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Sunday, November 27, 2022

When playable isn’t playable

How 12 NCAA women’s golf teams saw their postseason end without hitting a single shot

<p>A ball hangs over the hole at Mark Bostick Golf Course</p>

A ball hangs over the hole at Mark Bostick Golf Course

There are a million ways an athlete’s career can end.

A national championship trophy, a boisterous celebration with the teammates who became family, a gritty postseason match ending in either immortal glory or valiant defeat.

For 19 of the seniors at the NCAA women’s golf regional in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Wednesday, their collegiate career ended with a man who made an announcement on The University Club’s clubhouse stairs.

“Even though the course is playable, it is not playable at a championship level.”

NCAA representative Brad Hurlbut broke the news with those words Wednesday: The Baton Rouge Regional was canceled without a single shot being struck. 

Eighteen teams and six more individuals assembled in Louisiana for a chance to advance to the NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championships later this month in Arizona. The golfers would play for nine spots, six teams and three individuals not on those teams, over three days of stroke play in one of the biggest tournaments of the year. The tournament had been scheduled to begin Monday.

Instead, 63 golfers in the field never received the chance to achieve postseason glory. The host course, LSU’s The University Club, received 4.26 inches of rain (not seven inches, like the NCAA claimed Wednesday) over the course of the three days scheduled for the event. 

The tournament had been delayed until Hurlbut announced its cancelation, when he informed the field the top six teams and three individuals would be determined by national ranking rather than play.

In a video of the announcement recorded by Miami freshman Sara Byrne, pleas and protests rose up from the crowd of college athletes gathered to hear Hurlbut speak. How did he react?

He and the three other representatives on the stairway turned their backs and walked away.

“Even though the course is playable, it is not playable at a championship level.”

What does that even mean?

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For 12 of the teams in the region, including Miami, Mississippi State, Purdue and Houston, among others, it meant their 2020-21 season ended unceremoniously in a clubhouse. Instead of the chance to control their own fate, the NCAA blindsided them and slammed the door without more than a hollow apology.

Hurlbut called the decision heartwrenching. His words rang empty under the anguish of the athletes he’d just sent home.

The course deemed unsuitable for championship conditions, from pictures on Hurricane junior Kristyna Frydlova’s Twitter account, looked normal other than the occasional pond in odd corners of the property. The course looked even better on Byrne’s account, with no water in sight on wide shots of never-ending fairways.

Were there no other options? The national championship begins in Arizona on May 21, eight days after the regional tournament was canceled. Baton Rouge isn’t expected to see rain again until Monday, couldn’t they have waited a day? Two days? Even if they began as late as Friday, they could have completed the regional with four days to spare before the title tournament.

Could they have played somewhere else? Regional tournaments are three days of stroke play. Even if teams allowed two days of travel and preparation for a new location and then two more days for the victors to head west, the tournament could have been completed in time. Would no other course, even in the geographical vicinity, have stepped forward?

If The University Club refused to relent and allow competition, would there have been an easy way for the regional to continue? No, there would not. The suspension of play, specifically postseason play, however, should always be a last possible resort, not simply a way to avoid difficult questions.

Instead, 63 seasons and 19 collegiate careers ended Wednesday because the NCAA deemed their postseason, their weeks of preparation and their decades of hard work as unworthy of the hassle of trying to make one single tournament happen.

One yell in Byrne’s video echoed louder than the rest as Hurlbut ascended the stairs and receded out of sight.

“You should be ashamed of yourselves!”

The NCAA absolutely should be.

Contact Ryan Haley at rhaley@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley

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Ryan Haley

Ryan Haley, a UF journalism senior with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida, is Summer 2022's Engagement Managing Editor. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.

DM Ryan on Twitter or shoot him an email.


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