Kentucky legislature hears debate over KHSAA's controversial golf proposal

Golf Channel
A controversial decision by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association was brought in front of the Kentucky General Assembly's Interim Joint Committee on Education on Wednesday.

Kentucky legislature hears debate over KHSAA's controversial golf proposal

A controversial decision by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association was brought in front of the Kentucky General Assembly's Interim Joint Committee on Education on Wednesday.

“If it’s not broke … then why are we fixing it?”

That was the question asked Wednesday by Max Wise, chairman of the Kentucky General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Education, to Julian Tackett, commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

In February, the KHSAA announced several proposed changes for boys and girls golf, none more controversial than eliminating the fifth player for teams that qualify for the state tournament and switching to a four-count-four format. Tackett cited pace of play as the motivating factor for the decision, which would also reduce the field sizes to 144 players, but the announcement was unsurprisingly met with widespread backlash, including from pro golfers and Kentucky natives Justin Thomas, Josh Teater and Steve Flesch.

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“This is not growing the game or encouraging youth,” Flesch wrote on Twitter in February. “It’s a tone deaf change for absolutely NO valid reason. Totally idiotic to make a Region Champ and runner-up leave a man home. You have time to reverse this.”

Five months later, there has been progress made – but not much. In an email obtained by GolfChannel.com, Tackett, who had previously dismissed opposition as "noise," wrote that the KHSAA had heard from “some specific program parents and a minimal number of coaches with displeasure over the final product, including a couple of individuals who desired to address the board at its May meeting.”

The KHSAA board held an open-comment session before that meeting and “heard from two sets of individuals,” according to Tackett. Following that hearing, the matter was placed on the agenda for the KHSAA’s July meeting, which is being held Thursday.

A day prior, the topic was discussed in front of Wise and rest of the Interim Joint Committee on Education. During the forum, Tackett presented two options that would still reduce the state-tournament field sizes to 144 players – the previous idea that would eliminate the No. 5 players, and an alternative plan that would eliminate all region runner-up teams from the state tournament. (The alternative is also highly controversial, as some regions in Kentucky are significantly deeper than others.)

“It is broken with 156 people,” Tackett said during the legislative-committee session.

Many, however, disagree, arguing that the pace-of-play problems Tackett suggests are overstated. Opponents also questioned how much research and feedback the KHSAA used before it announced its changes.

“The commissioner’s been quoted several times and here again today about how much data and research was conducted and how many people were asked their opinions,” said Eric Straub, an attorney and former college golfer, who spoke in representation of the opposition on Wednesday. “I’ve talked to hundreds of people, golfers throughout the entire state, I cannot find one person who can rationalize this decision.”

A few years ago, Stephen Stallings Jr. won a state title as the fifth player for St. Xavier, one of the top programs in Kentucky. Stallings went on to play at Kentucky and is now a professional. There are several other examples of No. 5 guys contributing.

Tackett did concede that eliminating the fifth player would be a “unique” move but offered no other solutions in addition to his two proposals.

Straub offered an alternative that would see one individual qualifier from each region eliminated. Kevin Mims of the Kentucky Golf Coaches Association brought forth the idea to add another level of postseason play (i.e. district tournaments).

But Tackett contends that “the line has to be drawn somewhere,” as he told the Lexington Herald-Ledger on Wednesday after the session.

“Unfortunately, we can’t just turn the lights on at the golf course and we have a capacity issue,” Tackett added. “That’s been the challenge. ... It became essential that something had to be done.”

Something will be done, but what? More will be known after Thursday’s meeting.

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