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The Best Golfers Without a Major? Who Belongs on the List and Who Doesn’t

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Here it is, everyone’s favorite argument: Who’s the best golfer without a major championship?

People, especially media members, love to have discussions such as this one. In basketball, the argument is for who’s the greatest player without an NBA Championship. In football, it’s usually the best quarterback without a Super Bowl. Even arguments such as “who’s the best actor without an Oscar” flood the Internet.

In most sports, athletes get about five years to prove themselves worthy of being on such a list, then by seven years in it’s the only questions they get in press conferences. LeBron knows what I’m saying; and so does Carmelo Anthony, although I think everyone’s given up on him by now. That question basically forced KD to the Warriors.

But in golf, the leash is unbelievably short. If you’re deemed a great golfer, you better start producing quickly. It seems Sergio Garcia came out of the womb with a “best golfer without a major” tag. I’m sure if he didn’t have to answer that question so much throughout his career, and if Tiger Woods wasn’t the greatest closer of all time, he would have got it done sooner. Tiger never had to deal with it himself because of how quickly he started winning. But Phil Mickelson got it bad. Colin Montgomerie probably still has nightmares about it, no matter what he says. Jon Rahm is only three majors into his career, and now that Sergio won the monkey-off-his-back-Masters, Rahm is next in line. I kind of feel for him, too; a victim of his own potential greatness.

As an individual sport, the light shines bright on golf’s “stars” to produce major victories. Regular PGA Tour wins are basically just measuring sticks to determine who’s ready to win majors. It’s weird, but it’s the nature of the sport post-Jack Nicklaus. When Jack decided to play a limited schedule and focus on majors, so did the media, and everyone else followed. Now it’s majors or bust.

If you’re “great” (have a solid resume but haven’t won a major) they ask “why haven’t you won yet?” If you’re great and have only won one or two, they ask “why haven’t you won more? What’s wrong with you?!”

The problem is, major championships are extremely difficult to win. There’s a learning curve and a progression. Beating 120-player fields without vast experience is just very unlikely. Jack and Tiger and Jordan (Spieth) are outliers. It’s just not that easy.

Therefore, I don’t think media members or fans should make arbitrary lists, labeling golfers as “the best without a major” without a specific question in mind. There’s a better way to evaluate those with a goose egg in the major wins column. For this argument, you should ask yourself, “How surprised am I that this golfer hasn’t won a major yet?” That way, you can determine who belongs on that “best without” list and who doesn’t. The last thing we want to do is label a great young talent as “best without” and have it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Give them some time and space.

Here’s my run at it.

Doesn’t Belong: Luke Donald

GOLF: APR 02 PGA - Shell Houston Open - Final Round

Why he doesn’t belong on the “best without” list: Donald (39 years old) has won a PGA Tour Player of the Year, European’s Race to Dubai, and he held the No. 1 in the world spot for 56 weeks (that’s longer than Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples, Nick Price, Ernie Els, David Duval, Vijay Singh, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth). He’s had eight top-10s at major championships, five PGA Tour wins and seven European Tour wins. He finished T3 in his first ever appearance at The Masters in 2005, tied for his best ever finish at a major championship.

Despite a straight-up stacked resume, however, I find it hard to say I’m super surprised Donald never won a major. He’s a top-10 machine and a money maker, but even as a No. 1 in the world he never felt like a favorite. I’m not shocked he never got it done on the big stage, and I won’t be shocked if he retires without one.

Belongs: Lee Westwood

Why he belongs on the “best without” list: Wait, Lee Westwood never won a major championship? Can anyone from the media confirm?

Westwood is always one of the best ball strikers in whatever field he was in, but the fact is he has never putted well enough… especially when the heat was on. With 18 top-10s in the majors, you’d think he would’ve gotten lucky and hit the hole a few times in ONE of them. But alas.

Doesn’t Belong: Hideki Matsuyama

The Masters - Round Two

Why he doesn’t belong: Sometimes you can’t tell by his body language, but Hideki Matsuyama is so, so good at golf. At 25, he already has five top-10s in majors and four PGA Tour victories. He’s also ranked No. 4 in the world, and it’s inevitable he’s going to win a major. But am I surprised he hasn’t done it yet? Not yet, but he might be the best golfer in this entire article.

