High School Sports

‘Broken’ state golf tournament debated by legislative committee. ‘Something had to be done.’

With a controversial decision on reducing the KHSAA State Golf Tournament field pending this week, opponents of the plan spoke Wednesday before the Kentucky General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Education.

“The commissioner’s (KHSAA’s Julian Tackett) been quoted several times and here again today about how much data and research was conducted and how many people were asked their opinions — I’ve talked to hundreds of people, golfers throughout the entire state, I cannot find one person who can rationalize this decision,” said Eric Straub, a Paducah attorney and former high school and college golfer, who spoke on behalf of the opponents following Tackett’s scheduled presentation to the committee.

In February, the KHSAA Board of Control announced a number of proposed changes in boys’ and girls’ golf, the most contentious of which was reducing the number of players eligible to compete in the state tournament by eliminating the customary fifth team player from advancing to state. Golf teams during the regular season and at the region tournament carry five players, but count only the lowest four scores, a format modeled on NCAA play.

The proposal, ostensibly made to improve pace of play and help the tournaments finish within their allotted schedules, drew swift rebukes from noted Kentucky golfers Justin Thomas and Josh Teater on social media and became a topic of discussion on a Golf Channel morning show.

“I have heard from multiple constituents in my district, as you know, I represent Taylor County, which is just the recent golf champions of the boys’ state tournament ... I guess if it’s not broke ... then why are we fixing it? And if it’s pace of play has there been remedies to try and help that?” state Sen. Max Wise, chairman of the committee, asked Tackett.

Tackett said there have been attempts to speed up play around the state, but because of differences in courses, differences in player abilities and the varying rates of enforcement, those efforts have been difficult. Over the years, the state boys’ and girls’ golf tournaments have overrun their planned schedules a number of times causing logistical problems for the KHSAA and the competing schools.

“It is broken with 156 people. Bottom line with 156 people in late October, our board concluded it was broken,” Tackett said.

The proposal reduces the number of players at state to 144 for both boys and girls. Boys had been set at 156 over the past several years, while girls was set at 154. The new proposed field represents four players from each of the state’s 12 region champions and runners-up, as well as 48 individual qualifiers — four at-large bids from each region. Tackett acknowledged changing the “5-count-4” format to “4-count-4” would be unique among high school athletic associations.

Straub, who spoke along with Madison Central’s Tennye Ohr, the Kentucky Golf Coaches Association’s Kevin Mims and the Bluegrass Golf Foundation’s Chris Redle, argued the KHSAA should keep the status quo on the number of players and find other ways to speed the pace of play for the state championship.

Mims proposed adding another level of postseason, such as a sub-state or district tournament to actually increase the number of players participating in the postseason while at the same time reducing potential state tourney spots as is the case in some other states.

“One of the plans we came up with was adding a district tournament,” said Mims, who’s also Henry Clay’s girls’ golf coach. “If we had a district, a region and a state (tournament), you would actually increase participation by a lot more students ... as opposed to just cutting that one tournament out.”

Tackett has previously indicated and maintained Wednesday that the board would likely hold to the new 144-player model, but could get to that number a different way. The board will also consider eliminating the runner-up teams from state or filling up to 144 spots with all individual qualifiers, a prospect that Straub and Ohr dismissed as equally unappetizing. Straub suggested possibly cutting out one individual qualifier from each region, though that could potentially adversely affect athletes from smaller schools who might not be part of a full team.

“You have to draw the line somewhere,” Tackett said after the meeting. “Unfortunately we can’t just turn the lights on at the golf course and we have a capacity issue. That’s been the challenge. ... It became essential that something had to be done.”

The KHSAA is expected to take up the golf issue along with its normal agenda at its meeting in Covington on Thursday.