Making his debut at the Class 3A boys state golf finals last year as a junior, Naperville Central’s Tyler Schettek shot an opening-round 93, tying him for 103rd in the field entering Day 2.
“I didn’t think it was an accurate representation,” Schettek recalled this week, estimating that as a junior he usually shot 6 or 7 strokes over par.
On Day 2 of the finals, Schettek shot a 77. It improved his standing only 10 positions but left him feeling better about the experience.
“If it was just after one day I think I would have definitely been upset at myself and I’m glad I had a second day to actually redeem myself,” Schettek said. “I left the tournament with a positive note instead of leaving after one day having played one of my worst rounds of the year.”
Bottom line, that is the crux of some coaches’ opposition to a Terms and Conditions recommendation approved in June by the Illinois High School Board of Directors that will cut the field by about one-third after Day 1 of the boys and girls state golf finals, effective next weekend.
Citing disparity of scores and time to complete rounds between the top two-thirds of the state field and the bottom third, the intent of the policy is to improve pace of play for Saturday’s round and to “ensure more time to complete the round if the weather becomes an obstacle,” as stated in the minutes of a May 1 Golf Advisory Committee meeting. If the first day of finals is canceled or suspended there will be no cut.
The recommendation passed each level of the administrative process, from the Golf Advisory Committee to the 16-member Athletic Administrators Advisory Committee to IHSA Staff and finally its Board of Directors.
“You feel for (a golfer’s) game being disrupted because they’re waiting for a fairway or waiting for the tee box to open up,” said Stacey Lambert, IHSA assistant executive director in charge of girls golf. Kurt Gibson is responsible for boys golf.
“Seeing that year in and year out I think it’s a good proposal, it has good merits,” said Lambert, who noted that pace-of-play disparity is most noticeable in girls Class 1A. “The rationale the (Golf) Advisory Committee made was strong and I think they based the proposal on the conditions the top two-thirds of the field are facing.”
The reduction will be reached by limiting advancement to the top eight teams (down from 12), with ties, after Day 1, and by limiting individual advancement to the top 24 scores, with ties, of all remaining players not on one of the top eight teams.
The measure may have passed unanimously at each of the IHSA’s levels, but it does not get unanimous acclaim by coaches. Far from it, according to Naperville Central boys golf coach Barry Baldwin, who said he has hundreds of emails from “irate” coaches.
“It impacts so many kids and it only impacts 40 minutes of time,” Baldwin said.
His own opposition is multipronged and extends beyond cutting one-third of the field from five different tournaments.
Baldwin addressed a historic lack of Saturday cancellations due to darkness, the hassle and uncertainty of reserving and canceling hotel and restaurant reservations and the prospect of a lower-third golfer still shooting better than a member of an advancing team.
He also believed there was a rush to passage after the Golf Advisory Committee on Dec. 7, 2017, “believed the concept made sense and directed IHSA staff to further explore the idea and report back to the committee next year,” according to the minutes of that meeting.
His main contention centered on a survey on a variety of golf-related topics emailed in December to all girls and boys head coaches, about 900, that included a question on how they felt about a cut after Day 1.
Respondents numbered 272, about par for the course given that surveys can be ignored or deleted out of hand, may land in school spam filters, target old email addresses or reach a coach of both a school’s boys and girls teams.
“Based on surveys done in the past we know that was really a decent number,” Lambert said.
“We did have more coaches say ‘no’ than say ‘yes’ (to a cut), but we did have a good number of coaches who either responded as a yes or they were unsure,” she said.
IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said there was no “agenda” to eliminate golfers and, like Lambert, thought the process was about more than survey results.
“I go back to the fact that this was generated and approved by golf coaches that serve on our Golf Advisory Committee,” Anderson said. “While they’re a small representation of our golf there’s representation from every division, of which we have seven. It was their position, whether there was a survey or not, their recommendation was that we implement this change to try to improve the Saturday portion of the tournament, and they felt like this would do that.”
Baldwin did his own survey, sent to 740 coaches. Of the 345 who responded, 16 reported they received an IHSA survey, he said. Nine were in favor of a cut after the first day of the state tournament.
One of Baldwin’s links colleagues, St. Charles East boys coach John Stock, conducted his own informal survey at the 10 tournaments the Saints attended. Results were similar to Baldwin’s.
Stock’s further emphasis was data drawn from each of the last three years of the state series, primarily boys scores. In 2017 he found no more than a 1-stroke difference between eighth- and ninth-place teams in four of five classes after Day 1, boys or girls. In 2016 the ninth-place Class 2A boys team was 6 strokes behind the fifth-place squad after the first round.
Stock found that individually, in each of the last two seasons, a male golfer in Class 3A who shot 81 would not have made the cut; in 2016 a Class 2A boy would have missed the cut at 80.
Stock acknowledged disparities do exist at the 1A level and he would discuss paring down high individual scores but wondered, “How can you look at a boy who shot an 81 and say he’s not good enough?”
State track athletes can miss the “cut” from preliminary to final heats by a thousandth of a second or a quarter of an inch. Track is among several IHSA sports, from badminton and bowling to swimming and wrestling, that do not guarantee a two-day state final.
Baldwin believed that’s comparing “apples and oranges,” and favored other approaches — from course maintenance to shotgun starts — to speed the pace of play.
“Let us work with the IHSA and find a solution,” he said. “There’s numerous things we can try, and they went straight to cut, and that’s ‘Z’ on the list of things you want to do to a kid.”
Baldwin noted an IHSA Board of Directors meeting takes place Oct. 10, two days before the state finals.
“I don’t doubt that it’ll be discussed,” Lambert said, “but I don’t know what will come of the discussion.”
Summarizing this recommendation, Anderson said: “(T)he same process will occur after this year and if that Golf Advisory Committee determines that there needs to be some tweaking to the change or some modifications to the change, then through that same process we’d be open to considering what the Golf Advisory Committee would recommend going forward.
“It’s a process for change and it seems like we followed those steps and would in the future follow those steps if they had recommendations for changes.”
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