College athletes, including golfers, who learned the sobering news on Thursday that all NCAA championships for the remainder of the 2019-’20 season had been canceled as a measure to try to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, got some solace on Friday. That’s when the NCAA released an official statement saying that it was exploring plans to give extra eligibility to Division I student-athletes who participate in spring sports.
Division I Council Coordination Committee bans in-person recruiting: pic.twitter.com/pdBT45w2hW— Inside the NCAA (@InsidetheNCAA) March 13, 2020
Specifics on the eligibility relief have not yet been finalized. “Additional issues with the NCAA rules must be addressed, and appropriate governance bodies will work through those in the coming days and weeks,” according to the NCAA statement.
Seniors whose college careers came to an abrupt end will now likely get the opportunity to return to the course if they desire. For those who had intended to turn professional after the NCAA Championship, it’s unclear whether they will afford themselves the chance, many already having plans in place to make the transition. There’s a thought that some might even turn pro earlier now, with no national championship to play for in May and June. However, there are no pro tournaments to play in just now either, with all the major men’s and women’s tours, like the NCAA, having canceled or postponed events at least through the end of March.
The more likely group of golfers to take advantage of the NCAA relief will be underclassmen in the midst of their college careers.
The NCAA Women’s D-I Championship was slated for May 22-27 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, with the men set to play the following week, May 29-June 3.
Reactions after Thursday’s news were understandably filled with disappointment. The Pepperdine men were ranked No. 1 in the Division I college coaches poll, having won three times in the 2019-’20 season and having the best campaign since the school won an NCAA title in 1997. They were led by redshirt senior Sahith Theegala, who was in line for national-player-of-the-year honors. Here is a tweet from coach Michael Beard on Thursday:
This afternoon has been tough, season canceled, and our 3 seniors @SRTheegala @jmccarthygolf @ClayFeagler found out their college career is over. All 3 have had a huge impact on our program and will be greatly missed. So many special memories! Love these guys 🌊🌊🌊🙏🏻 for 🇺🇸 🌎— Michael Beard (@CoachMBeard) March 13, 2020
Similarly, the Arizona State men's golf team, coached by Matt Thurmond, had built momentum this spring, finishing second, third, first and second in its last four starts, and winning three times on the season. The Sun Devils were led by a trio of top-ranked seniors in Chun An Yu (who recently played in the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational), Blake Wagoner and Alex Del Rey. They were also going to be playing the NCAA Championship on a course they were familiar with in Grayhawk and in desert conditions they practice in all year.
It has been a devastating day for many, including our three awesome seniors (Chun An Yu, Blake Wagoner, and Alex Del Rey) who give all they have each day, over years, to be ready to compete for a championship with their teammates. Today their last chance to do it was taken away.— Matt Thurmond (@MattThurmond) March 13, 2020
The Golf Coaches Association of America announced that it will still be hand out its annual season-long player and coaching honors, including All-American team selections, the Jack Nicklaus Award for the top golfer at each Division, the Phil Mickleson Outstanding Freshman Award and the Byron Nelson Award for seniors that accounts for their academic and citizenship.
The Ben Hogan Award, also given to the top college player based on college and amateur resume, also will be awarded later this spring.