Golf’s best-kept, out-in-the-open secret is the raw, extremely stupid fun of team golf. And, no, no — not Ryder Cup team golf, which is totally good, fine, and awesome on its own. The version of the team game found at the high school and college level is a whole different sort of beast, a psychological torment familiar mostly only to those who’ve spent time competing in it.
Thanks to the Golf Channel, Nike’s desire to pollute our senses with hideous GOLF JERSEYS, and a reworked finish slated for midweek — college golf is starting to shoulder its way into the collective conscious of the casual golf fan. Last year’s finish was electric in Eugene, and it was this week as well, when Oregon came just short in defense of their title against strongman Brad Dalke and Oklahoma at a lengthy, weird Rich Harvest Farms in the Chicago area.
The NCAA’s often (and deservedly) criticized for a cavalcade of stupid amateurism policies and draconian penalties. And the golf championship hasn’t been perfect either, Rich Harvest Farms featured women’s players teeing off from a turf platform last week.
Still, it’s hard to deny just how stupid-fun and awesome college golf’s hybrid stroke-play, match-play format of team golf can be.
Here’s why team golf would work on the PGA Tour, or wherever
Sure, sure. The demise of the 72-hole, individual golf tournament is likely overwrought. It’s a proven, timeless format that’s good for as many cathartic finishes as sleepers every year on the PGA Tour. Despite what you hear, it’s still working just fine for pro golf. In an era of declining TV ratings across the board, the final round of the danged Byron Nelson pulled down a better rating than any 2017 NHL Playoff game (not including the ongoing Stanley Cup final). Hockey isn’t the best barometer, but golf’s perhaps on better American viewership footing than anything not named the NFL, NBA, or MLB.
That said, this is the time to bring change and innovation to the sport. Anything golf can do to attract a younger, more diverse audience, it should. Scottsdale and Sawgrass have figured out the trick to getting younger generations out to the course — making it a weekend event over sport. The European Tour’s led the charge with big format changes, with the new GolfSixes event this year getting rave reviews and the PGA Tour following with a more conservative half-step at the Zurich Classic.
Will team golf bring golf’s sought-after younger demographic? Maybe not! But it’s fun as hell, and there are plenty of anonymous 72-hole events on Tour. One less won’t hurt.
Oh, and keep in mind: Most players have zero experience playing in team events like the Ryder Cup format before they end up on a U.S. roster. There’s far more that have played in this format for years back into their youth, and you’d bet this would stir up a ton of interest among players.
Here’s how it would work
If you’re not familiar with the basics of the NCAA’s National Championship format, it follows a format similar to the PGA Championships of old or today’s U.S. Amateur: a blend of stroke play and match play. It’s the best of both worlds. In five-player teams, players compete through four rounds of stroke play competition, with the top four scores from each five-player team compounded into a team score daily. It’s ruthless fun, though teams still get to toss out one languishing score per day. After four rounds, the top eight five-player teams are broken out into a seeded bracket for head-to-head match play competition.
Confused? That’s OK! If you haven’t played or closely followed the game at the high school or collegiate level, it’s probably common. Take a look at the scores from the NCAA Championships this week. You’ll catch on quick.
At the professional level, we don’t have ready-made teams as at the college level. We could do something weird, like some BIG 3 LEAGUE stuff of having random captains pick teams, or working by home state, or home country club, or whatever. But what’s better than some PATRIOTISM mixed with your competition? COUNTRIES, BABE.
Ideally, this is your format at the 2020 Olympics. But if we can’t get it in Tokyo, there’s plenty of room for another WGC, or Tour event, or whatever.
So, we’ll create 16 five-player teams populated with the simplest method: the Official World Golf Ranking. As a selection committee of one, I used two central rules to get both star power and team depth into this field: (1) Anyone in the OWGR top 20 gets an auto-bid for their home nation, (2) overall team depth, and (3) regional diversity. This is why you’ll see India in the field over Belgium, but, say, Italy in the field over China. Thanks, Frank Molinari!
I also consolidated the given Northern Irish players into the Ireland team, as those two players were apt to do at Olympics. But still gave the individual UK nations separate teams -- England, Scotland. We can work all the kinks out here later. This is a working example.
After all that, here’s the 16 teams we end up with.
Possible Team Rosters
|1||USA||Dustin Johnson||Jordan Spieth||Rickie Fowler||Justin Thomas||Patrick Reed|
|2||England||Justin Rose||Paul Casey||Tyrrell Hatton||Danny Willett||Tommy Fleetwood|
|3||South Africa||Louis Oosthuizen||Charl Schwartzel||Branden Grace||Brandon Stone||Dean Burmeister|
|4||Australia||Jason Day||Adam Scott||Marc Leishman||Scott Hend||Aaron Baddeley|
|5||Spain||Sergio Garcia||Jon Rahm||Rafa Cabrera Bello||Pablo Larrazabal||Jorge Campillo|
|6||South Korea||Siwoo Kim||Ben An||Jeunghun Wang||KT Kim||Sung Kang|
|7||Japan||Hideki Matsuyama||Hideto Tanihara||Satoshi Kodaira||Yu Miyazato||Daisuke Kataoka|
|8||Sweden||Henrik Stenson||Alex Noren||David Lingmerth||Alex Bjork||Rikard Karlberg|
|9||Ireland||Rory McIlroy||Shane Lowry||Graeme McDowell||Paul Dunne||Seamus Power|
|10||Canada||Adam Hadwin||Mack Hughes||Graham Delaet||Graham Delaet||David Hearn|
|11||France||Alexander Levy||Victor Duibbison||Greg Bourdy||Romain Langesque||Mike Lorenzo-Vera|
|12||Thailand||Thongchai Jaidee||Kiradech Aphibarnrat||Phachara Khongwhatmai||Rattanon Wannasrichan||Jazz Janewattananond|
|13||Germany||Martin Kaymer||Bernd Ritthammer||Alex Knappe||Alex Cejka||Stephan Jaeger|
|14||Scotland||Russ Knox||Martin Laird||Scott Jameison||Paul Lawrie||Stephen Gallacher|
|15||India||Anirban Lahiri||Gaganjeet Bhullar||SSP Chawrasia||Shiv Kapur||Shubhankar Sharma|
|16||Italy||Francesco Molinari||Edoardo Molinari||Renato Paratore||Matteo Mannasero||Nino Bertasio|
Apologies to the snubbed Danish and Chinese delegations, but that’s pretty good!
Sure, sure — some of these teams are top heavy and the U.S. would be a favorite. But this isn’t exactly, like, Olympic basketball. Even the best players in golf win relatively rarely, so you could expect parity here. American golf’s biggest asset is in its depth, and that’s limited when you only have five player teams. The relative difference between Dustin Johnson and Alexander Levy might be steep, but the drop from Patrick Reed to, say, Jorge Campillo on a one-week basis isn’t as much.
But, yeah, imagine Rory pushing the Irish to a quarterfinal win over the Americans, a Spanish team led by Sergio and Jon Rahm pushing to the finals, or maybe even a Cinderella-like India making a run. PLEASE WELCOME INDIVIDUAL CHAMPION SSP CHAWRASIA, Y’ALL.
Where it happens, and when it happens doesn’t matter. If team golf can help make a viewer impact on the collegiate level, there’s no doubt it can work when we put bigger stars in the shoes. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Olympics, a yearly event, a WGC, whatever, let’s do this.