He played his first major in 2011, but he didn’t start playing a full major-championship schedule until 2013. So he’s only in his fifth year competing for real. I’ll give him two more years — as is standard in these arguments as we established in the intro — until I start hitting him with the shocked face.

Doesn’t Belong: Rickie Fowler

Why he doesn’t belong: Fowler is a tough one. As we know, he finished in the top 5 in every major in 2014. But that year, he lost by six shots to Bubba in The Masters, eight to Martin Kaymer at the U.S. Open, started six back of Rory McIlroy heading into Sunday at The Open and came in third behind Rory and Phil at the PGA. Did we truly, honestly expect him to win any of those?

He’s 28 and has four PGA Tour wins, including a Players Championship. He’s had a great career so far. And if I’m being honest, a better career than I even expected to this point. Fowler was definitely a stand-out amateur, but I just never expected much of him as a PGA Tour pro. And that’s mainly because of his swing. Until his work with Butch Harmon, I never trusted his swing to hold up under pressure.

Over the past few years, he seems to have toned down big misses and has a phenomenal short game that saves his mediocre iron play. But am I surprised Rickie Fowler isn’t yet a major champion? Why do you ask, because he looks like a superstar and seems like the coolest guy ever? Golf wise, no I’m not surprised. Talk to me in five years.

Belongs: Ryan Moore

2016 CIMB Classic Golf - Day 1

Why he belongs: People tend to forget, probably because of his lack of star power, that Ryan Moore was one of the best amateur golfers ever. He won the NCAA Individual Championship, the U.S. Amateur Public Links and the U.S. Amateur in 2004. By all accounts, he was destined for greatness in the big leagues.

Since then, he’s recorded five PGA Tour wins and a few top-10s in major championships. The best he’s ever finished in a major was T9, which he tied on Sunday at The 2017 Masters. He was in the third-to-last group, but everyone wrote him off; they turned out to be right.

At 34, Moore is one of the most talented and accomplished golfers never win to a major — at least in the modern era. He has a goofy swing, but I always thought that made him some sort of golfing savant. When he turned professional, if you asked me how many majors Moore would have by now, I’d probably have said three or four.

Doesn’t Belong: Matt Kuchar

Why he doesn’t belong: He was a brilliant amateur golfer — he lost to Tiger Woods in the semi-finals of the 1996 U.S. Amateur then won it in 1997 — and is an absolute cash machine as a professional. He won the Honda Classic in 2002, then all but disappeared for seven years. Since then, I think he’s finished in the top-10 in every single tournament he’s played (don’t fact-check me). He also won The Players Championship in 2012.

The 38-year old has eight top-10s in majors and seven PGA Tour wins. Fact of the matter is, he doesn’t find the winner circle very often, but plays really steady no matter the course or weather.

Give me a choice to finish top-10, it’s Kuchar. Give me a guy to win? It’s not Kuchar.

Belongs: Branden Grace

U.S. Open - Final Round

Why he belongs: Grace is 28, and he already should have won a major. More specifically, he should have won the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He fanned one on No. 16 out of bounds all but ending his chance at victory, which still drives me crazy. Keep that in bounds, birdie the relatively easy par-5 18th and it’s probably over — or at least he’s in a playoff. Aside from that, Grace also has three other top-5s in majors.

He’s a stud who has one PGA Tour win and seven European Tour wins. In terms of being surprised he doesn’t have a major, I would say very. But he’s still young and entering his prime years. If he ends up without a major that shows how difficult major championship golf is, not Grace’s shortcomings as a golfer.

Doesn’t Belong: Bill Haas

Why he doesn’t belong: Haas has just one top-10 in the majors. Yes, the 34-year old has six PGA Tour wins, but he simply hasn’t been in a realistic position to win a major yet.

Belongs: Paul Casey

Why he belongs: Another great amateur who was destined for greatness, especially while at Arizona State University. And you know what, he put together a great professional career… just not in the United States. He’s won 13 times on the European Tour, but just once on the PGA Tour (2009 Shell Houston Open in a playoff, and he lost in two other playoffs).

Aside from The Masters, where he always seems to be a factor at some point over the weekend, his game just hasn’t fared well at the U.S. Open and PGA Championships. With that being said, I wouldn’t blink twice if Casey won The Open this year. Well, I’d blink a lot, but it’s just a phrase.

