High School Sports

KHSAA not concerned with ‘noise’ from coaches, PGA pros about changes to state golf

PGA’s Barbasol Championship great opportunity for Central Kentucky

The Barbasol Championship, a PGA Tour event, starts Thursday, July 19, 2018 at the Champions Trace golf course in Jessamine County. Executive Director Brooks Downing believes the event will be a great show for Central Kentucky.
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The Barbasol Championship, a PGA Tour event, starts Thursday, July 19, 2018 at the Champions Trace golf course in Jessamine County. Executive Director Brooks Downing believes the event will be a great show for Central Kentucky.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s recent changes to the state golf tournament have drawn ire from some coaches in the state, PGA Tour pros, and even the Golf Channel in the last few days. Don’t expect the organization to immediately address their concerns.

The KHSAA Board of Control on Tuesday elected to adjust its postseason competition rules to prevent region championship teams and region runner-up teams, which use a five-count-four format at the regional, from advancing their No. 5 golfer to the state tournament as part of the team (he or she may still play as an individual, if they so qualify). The board also voted to add an additional individual qualifier for boys’ golf and to create a 12th Region for girls’ golf, making it more comparable to the boys’ edition.

Changes were made in part to address pace of play concerns. Last year’s state tournaments, which are contested over two days, featured 156 boys and 154 girls. Under the new format, both tournaments will field 144 participants.

KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett doesn’t anticipate that those changes will be re-visited before the fall season.

“My past experience with the Board is that these revisions are done, we will run our events a while and then do what we always do, constantly evaluate,” Tackett wrote in an email to the Herald-Leader. “ ... Time will tell, and I don’t ever speak as a Board member as I am not, but my guess now is that it is time to implement and gather data and make more determinations later.”

Tackett noted that during its Tuesday meeting the board raised the possibility of adding an additional individual qualifier for each region, which would have brought the total of state tournament participants back to 156 but still potentially could have improved pace of play because the overall strength of the field would, in theory, be stronger. It opted to go forth with a trial run of the 144-participant model but was open to re-visiting the additional qualifier after seeing how things go.

Complaints from coaches and pros centered on having to tell a No. 5 golfer that he or she can’t compete as part of the team at the state tournament.

“I was the 5th man my junior year! I just don’t know any other sporting event where you change the rules in the finals. Keep the game the same @khsaa and rethink this decision,” wrote Josh Teater, who played at Henry Clay, on Twitter.

“Do the right thing here @KHSAA. This is a really bad decision. A lot of great storylines comes from a 5 man on your team, like we had on ours at Saint X. Change it back and make this right!” wrote Justin Thomas, a St. X graduate, on Twitter.

The Kentucky Golf Coaches Association favored a radically different plan: It wanted to advance five teams of five golfers from each of the 12 regions and 15 individuals to a pre-state tournament round, where they would be paired geographically with five teams from another region. In this proposal there were three pods — Regions 1-4, Regions 5-8 and Regions 9-12 — and each pod would advance four teams (of five) and six individuals to the “state finals,” for a total of 24 five-person teams and 36 individuals for a 156-person total. There was also a modified version of the KGCA proposal that reduced the number of teams and individuals advancing to each round that brought the total number of participants for the “state finals” to 144 per state tournament.

Kentucky is the only single-class state among its neighbors that has two stages to its postseason. Indiana also has a single-class postseason in golf but has three stages — sectionals, regionals and state. Tennessee and West Virginia both have two stages like Kentucky, but both have multiple classes. The KGCA developed its proposals in response to that, as well as decreasing participation in the sport — from 2014 to 2018, boys’ team participation dropped by 319 players (202 varsity) and girls’ teams by 79 (132 varsity).

“If you want to make the State golf tournament a stronger field then change the way you qualify to get better teams,” Lafayette Coach Todd Reynolds wrote on Twitter. “Making uninformed decisions and changes that don’t make sense will not help. Try asking people that are actually involved in the sport.”

Both KGCA proposals were discussed at previous board meetings. Concerns were raised about the logistics of adding an additional postseason round and about the proposals ultimately being more beneficial to stronger areas of the state.

About 25 percent of teams last season only played four golfers, and 73 girls’ programs did not have enough enough interested students to field a four-person team, Tackett said. The removal of the No. 5 player affects stronger programs but could open up opportunities for schools that don’t traditionally send golfers to the state tournament, he said.

The KHSAA wants its state events to be competitive, but Tackett consistently in the past has described the KHSAA’s role as not necessarily enabling the highest level of competition at state, but making those competitions accessible to all parts of the state.

“The feedback from those who do not know the structure of our Board (being from all areas of the state) and particularly those who pick up on one Twitter line and decide to blast their opinion could be considered just typical ‘noise’ around our business,” Tackett said. “And some of the feedback is not surprising in that it has come from the same core group of people who pushed for change earlier this year that would have eliminated many golfers throughout the commonwealth from the state field to the benefit of the long-established programs.

“Our Board creates its championships to be representative of the entire state, not to necessarily create an elitist, best of the best field. Golf is no exception.”

Josh Moore is a digital sports reporter who specializes in preps coverage. He’s in his fourth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore graduated with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English from the University of Kentucky in 2013.

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