After a few weeks of disappointing news, college golfers finally are catching a break. On Monday, the NCAA Division I Council voted to approve an extra year of eligibility for all spring-sport athletes after previously canceling the remainder of spring competitions due to COVID-19 concerns.
As part of the decision, schools will be responsible for the financial costs associated with keeping on the student-athletes. Schools will have the option to provide equal or less aid to seniors who decide to return for the 2020-’21 season and had otherwise exhausted their eligibility, with the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund available for schools to help finance the scholarships.
“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” said University of Pennsylvania athletic director M. Grace Calhoun, who chairs D-I council. “The Board of Governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that.”
How the vote might impact the decision of some of college golf’s top-ranked seniors is unclear. U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree and runner-up John Augenstein, seniors at Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt, respectively, have both indicated it is unlikely they would return to their schools. Each had expected to play as amateurs at the Masters and turn professional after the NCAA Championship in May. However, with pro tours on hold due to the coronavirus (and uncertainty over what happens when play resumes), turning pro in the summer and hoping to play on sponsor’s exemptions might be a more challenging prospect than previously expected for college golfers.
“It’s come up in conversations about going back, but that would probably be the last option,” Augenstein recently told Global Golf Post. “That may happen only if it’s the worst-case scenario. Just like when you get done with high school, you want to move on. That’s kind of how I feel.”
However, making a return to school more attractive for some top players is an unusual carrot. The 2021 Walker Cup is set for next May at Seminole Golf Club in Florida. Given the unusually early date, and the potential difficultly of getting starts on the PGA Tour or Korn Ferry Tour, some players might go back to school to play for their schools another year and perhaps earn a spot on the U.S. team before then turning pro after the 2021 NCAA Championship.