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Match play is good for golf, but bad for Oklahoma State

The best men’s golf team in the country will not win the national championship

Porsche European Open - Day One Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

I know it sounds crazy, but it is possible for two things that sound contradictory, to in fact be true. For what seems like a paradox to actually be able to exist.

That a tan both makes us look great, and is terrible for our skin.

That beer and alcohol can make us feel good, but are terrible for our livers.

This is also true in sports.

That the Warriors can be good without Kevin Durant (not better), and that Kevin Durant is the best player in basketball.

That the Eagles can win a Super Bowl but not be the best team in football.

That match play is great for college golf, but terrible for Oklahoma State.

Both things can be true. And are.

Oklahoma State fans don’t want to hear it today. Trust me, I’m one of them. Tuesday night’s semi-finals loss was gut-wrenching, especially after the Cowboys dominated stroke play, beating second place Vanderbilt by 31. And no matter what happens on Wednesday between Texas and Stanford, you will never convince me, not in a million years, that the best team in men’s gold for the 2019 season, won the National Championship.

But that’s what makes match play the great equalizer; it’s ability to ignore who the best “team” is. It’s ability to create drama and intrigue where there seemingly is non. Since match-play was added for the 2009 season, last year’s Oklahoma State squad is the only team to enter match-play as the No. 1 seed and win the trophy. The top seed has only made it to the final match four of the 11 years match-play has been in play.

But that’s why it’s so good for the sport. Without it, Tuesday night’s sudden death, extra hole match never would have been on television. Oklahoma State, Texas, and golf fans wouldn’t have been glued to their television sets, laptops, and smart phones at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night watching collegiate golf. The drama never would have existed and, honestly, no one would have cared.

And not just that final hole; the entirety of Oklahoma State vs. Texas gripping, amazing television. The kind of sports drama we beg for during football and basketball season, but really only get a few times a year. It’s something ESPN is going to play during Sportscenter. It’s something Texas fans are going to remember and Oklahoma State fans are going to want to forget.

Be honest, outside of the win over Stanford in 1995 when Tiger was playing for the Cardinal, do you remember any of OSU’s wins during stroke play? Wasn’t last year’s victory all the more sweet because of how it was won? Would it have been half as good if it was over after the first 72 holes? Probably not.

Again, Oklahoma State won match-play by more than 30 strokes. Even if the tournament was televised, no one really would have cared after round two. It would have been bad television.

In fact, for golf fans, I could argue that Tuesday night’s nail-biter was the best golf match — collegiate or pro — of 2019 outside of Tiger winning the Masters. Nothing has been that interesting, had that interesting of players, or been that gripping on a 18 hole course all year outside of the great one’s first major in more than a decade.

And that’s the whole point of why match-play was added; to make it more interesting and get it on tv, thus helping grow interest in the sport. I don’t have the numbers, but I would bet that the attendance and tv ratings have been pretty darn good the past few seasons and that there has been growth of interest. That’s good for the sport. Dominating a sport no one can watch and no one cares about, isn’t exactly a great thing.

Yet I can’t help but continue to point out the irony, that the man responsible for match-play being added to the NCAA Championship, is also the one whose team is consistently screwed by it; Mike Holder.

And as we all know, this isn’t the first time that Oklahoma State has lost a championship trophy it should have had because of match play. Here are the years that OSU finished stroke play in first place, but lost in match play:

2009 - lost in quarterfinals
2010 - lost in final
2019 - lost in semifinal

No other team has finished in first after stroke play more than once since then. Oklahoma State has lost out on three national championship trophies because of this addition. Three.

It sucks. It sucks to see one of the greatest golf teams ever not win a trophy in a year where they were better than the year before.

It sucks because you have to wonder, just a bit, if OSU can win a national championship away from home now.

It sucks as a fan, to watch your team lose to a conference opponent that you know they are better than.

And it stings knowing that it could be awhile before Oklahoma State is in this position again. Not a team this talented — that might never happen again — but to have one this good and this close to winning another title.

But then again, maybe Oklahoma State will benefit as other teams have, from match play. They almost did in 2014 when, as the four-seed, they made it to the championship match against Alabama, before falling 4-1.

For those arguing against Match Play, I get it. It drives me nuts because it neutralizes Oklahoma State’s often superiority at the sport and levels the playing field for lesser teams.

But isn’t that we ask for all the time in sports?

I always think about the fact that we hate dynasties in sports (although our watching habits tell us otherwise) and yet we also hate when the best team doesn’t win.

Does March Madness crown the best team in college basketball every year? Probably not, but we love it anyways, and LOVE seeing great teams go down early in upset fashion.

Does college baseball’s tournament crown the best team every year? Doubtful, but no one is unhappy with that format.

Does the College Football Playoff do a better job than the BCS did of crowning the best team in college football? It has the past few years, but we still want to add more teams because we’re tired of seeing the two best teams be the same teams every year.

The same can be asked of the NBA where the best team has won the past few years, but we’re apparently (according to social media) tired of it.

Really, the truth is we just don’t like it when our team doesn’t win the title. We like it even less when our team is one of the best, and is seemingly robbed of a trophy.

Look I get it. I understand the arguments against using match play to determine a champion. it is kind of like having the NBA regular season and the first two rounds of the play-offs and then crowning the West and East champs, and overall champion through a few games of horse. Or switching the NFL’s super bowl to a game of flag football. It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to determine a team sport in such an individual manner.

But golf isn’t a team sport. It’s you against the course. And in this way, match-play is more like regular golf that team stroke play is.

So with that in mind, as a golf fan, give me the drama, the intrigue, and the frustration, and as an Oklahoma State fan, just keep my mini-fridge stocked every May.