NCAA golf: previewing the Division I Men’s Championships

The NCAA Division I men’s golf championship tournament begins this Friday at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. It is the debut of the tournament’s new format that will see 30 teams and six individual students from non-qualifying teams compete in an individual stroke-play format for 54 holes (May 23-25). The low eight teams after these 54 holes will continue on to the match play portion of the tournament. On Monday, May 26, the top 40 individual golfers (and any ties) will play in the fourth and final round of stroke play to determine the individual national champion, but this round will have no effect on the team competition. On Tuesday, May 27 (quarterfinals and semi-finals) and Wednesday, May 28 (finals), the low eight teams from the 54-hole qualifying will compete in a match play bracket to determine the team champion.

Collegiate golf has been gaining fans in recent years. The Golf Channel will broadcast the men’s championships live starting Monday, May 26, marking the return of the tournament to live television after a 14-year absence. Here’s a quick preview of some teams to watch for.

The defender: Alabama

The Crimson Tide have every reason to be favored to win it all – they’re both the defending champions from 2013 and the top-ranked team in the country this year. They shot under-par in every round of the Auburn Regional and blew away the field, winning by 22 strokes. Seniors Cory Whitsett and Bobby Wyatt went a combined 5-0-1 in the match-play section of last year’s NCAA Championship. The 2014 team’s scoring average leader is a player who was not even part of last year’s championship team – freshman Robby Shelton (70.10). Alabama is far and away the team to beat.

The contenders: Stanford, Georgia Tech

They each won their regionals – in Eugene, Ore, and Raleigh, N.C., respectively. They have the players with the two lowest scoring averages in the country (Ben Hogan Award winner Patrick Rodgers of the Cardinal, 69.55; Ollie Schniederjans of the Yellow Jackets, 69.73). Georgia Tech has more NCAA experience, as this year marks the third time they’ve made the championships in the last four seasons, while Stanford has a second outstanding individual low scorer in senior Cameron Wilson (69.85, fourth lowest in the nation). Whichever you prefer, I expect both these squads to advance to the match-play half of the tournament and challenge Alabama.

The dark horse: Purdue

Purdue was ranked 45th in the country going into their regional at Northern Illinois, but they caught more than a few eyes there by placing. After an opening round 309, the Boilermakers bounced back and posted the low score of the second round, a 288. With a 297 in the final round, they finished the tournament better than 4th-ranked California, the top seed in their regional, as well as 16th-ranked USC and 33rd-ranked Clemson. They are led by senior Adam Schenk, who shot +5 in the regional, and freshman Austin Eoff (+6 in the regional). Sure, they’re the 28th seed out of 30 teams, but all it takes is a few good rounds strung together, and they can be right there in the thick of it.

How to watch:

Stroke Play Final Round (deciding individual champion) – The Golf Channel – Monday, May 26, 5 p.m. ET (4 p.m. CT)

Match Play Semifinals (top four teams competing) – The Golf Channel – Tuesday, May 27, 5 p.m. ET (4 p.m. CT)

Match Play Championship Match – The Golf Channel – Wednesday, May 28, 5 p.m. ET (4 p.m. CT)