability to shape us. With the Golf Channel and the viewing public strongly in favor of the change, the rationale is supported. In short, I love it!”
The other head coach involved in last year’s men NCAA Championship final also sees no problem with the change.
“I don’t have an issue you with it,” said Casey Martin, Oregon’s head coach. “It gives coaches a bit more flexibility.”
Martin potentially benefitted from the inability to substitute in last year’s final. If Texas could have substituted Hossler, the Longhorns wouldn’t have had to forfeit a point in the final. Maybe Oregon would have prevailed anyway, but the free point (courtesy of Zach Foushee, who won his match against Hossler when the Longhorn forfeited) certainly lessened the burden in a match where three points meant victory.
Regardless, Martin looks back and wishes the substitution rule could have been in place for last year’s finals at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club.
“I don’t know if it would be used that often, but I wish it would have been in play last year,” Martin told Golfweek. “We would have certainly liked to have played all the matches.”
Longtime Georgia Tech head coach Bruce Heppler, whose Yellow Jackets squad has made it to match play at the NCAA Championship four times, believes this change to allow substitutions in NCAA Championship match play is a good starting point.
“This is obviously a very interesting concept and there are certainly some strong views on both sides of the issue,” Heppler told Golfweek. “In my opinion, I think this is a reasonable place to start and evaluate its impact on our sport. With each match being worth one point, you certainly want each team to have the ability to have a player competing in each contest.”
Editors Note: Story by Golfweek's Kevin Casey with contributions Lance Ringler