Updated: July 27, 2011, 6:32 PM ET

Does the collegiate golf system need a fix?

Harig By Bob Harig

Reigning NCAA champion John Peterson may have been a bit too giddy when he suggested the top collegiate players could compete with the best of the PGA Tour after his runner-up finish to another amateur, Harris English, on Sunday at the Nationwide Tour event in Ohio.

[+] EnlargePeter Uihlein
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonU.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein is one of the college players making noise this season.

Peterson, who plays at LSU, had led for most of the tournament, but a bogey on the 72nd hole coupled with a birdie by English led to English being the second Georgia college standout to win on the Nationwide Tour this year. Earlier, Russell Henley won a Nationwide event played at the University of Georgia.

"The top guys in college, the top 20 or 30 guys, can beat the top 20, 30 guys on the PGA Tour," Peterson told GolfWorld after the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational played at Ohio State. "Maybe with the exception of two or three guys who are constantly up there -- like a Matt Kuchar or Luke Donald, those guys that are always there -- those top 20 college guys will beat those top 20 or 30 PGA Tour guys, if given the opportunity. They just don't have the opportunity. That's why this tournament is so great'' Shortly thereafter, English concurred, making you wonder if the guys in lab coats who administer the tour's drug-testing program were not close behind.

To think that the top college players can compete with the top pros is absurd. In fact, there are plenty who believe the college game in the United States is absolutely the wrong way to prepare for a professional career. Certainly college players have reason to gloat of late.

In addition to the success of English and Peterson, Patrick Cantlay has finished in the top 25 in all four PGA Tour events in which he has competed this summer, including a tie for ninth on Sunday at the RBC Canadian Open. Cantlay, who will be a sophomore at UCLA, shot 60 at the Travelers Championship and was low amateur at the U.S. Open.

Then there is reigning U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, who also was in the top 10 at the Ohio Nationwide event a week after making the cut at the British Open.

All of which is interesting when you consider there has long been a debate about the merits of collegiate golf properly developing players. And that is pointed out even more these days as Americans struggle in the majors and atop the world rankings.

Hank Haney, for one, has been outspoken about the college game's ability to develop players. The former coach to Tiger Woods was also a former coach at Southern Methodist and has worked with plenty of players who have come through the college ranks.

"They go to classes for maybe three hours a day, study for two more hours, then play golf the rest of the day,'' Haney recently told Scotland on Sunday." So in terms of their golf, they are losing five hours of practice time every day. You can't do that every day for four years and end up being competitive.

"Even when they are playing and practicing, they are too often not getting any better. In fact, the colleges invariably have no real interest in long-term improvement for these kids. For the school it is all about scoring well today. So there is no chance of them telling a student to go away and work on his technique so that he will be a better player 18 months down the road. That just doesn't happen.''

Haney pointed out college golf coaches are not always necessarily trained in the skill of teaching golf, which means players are not always getting proper instruction.

And you can also, perhaps, attribute some of the recent success of amateurs to the idea they really have nothing to lose, nothing to choke over. Sure, English and Peterson had plenty going on trying to win a professional tournament. But for anyone else, there are not consequences in finishing a shot back; there is no money to lose, as there is for the pros who are grinding every week to make a living.

Then you have players such as Rory McIlroy, who turned pro and skipped college as a teenager, making a strong case for getting on with it. Then again, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, Englishman Luke Donald, went to college in the United States, at Northwestern. So did Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, who attended UAB.

And it's hard to argue with the success of Phil Mickelson, who won three NCAA titles as an individual, or Tiger Woods, who spent two years at Stanford before turning pro.

Still, Haney makes an interesting point.

"So, if American golf is in permanent decline -- and I don't think it is -- then the blame would have to fall in the lap of the college system. There's nothing else we can blame,'' he said. "In terms of improving their techniques, way too many kids are treading water for four years in college. Those colleges are the breeding grounds for the PGA Tour, so if we are getting worse that system has to be at fault."

The Rankings

Tiger Woods made headlines for all the wrong reasons. He fired his longtime caddie, Steve Williams, a move that is still generating conversation. Then the tough week got worse when he fell to No. 21 in the world, a position in which he has not resided since early in the 1997 season.

Woods has not played since May 12, when he withdrew from the Players Championship. At the time, he was ranked eighth in the world, and such a slide was due to come without playing and earning ranking points. Woods continues to lose points from the 2009 season that saw him win seven times worldwide.

Meanwhile, by staying among the top 50, Sergio Garcia, who has top-10s at the U.S. and British Opens, will earn a start in next week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Irish glee

A tournament that attracts just three of the top 50 in the world typically gets panned, but that is far from the case this week at the Irish Open. That's because the three in the top 50 are all recent major winners from the north -- Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke.

The three players from Northern Ireland headline the field for the Irish Open at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club. Also in the field is defending champion Ross Fisher of England and Ireland's own Padraig Harrington, who has dropped from the top 50.

Just wondering …

… about the idea of the LPGA Tour adding a fifth major. Commissioner Michael Whan announced last week that starting in 2013, the Evian Masters would be The Evian and would be designated a major championship. The tournament, played in France, will move to September.

This one is hard to swallow. Major championships are not just so ordained. It takes time, history and prestige to be a major, and the tournament has been around for just over 10 years. If the tour was to anoint a tournament a major, it might have done so in Asia, where so many LPGA players reside and where a number of tournaments are played.

Of course money is in play here. The Evian folks undoubtedly stepped up and said they would pour money into the purse, the tournament, the venue, etc., in return for major status. Perhaps Whan was looking at losing another tournament and felt he had no choice.

Still, it smacks of desperation and devalues the other majors in the process.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.


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