HUTCHINSON, Kan. -- The 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship at the Prairie Dunes Country Club features a new tournament format as it hosts 30 of the nation’s top golfing universities. Six student-athlete golfers will also participate in the crowning of an individual champion.
Teams will play 54-holes of stroke-play in the opening days of the tournament to qualify for the eight team championship playoff, where the tournament switches to match play. The lowest eight teams from qualifying will face off starting Tuesday and the championship match is played the next day.
Top ranked Alabama returns to defend its 2013 title, seeking to earn the first back-to-back NCAA championships in golf since Augusta State in 2010 and 2011. No. 1 Alabama won its regional qualifying event by 22 strokes last week. No other team won its region qualifying tournament by more strokes. Last year, Alabama beat Illinois 4-1 in the final round of match play to claim the 2013 championship.
Third-seeded Stanford will look to senior Patrick Rodgers to end his decorated collegiate career on a record-breaking note. Last week in regional qualifying, Rodgers notched career win number 11, tying him with Tiger Woods for most wins at the school. Rodgers, the 2014 Ben Hogan award winner for best amateur golfer, has won five of the past six events he’s played in.
The only university of the top six seeds to not win its qualifying group last week was California. Cal entered the Sugar Grove regional’s final day behind Clemson for the final qualifying spot, but its luck turned around on the final 18. Clemson struggled on the final day and the Golden Bears rallied to snag the last qualifying spot.
Illinois, the eight seed and first place finishers at Sugar Grove, will rely on junior Brian Campbell to continue his form from qualifying. Campbell led all individual golfers in the region with a 5 under par final score. Only University of Southern California’s Anthony Paolucci, at -1, joined Campbell in scoring under par at the event.
Rounding out the top 10 is Houston, which qualified for the NCAA championships for the first time in 13 years. Perhaps no university at the tournament holds a more storied legacy than Houston’s, with a record 16 team championships since the tournament’s NCAA affiliation in 1939. Only Oklahoma State, with 10, has double digit championships in this era.
Iowa State, with the final 30-seed, returns to the NCAA championships for the first time since 1953. The Cyclones qualified by tying with LSU for the final spot in the Columbia Regional last week. Three of its five golfers posted final scores under-par in the qualifying event.
Conditions of the Prairie could have an impact on teams and players unfamiliar with the environment, Golf Channel analyst Charlie Rymer said in a conference call. The region’s golf is known for its windy conditions, which is expected to hover between 10 and 15 mph throughout the tournament. The weather may bring rain with it, with forecasts for Saturday through Monday call for at least a 40 percent chance of rain, according to The Weather Channel. Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins said he expects teams to spend the opening days feeling their way around the course.
The individual championship starts four rounds of stroke-play on Friday. The individual champion is crowned after the final round on Monday.
The individual’s championship went 59 years without crowning a non-American individual golfer, with the streak ending in 1998 when Australian James McLean won. Only six non-Americans have won the tournament since McLean in 1998.
Over half of the student-athletes participating in the individual’s championship hail from abroad. These four student-athletes, all seniors, are: Austin Peay’s Marco Iten, of Switzerland; UCF’s Ricardo Gouveia, of Portugal; Kent State’s Taylor Pendrith, of Ontario; and Chattanooga’s Chris Robb, of Scotland.
Iten won his region by 4 strokes last week, the largest margin of victory for all qualifying individuals. He’s also the only qualifying individual to have shot the lowest score in his region.
The event returns to television after a 14-year absence. The Golf Channel carries live coverage from Monday through Wednesday, nightly from 5-8 p.m. Monday night’s coverage will show the championship round of the individual’s tournament. Tuesday and Wednesday’s broadcast will show the semifinals and finals of the match-play for the team championship playoff.