WPIAL golfers to face true test next fall as championships expand to 2 rounds

Saturday, January 29, 2022 | 5:55 PM

Two rounds. Thirty-six holes. Two courses?

That is what will await golfers next fall for the WPIAL golf championships.

The WPIAL changed its format for the boys and girls individual finals by eliminating the semifinal rounds and turning the championship into a two-round event spread over a week.

Qualifiers will play 18 holes one day on a course to be announced and have to make a cut to advance to the final round, which will be played a week later, likely on a different course.

The cut will only exist if the field has 36 or more players. Last year, the 2A girls’ final had 18 qualifiers.

Scores from both rounds will count toward a 36-hole title that will decide winners.

“Before, it was possible for a player to get hot for a single round and win a championship, but this ensures that the champion and the qualifiers will be players that are more consistent through multiple rounds,” Franklin Regional coach Jeff Traphagen said. “With all of the players able to play the same course for the first round, similar to what we incorporated last year with the 3A boys, there is no argument for players playing different courses. Everyone plays the same course on the same days.”

Last year, the league faced overcrowded qualifying rounds for the finals. For instance, there was no semifinal for boys 2A, so 70 players made the championship round.

The PIAA individual finals also will return to a 36-hole format.

WPIAL steering committee chairperson Jim Croushore said the district postseason is more than that; it is the path to the PIAA tournaments and should reveal the best players from the WPIAL. The format, he thinks, will take care of that aspect.

“Players will now need to score well in both rounds to advance,” Croushore said. “We wanted the best players from District 7 to have an opportunity to win the WPIAL championships and advance to the PIAA championships.”

Traphagen said there is actually an increased number of rounds for players in a few classes, and that the new format will help with PIAA prep.

“This will also give players more time to get their practice rounds in if they are planning on getting to the final round of the tournament,” he said. “Championship final rounds are still being held at some very prestigious courses in Western Pennsylvania, which is a huge incentive to continue to qualify and move on to the next week.”

While the WPIAL committee sees plenty of pros, there have to be cons to the decision to change.

“This may take some of the more unlikely or underdog champions out of the mix,” Traphagen said.

“Previously, an average round to just qualify for the finals, then a great round in the finals could result in a championship. This will require much more consistent play to win a championship, but there is also the goal of qualifying for the next round or the state tournament.”

Defending WPIAL 3A champion Nick Turowski, who will be a junior, thinks the change was needed and will work.

“I believe a longer tournament brings out the best player in the field,” he said. “I’ve always thought more rounds identifies the most consistent players and allows for a bad hole or two. It’s more of a marathon and not just a short race. I love the idea of moving to two rounds.”

So, why the break between rounds and the different venues for the same tournaments?

“For us, it is not feasible to have the championships on consecutive days at the same venue,” Croushore said. “Asking clubs to give up two days of revenue production in September or October is a big ask for them. This is one reason why we have it spread out over time at two different golf courses.”

The long wait between rounds seems odd, but coaches say it will be more about how players handle the mindset.

“They are used to playing 18 holes each week to qualify for the next round,” Traphagen said. “This should not be any different from past years. They just go into the finals with a mindset that they are a little ahead of the field or behind the field. This could play on some psychologically, but the end result is the same: qualify each round to move on to the next week. If you earn some hardware along the way, that is the bonus.”

Croushore said “battle-tested” players should enjoy the new format.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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