Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — Bruce Brockbank stood on Riverside Country Club's new patio outside its new clubhouse Saturday and said the future of BYU's storied golf program fits just fine in the new venture called independence.
Independence is a football deal for BYU as the school's sports leave the Mountain West Conference the end of June. Golf will land in the West Coast Conference with basketball and other sports. The move will only be a blip on the radar screen, said Brockbank, BYU's veteran golf coach.
The sky is not falling as independence looms on the horizon, he said.
And if he's doing his job right, Brockbank said BYU golf will be just fine — it doesn't matter what league the Cougars are putting in.
The MWC is a better golf conference with better programs from top to bottom, but the WCC isn't bad. And which league BYU plays in has very little to do with making the NCAA Tournament, BYU's ultimate annual goal.
Brockbank isn't worried about playing in the MWC for the final time this spring, however.
He was more concerned Saturday that his golf team embarrassed itself the past two days on its home course in the annual Cougar Classic, many of his players failing to grasp the tradition left by Johnny Miller to Mike Weir and a trainload of All-Americans in between.
BYU finished sixth on Saturday at 9-under par, 8 strokes behind the winner, Colorado State. Cougar Zac Blair did win medalist honors with rounds of 71-69-65 for an 11-under-par 205. He is Brockbank's stud player this year.
Brockbank doesn't hide his disappointment in this year's club, which had to count a 78 in the team score Friday.
"Something we haven't done around here in 20 years," he said. "This is on me. I need to fix it, and I will."
But that's a different issue.
Like track and field, of which BYU has been a powerhouse over the decades, golf is a sport that doesn't need a conference to push the agenda.
It doesn't matter if you compete in the MWC, WAC, WCC, ACC, Pac-10 or Sun Belt Conference.
Both sports compete all over the country in meets and tournaments. For track and field, it's the Texas Relays, Penn Relays, Mt. Sac Relays and invitational events galore.
In golf, the season consists of a fall and spring schedule, and BYU plays all over the country, from Seattle to Hawaii, from Arizona to the USC Intercollegiate, from Fresno to Palm Valley.
Only one tournament is a conference event, and that is the MWC championship.
This year it lands May 5-7 at Tucson National Golf Course.
The WCC will do the same: One event, a league tournament. In both cases, the winner gets an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
The rest of the NCAA golf tournament field is picked from a series of rankings from Golf Week and Golfstat.com. These rankings are comprised of year-long tournament performances that take into account head-to-head competition, difficulty of competition, wind and weather conditions and an adjusted score average.
It used to be the NCAA had regional qualifying and top teams would advance.
That doesn't happen any more, making such conference and regional performances late in the year practically invalid. The meaning of conference competition amounts to one single tournament — one of a dozen.
"I think going independent in football is a great thing for football and I support it. It gets them what they want and I support it," said Brockbank.
"As for the other sports, we'll compete in another conference. At least we have a home. But in golf, just like its been for 30 years, each tournament you play in, your team's performance earns you points; stroke average, head-to-head, stroke differential are the elements that qualify you for the NCAA bid.
"We used to have regionals," said Brockbank. "We used to have West, Central and East. They had 30 teams go to the regional and 10 teams advanced. Now we have six regionals and 15 teams are at each regional and five advance to the NCAA finals, which is a 30-team national championship. All the tournaments you play in from September to May, the rankings is what you are fighting for, to be ranked in the top 60 teams and get into the NCAAs."
This year, Brockbank's team has struggled and been average. Even over the weekend, the Cougars were middle of the pack on a course they know better than any.
The bright spot this season is Utah's own Blair, son of All-American Jimmy Blair, who could qualify for the NCAAs as an individual. If BYU cannot win the MWC tournament in May, the Cougars will not advance as a team.
Again, that's another story.
In the short run, Brockbank is satisfied where BYU golf lands: In the WCC.
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