Problem is, at 39, time isn’t on his side.

Doesn’t Belong: J.B. Holmes

World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship - Round Three

Why he doesn’t belong: When Holmes needed brain surgery in 2011, then needed more surgery after realizing he was allergic to the adhesive used, he was more likely to end up on a list of potential greats who’s career ended short, not a list of best golfers without a major. So I must say I’m ecstatic to even bring him up in this argument.

Holmes played 26 events in 2012 but no majors, and played only 6 events (no majors) in 2013. Before that, he played in only 13 majors. In 2015, however, he recorded a T4 at The Masters and solo third at The Open.

I can’t say that I’m surprised the 34-year-old hasn’t won a major, simply for the fact he hasn’t been in the position to win enough. But he has fearlessness off the tee and a long ball that’s simply unmatched on Tour. He’s an extremely skilled Tour player, and if he stays healthy, he will win a major. I’m not surprised he has zero at the time being, but if you tell me in five years he hasn’t won yet, I’ll probably slap you in the face.

Belongs: Ian Poulter

Why he belongs: Devastating Ryder Cupper. Great PGA Tour pro. He has 12 European Tour wins and two PGA Tour wins. He also has eight top-10s, including a solo-second at the 2008 Open (albeit four strokes behind Padraig).

Poulter has always been a reliable ball striker and has knack for draining the big putt. I think he was always so easy to root against, especially for Americans, that we didn’t want to give him proper credit for his skill and competitiveness. I’m legitimately shocked he never got the job done and ripped out the hearts of U.S. golf fans everywhere. But at 41, a major victory now just seems unlikely. He doesn’t hit it particularly long, but maybe he can sneak out an Open Championship victory before it’s over.

Doesn’t Belong: Patrick Reed

Why he doesn’t belong: Reed is ranked No. 14 in the world and has all but backed up his infamous “top 5” interview with 5 PGA Tour wins — including The Barclays at major-championship venue Bethpage Black. He’s also already proven himself as an opponent to be terrified of at the Ryder Cup. But at 26, he’s yet to record a top-10 in a major. He’s the type of competitor, however, that you expect to win if he’s in the final group of a major on Sunday. He just has to put himself in the position.

In my opinion, he’ll win multiple majors and continue to haunt European Ryder Cup fans for years to come. But should he have a major trophy or Green Jacket already? Not yet.

Belongs: Brandt Snedeker

The Masters - Round Two

Why he belongs: The fact Brandt Snedeker hasn’t won a major is beyond me. He’s had three top-10 finishes at Augusta, four top-10s in the U.S. Open and a T3 at The Open. He’s long been regarded as the best, or one of the best putters on tour. He’s also a superb ball striker, and seems to have a fairly even keel that’s beneficial in the majors.

He’s 36, has eight PGA Tour victories and one European Tour win. He also won the 2012 FedEx Cup. But no majors. You have to imagine his putter will heat up so hot that he wins one before it’s said and done.

Doesn’t Belong: Brooks Koepka

Shriners Hospitals For Children Open - Round Two

Why he doesn’t belong: If someone wants to say they’re surprised Koepka hasn’t won yet, I’ll entertain their argument. But the fact is, he’s 26 and only has one PGA Tour victory. Yes, he has four top-10s in majors, but let the kid get his major championship legs under him, OK? Let him learn how to win out there, struggle a bit in some final groups in the majors and see what happens.

Closing Thoughts

This whole argument reminds me of a quote from the movie Social Network. Mark Zuckerberg’s character turns to the Winklevoss twins and says, “If you were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.” Savage quote, but it relates to what we’re talking about here; if a player is truly good enough to have won a major already, he’d have won a major already.

I also wanted to mention the following two names so I could prove I didn’t forget about them. If anyone can make an argument for saying they’re legitimately surprised they haven’t won a major yet at this point in their career, have at it.

Justin Thomas
  • 23 years old
  • 4 PGA Tour wins
  • 0 major top-10s
Jon Rahm
  • 22 years old
  • 1 PGA Tour win
  • Has participated in three majors

Lastly, if Anthony Kim still played golf and he didn’t win a major by now, he’d lead the list. No one golfed their ball harder.

