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Opinion & Analysis

Ranking the Best Teams in College Golf



With the spring season well underway in college golf, teams will be jockeying for position leading up to the NCAA Regionals in May with hopes of qualifying for the Finals at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois.

Winning the NCAA Championships is the ultimate goal for every school, but golf is a fickle game; it’s not necessarily the best team that comes away with the trophy. Take last year’s result, for example. Oregon won the men’s title, while Washington pulled out the victory on the women’s side.

These two teams came into the week ranked 21st and 13th, respectively. The championships were held in Eugene, Oregon, and both may have benefitted from some Pacific Northwest familiarity. Still, the top-ranked teams at both tournaments fared extremely well. For the men, Texas finished runner-up despite playing without an injured Beau Hossler in the final match. Meanwhile, the UCLA women advanced to the semifinal match before falling by a narrow 3-2 margin to the surging Huskies.

In order to determine the best team in college golf each year, it’s essential to look at the full body of work throughout the season. To fulfill this purpose, the Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking system provides an excellent measure. The index employs an algorithm that takes into account multiple factors — the team’s won-lost-tied record and its stroke differential — to calculate a power rating. Of course, the ranking is relative and is affected by the ratings and performance of common opponents (i.e. the other teams in the tournament field).

With this in mind, the concept of ranking the best teams in college golf in recent years was born. Through analysis of archived Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings year-end data, it’s possible to compile ranked lists for both men’s and women’s teams. The following are the Top-10 rankings for two time periods: the last five years and the last decade.

Men: 5 Years

NCAA Photos Archive

  1. Texas
  2. Alabama
  3. Stanford
  4. California
  5. Illinois
  6. Oklahoma State
  7. Georgia Tech
  8. Southern California
  9. Georgia
  10. LSU

Teams 11-15: Auburn, Florida State, Washington, UCLA, Arkansas.

Men: 10 Years

  1. Alabama
  2. Oklahoma State
  3. Georgia
  4. Stanford
  5. Southern California
  6. Georgia Tech
  7. Texas
  8. UCLA
  9. Florida
  10. Texas A&M

Teams 11-15: Illinois, Washington, Florida State, California, Auburn.


NCAA Photos Archive

Recognize these two players?

  • Alabama beat out Oklahoma State by the smallest of margins to claim the top spot (70.2783 vs 70.2788).
  • Stanford was the most consistent team, having finished outside the top-10 only once in the past 10 years. The team’s average ranking was 6.8 over that span.
  • Teams that have come on strong over the past five years: Texas (jumped from 7th to 1st), Illinois (11th to 5th), California (14th to 4th) and LSU (N/A to 10th).
  • The 10-spot jump for California can be attributed in large part to its record-setting 2012-13 season, in which the team piled up 11 wins (it also won the stroke play portion of the NCAA Championships, but fell to Illinois in the Semifinal match).
  • Two teams finished atop the rankings in consecutive seasons: Oklahoma State from 2008-09 through 2010-11 (a three-peat) and Georgia in 2006-07 and 2007-08.
  • The 2013-14 Alabama squad was the only top-ranked team to win the national championship in the past decade.

Women: 5 Years

  1. Southern California
  2. UCLA
  3. Duke
  4. Alabama
  5. Arizona State
  6. Arizona
  7. Stanford
  8. Arkansas
  9. Florida
  10. Washington

Teams 11-15: Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Virginia.

Women: 10 Years

NCAA Photos Archive

  1. Southern California
  2. UCLA
  3. Duke
  4. Arizona State
  5. Alabama
  6. Arizona
  7. Florida
  8. Stanford
  9. Arkansas
  10. Oklahoma State

Teams 11-15: Purdue, Virginia, Georgia, Auburn, Vanderbilt.


  • Women’s college golf has shown more constancy in the rankings with the same teams occupying the top-9 positions.
  • Purdue had a strong 5-year stretch from 2006-07 to 2010-11 where the team finished inside the top-10 every year, but recent struggles have left Purdue out of the top-10.
  • Southern California and UCLA have separated themselves from the rest of the pack; neither team finished worse than 7th in the rankings over the past decade.
  • The top-ranked team has gone on to win the national championship four times in the past decade: Duke (2007), Southern California (in 2008 and 2013) and Arizona State (2009).

General Observations

  • Every team comes from a major conference: Pac-12, SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big 10. The best teams not from a Power-5 conference were the UNLV men (Mountain West) and the Pepperdine women (WCC).
  • The Pac-12 is particularly strong in women’s golf with 6 of the top-10 teams in the nation over the last 5 years.
  • Most teams come from warmer climates with the exception of Illinois and Washington (making Illinois’ recent run of success all the more impressive).
  • On average, the men (12.1 per season) play more tournaments than the women (11.2).
  • The men’s and women’s programs at each school are often not created equal; in some cases the men perform better (eg. Texas, Illinois, Georgia Tech), while in others it’s the women who have more success (eg. Duke, Arizona State, Arizona).
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Jeffrey Knox's main interests are junior and college golf, but he also follows the professional tours closely. Jeff graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2014, where he served as the Sports Editor and later as Editor-in-Chief of the campus news magazine. He currently lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he works as an environmental scientist for Providence Engineering.

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  1. Undershooter30

    Mar 14, 2017 at 11:57 am

    Bama looking good. Only school with teams in the top 5 of every list. Very impressive.

  2. Tom

    Mar 14, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Jeffery, we shall revisit this topic mid season.

  3. Barry

    Mar 14, 2017 at 10:12 am

    #1 should be the SDSU Women’s team

    Tied for last: All others

  4. Tom

    Mar 13, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Texas in the spotlight.

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Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure



My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings



After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf



If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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19th Hole