The 2012 NCAA Men's Golf Championship field of 82 teams will be unveiled next Monday, and Mark Leroux's Tigers are hopeful to be among them. According to Golfweek's Lance Ringler, Mizzou just might do it:
Using Golfstat and Golfweek/Sagarin numbers: Last 4 in: Colorado, La Tech, Mizzou & BYU... First 4 out: Ohio St, UTA, Miss. St & Charlotte-- Lance Ringler (@GolfweekRingler) May 3, 2012
The reason there is any doubt is because of the Tigers' relatively poor performance at the John Burns Intercollegiate in Hawaii back in mid-February. Mizzou finished in a tie for 15th place out of 18 teams at the tournament; what's notable about the team's play was that they did so without junior All-American Jace Long, who was held out due to a violation of team policies.
As you can see from Ringler's tweet above, one of the teams Mizzou is battling against for a spot in the field is BYU. Ringler has the Tigers in above BYU in his metrics, but there are ranking systems that have the Cougars ahead of Mizzou. In college golf, head-to-head results are weighted heavily in the rankings. Leroux's crew finished 13 strokes behind BYU at that tournament. There are two specific mitigating circumstances that came together to inaccurately reflect the quality of the Mizzou program at that tournament. While there's no guarantee that changing either result would have altered Mizzou's standing in Hawaii, they cannot be ignored.
First off, a scorecard error by senior Tommie Wuennenberg negated a sparkling 70 on the first day. The scorecard error moved Mizzou from a 5th-place tie after the round down to 15th. The scores were already posted for the day, and the team discovered the mistake after their team meal around 8:30 p.m. "Tommie came to me and said, 'I think there's a mistake on GolfStat. They have me down for a 5 on the 12th hole, and I made 6,'" said Leroux. "We contacted the host coach and SID to confirm; sure enough, we had signed for an incorrect score.
"Mizzou did the right thing and self-reported the mistake. Like any coach or player would do, we brought the error to the committee and made it right."
Restoring that round into the team score alone would have dropped the Tigers' final tournament score by 12 strokes, just one behind BYU. At that point, Long's absence from the tournament is felt. It's completely reasonable that replacing your team's sixth-best golfer with an All-American is worth more than the two strokes Mizzou would have needed to leap the Cougars.
It will be interesting to see if the Men's Golf Committee affords Leroux's team the same consideration the Women's Basketball Committee did in 2004. I was in my third season as Cindy Stein's media relations contact that year, and entering the Big 12 Tournament (back when it was still called a tournament and not a championship), the Tigers had a relatively unimpressive 16-11 record and a No. 7 tournament seed.
As I had noted in my game notes heading into the final weeks of the season, there was an asterisk attached to that record: The team had been beset by injuries all season long, and rarely played with its preferred starting five intact. With a cobbled-together lineup, the Tigers lost five conference games at home -- including three to top-11 teams -- by an AVERAGE of 3.6 points per game. While it might have been a stretch to say Mizzou would have won all five, if just three of those games would have been switched over to wins due to a healthy lineup -- another completely plausible scenario -- the Tigers would have entered the Big 12 Tournament with an RPI of 10. Folks, that's a flat-out lock every year to make the tournament.
The NCAA has done a good job in recent years of pulling back the curtain relative to its selection of teams to the Men's and Women's Basketball tournaments. Its annual mock selection committees have revealed many facets of the selection process to the public that were previously unknown, among them that specific committee members are assigned to specific leagues. I was introduced to that item one morning as I was walking through the lobby of our hotel in Dallas as we prepared to play our first-round Big 12 tournament game. My cell started ringing just before I got to the bank of elevators.
It was the Senior Woman Administrator at Drake University on the other end; as a member of the Women's Basketball Committee that year, she was assigned to the Big 12, and she wanted to verify some of the information she'd read in my game notes. Yes, ma'am, if the team we're about to put on the floor in Dallas had played together all season long, there would be no doubt that it was among the best 64 teams in the country.
It didn't hurt that we won our first-round game to advance to the Big 12 quarterfinals, but in no small part to the committee's knowledge that there were mitigating circumstances in our at-large candidacy, we made the bracket.
I'll be curious to see if the Men's Golf committee takes similar stock in the circumstances surrounding Mizzou's performance in Hawaii. If they do, it's a no-brainer that the Tigers will be in the field.