Friday marks the start of the 2014 NCAA men's golf championships, and it should see some of the planet's best amateurs being tested but also aggressive on a tough, shorter course. Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kansas, plays host to the action this week, as the competition runs through next Wednesday, May 28.
A 54-hole stroke play format will separate the contenders from the pretenders amid the first three rounds through Sunday. Thereafter, the field of 30 teams will be narrowed to eight, and the format will switch to match play on Tuesday, with only two advancing to play in Wednesday's grand finale.
An individual champion will be determined Monday after four rounds of stroke play, and there are only six privileged players representing teams that didn't qualify for the NCAAs who will tee it up in the Sunflower State.
Here is a closer look at the complete field and tee times for the first two rounds, along with a preview of what to expect as the top collegiate golfers pursue their most prestigious prize.
Note: Tournament format information courtesy of NCAA.com.
|Round 1, 1st Tee (Time CT)||Group|
|7 a.m.||Texas, Florida State, Texas A&M|
|7:50 a.m.||South Carolina, Oregon, SMU|
|8:40 a.m.||Purdue, Georgia State, Iowa State|
|12:40 p.m.||Georgia Tech, California, Georgia|
|1:30 p.m.||Houston, Arkansas, Alabama-Birmingham|
|2:20 p.m.||Ricardo Gouveia (Central Florida), Denny McCarthy (Virginia), Taylor Pendrith (Kent State)|
|Round 1, 10th Tee (Time CT)||Group|
|7:20 a.m.||UCLA, USC, Auburn|
|8:10 a.m.||Kentucky, Kennesaw State, Missouri|
|9 a.m.||Marco Iten (Austin Peay State), Chris Robb (Chattanooga), Cyrus Stewart (Wake Forest)|
|12:20 p.m.||Alabama, Oklahoma State, Stanford|
|1:10 p.m.||Washington, Illinois, Virginia Tech|
|2 p.m.||Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, LSU|
|Round 2, 1st Tee (Time CT)||Group|
|7 a.m.||Alabama, Oklahoma State, Stanford|
|7:50 a.m.||Washington, Illinois, Virginia Tech|
|8:40 a.m.||Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, LSU|
|12:40 p.m.||UCLA, USC, Auburn|
|1:30 p.m.||Kentucky, Kennesaw State, Missouri|
|2:20 p.m.||Marco Iten (Austin Peay State), Chris Robb (Chattanooga), Cyrus Stewart (Wake Forest)|
|Round 2, 10th Tee (Time CT)||Group|
|7:20 a.m.||Georgia Tech, California, Georgia|
|8:10 a.m.||Houston, Arkansas, Alabama-Birmingham|
|9 a.m.||Ricardo Gouveia (Central Florida), Denny McCarthy (Virginia), Taylor Pendrith (Kent State)|
|12:20 p.m.||Texas, Florida State, Texas A&M|
|1:10 p.m.||South Carolina, Oregon, SMU|
|2:00 p.m.||Purdue, Georgia State, Iowa State|
Given that Prairie Dunes is less than 7,000 yards in length, most of the time that would mean the top collegiate golfers would tear up such a track. However, this is Kansas, and the weather is expected to play a big factor.
Golf Channel's Ryan Lavner alluded to the impact Mother Nature figures to have:
Prairie Dunes will play to a par 70, just under 7,000 (6,941) yards. If the wind blows, one thing is certain: It'll be a long day. #NCAAGolf— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) May 22, 2014
Major winner Lanny Wadkins weighed in on Prairie Dunes, per The Wichita Eagle's Kellis Robinett:
I think it'll hold its own very well. The wind is going to be a big factor there. It's got sneaky length in certain places, several elevation changes. The greens are very demanding. They've got some long, wispy rough off the fairways.… I think Prairie Dunes will hold its own very well against these kids. They're going to have to think their way around there more than try and brutalize this golf course.
The Alabama Crimson Tide are known for their dynastic prowess on the gridiron, but they have also been conquering the links as of late. Alabama won the team NCAA title last year and is a favorite to win again, having won the Auburn Regional event by a whopping 22 strokes.
Robby Shelton leads the way for the Tide, ranking second in the nation with a 68.66 rating (h/t Golfweek.com). Bobby Wyatt and Trey Mullinax rank seventh and eighth, respectively, so Alabama is almost guaranteed three strong scores out of the four factored in for the aggregate total in stroke play.
Only Stanford's Patrick Rodgers is ahead of Shelton overall, and it's evident in the remarkable results he's achieved.
Rodgers has driven the Cardinal to four consecutive tournament victories, and in the last one in which he won medalist honors, he tied legendary Stanford alum Tiger Woods for the school record with 11 wins. Golfweek.com's Alex Miceli recorded what Rodgers had to say about his progression:
To be able to come out here and compete and contend and win tournaments without your best stuff, that's something that takes a long time to develop and something that college golf has really, really helped me with. I have the game where I could win when I was playing well, but I didn't have the game or the mentality to contend when things weren't quite so great. I'm getting better at that and I'm learning how to do that week in and week out.
If the Cardinal are meant to have a chance at knocking off the Tide, they will need Rodgers to have his best, along with formidable teammate Cameron Wilson. No other team boasts that strong of a one-two punch, which should come in handy in match play as long as the Cardinal make it to golf's version of the Elite Eight.
It will be interesting to see intrastate foes Georgia and Georgia Tech go head-to-head over the first two days. There is bound to be some compelling action as those two teams, ranked sixth and third in the GCAA Coaches poll, have deep rosters and figure to be factors for the championship if they can get through the first three rounds well enough.
Georgia Golf noted how the Bulldogs have been extremely successful under coach Chris Haack:
UGA advanced to the NCAAs for the 19th time in 25 years, including 16 of 18 under Chris Haack. He led UGA to NCAA titles in 1999 and 2005.— GeorgiaGolf (@GeorgiaGolf1) May 17, 2014
Who will win the 2014 NCAA men's golf title?
Alabama winning for a second straight time would not only be a testament to its positive development and recruiting, but also to how golf can become an impassioned team sport when such lofty goals are on the line. It's rare that golfers are focused on anything but beating the course and not beating themselves. Many have teammates to fight for on the biggest stage in college golf over the next week or so, which always makes the NCAA championships exciting.
Although only the very top teams were touched on in the above analysis, there's a chance for any individual or team champion to emerge based on the circumstances. Combine that with the fact that Prairie Dunes is a traditionally tough venue, and these NCAAs have the chance to be truly special.