PROVO — For most of Saturday’s second round at the NCAA golf championships in Oklahoma, BYU senior Patrick Fishburn led the field at seven-under par until he double-bogeyed No. 17. Fishburn finished 36 holes tied for second place heading into Sunday’s round at five-under.
In the real world, that shouldn’t stop Fishburn from advancing an extra day to qualify for the match play portion of the NCAAs hosted by Oklahoma State at the Karsten Creek Course in Stillwater.
Except a pre-posted Sunday round will likely kill him.
Last Thursday, Fishburn had a 78. His teammates also blew up with a 24-over par team disaster. It may have been the worst NCAA single-day performance by a BYU men’s golf team.
With myriad teams making up rounds and holes due to bad weather Friday, the Cougars played right on the cut line Saturday. But it was that stinky special round earlier in the week that will doom Bruce Brockbank’s squad once that score is added late Sunday.
The no-Sunday-play accommodation for BYU by the NCAA championship committee has done the Cougars a big favor since it was instituted three years ago.
On one hand, it is a worthy gesture by the NCAA to give BYU’s athletes a chance to compete because the LDS Church-sponsored school is not going to compete on Sundays period. This is fair.
On the other hand, this accommodation, which has drawn criticism by some in the college golf community, has not proven to be any kind of advantage at all.
BYU’s Sunday round was played Thursday with Sunday pin placements. The Cougar team had to play alone, without competitors beside them, one player to a hole, accompanied by an official scorer and a rules official. Other schools could have witnessed play if they wanted to.
If you play alone, you don’t see other players putt, thus gain a read or speed knowledge. You aren’t pushed by natural competitive head-to-head chemistry, a natural outbreak of a three or foursome format. On the other hand, it’s the same course and you ultimately beat it or fail one-on-one.
This week, it proved to be a disaster for the Cougars. After teeing off Thursday, a lightning storm halted play. In the next 24 hours, players would start and stop and darkness prevented completing a full 18-holes, forcing 27 holes played on Friday when the Cougars ballooned to 24-over par when their “accommodated” 18 was over.
BYU’s team essentially wandered around Stillwater for 24 hours. At times, they ran into a golf hole on a green.
“We lost our focus,” is how BYU golf coach Brockbank described the accommodation. So much for getting a huge advantage. Really, it is a double-edged sword. If BYU had shot around par and the rest of the field encounters wind and rain on Sunday, the NCAA would not hear the end of how unfair BYU’s posted score was.
And here’s the rub. In golf, the biggest factor in determining scores is the wind or inclement weather with lots of rain. It changes the game, and BYU found that out this week.
Two years ago, BYU’s women’s team was the first to receive and compete with this NCAA accommodation. Carrie Roberts’ squad, WCC champs, shot 34-over par and last among 24 teams at Eugene Country Club in Oregon.
So far, it has been no advantage, just an accommodation.
That blow-up, substituted Sunday round really ate up BYU’s chances in Stillwater on the Karsten Creek Course. Consider that the Cougars entered the tournament one of the hottest schools in the country, firing an incredible 20-under par in the last two rounds to finish second in the NCAA Regional at Norman, good for second place at 13-under par.
Only half a dozen teams in the country had the kind of week the Cougars had in double-digit under-par scoring last week.
In Norman, Fishburn finished second at 10-under par with rounds of 71-66-69.
In this week’s finals in Stillwater, 30 teams and six individuals play 54 holes of stroke play. Following 54 holes of competition, the top 15 teams along with the top nine individuals not on an advancing team will advance for one additional day of stroke play to determine the top eight teams for match-play competition and the 72-hole stroke-play individual champion.
This is Fishburn’s last week as a collegian. The senior has had a remarkable 12 months. A former Utah State Amateur champion, he put on a clinic at the Utah Open at Riverside last August, firing a three-day 54-hole 26-under par to beat a field of professionals by nine shots. His rounds of 63-64-63 prompted Hall of Famer and TV analyst Johnny Miller to quip, “The way he played this week is as good a performance as you will see out of a PGA Tour player.”
Once BYU’s so-called “accommodation” Sunday replacement round is posted on Sunday alongside other scores — unless there is horrible weather in Oklahoma — the Cougars will be hard-pressed to meet the cut.
Fishburn should advance and play Monday, but that 78 proved poison.