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Andrew Tursky is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX. He played on the Hawaii Pacific University Men's Golf team and earned a Masters degree in Communications. He also played college golf at Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. Tal

    Apr 15, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    It’s not like we’re talking about the best players without a triple double here. There are only 4 majors per year, so there’s no surprise that many haven’t won one.

    The reason this title fit for Sergio is because his game and otherworldly abilities showcased how hard winning a major is. He alone (after Monty’s retirement) held the title of best player without a major. DJ and possibly Day were in the same conversation but not at the same level as their time felt like it was still coming. Sergio was always knocking on the door but never made it across the threshold. No one else on your list or any other list comes close to this status.

    Maybe your main classification should be players who have had the opportunity (or multiple) to win one but let it slip through their fingers. For example, Poulter came 2nd in The Open, but he didn’t push Harrington or really contend so I don’t think he belongs anywhere near this list and that is me speaking as a European RC fan.

  2. pk2015

    Apr 14, 2017 at 6:16 am

    Poulter??? C’mon… He folds on Sunday when it’s time to close the deal. He’ll never win a major much less keep his card. Web.com here’s your newest recruit. Oh and the “who’s the most overrated player” poll they did with the pros was spot on about him and not Rickie. Rickie will win a major.

  3. Forsbrand

    Apr 13, 2017 at 10:57 am

    I’ve said it time and time again, this list or the the Question Who is the best player not to have won a major?” Is totally useless. IF you are good enough to win a major you would have won one. People that come top ten in majors are consistent but maybe they’ve played out of their skin to finish top ten. You could have Rory or Phil play average and still top ten.

    When john Daly won his first major he was head and shoulders above the rest of the field, a seriously naturly talented player, probably never knew how good he actually was at the time maybe.

    • Devilsadvocate

      Apr 13, 2017 at 5:28 pm

      Strong disagree… there have been PLENY of players good enough to win a major that never won one. There are so many variables through 72 holes it’s ridiculous. Your basically saying the winners of majors are the only ones good enough to win majors. If that was the case then why did they even hold the competition? Was Sergio “not good enough” to win unroll this masters? Then he magically he came good enough? No he was always good enough it just didn’t happen until this year. To say he wasn’t good enough before is incorrect IMHO

      • Forsbrand

        Apr 14, 2017 at 11:47 am

        Sergio always plenty good enough on paper but lacked patience he is now a major winner. Look at Greg Norman should have won far more majors and was beaten by chip ins or holed bunker shots maybe or maybe he just finished poorly or pressed self destruct button (happened on at least two occasions in the masters).

        Occasionally we’ll see surprise major champions, calcavechia and clink to name two guys who were consistent but got lucky ( Greg Norman gifted it to calc and Watson gifted it to cink)

        It’s ok to disagree

      • The Real Swanson

        Apr 15, 2017 at 2:31 am

        Garcia has openly said perhaps he wasn’t good enough, particularly around Augusta, but a change in personal circumstances has made a big difference to him.

        • Forsbrand

          Apr 15, 2017 at 9:32 am

          Absolutely feeling sorry for himself he gave this interview a few years back. But getting is life / golf balance right means now he is a serious major winner.

          Always plenty good enough but a poor accepter of missed putts. Best bunker player you’ll ever see!

  4. Bret

    Apr 13, 2017 at 12:31 am

    It’s Monty and it isn’t even close.

  5. Canadian Boy

    Apr 12, 2017 at 11:45 pm

    Well at least u got one right: Rickie Fowler. PR machine, but still only 4 wins to his name. Overrated!

    • KK

      Apr 15, 2017 at 9:52 am

      Why do you care about his PR? That’s for the kids. 4 wins and top 5 in every major before age 30 is a very good PGA career. If Rickie can get two majors in the next 15 years, he will be in the HOF.

  6. Devilsadvocate

    Apr 12, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    Your personal bias is showing on some of these. Rickie has a weird swing so he doesn’t belong but Ryan Moore having a weird move makes him a savant? Lol c’mon now…

    • Chester

      Apr 12, 2017 at 10:40 pm

      This article should be titled “Guys who I think will win a major”.

  7. The Real Swanson

    Apr 12, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    Monty and Westwood are the only valid ‘belongs’ in this list due to length of career, number of tour wins and number of near misses.

    All the others are either too young, their time may come, generally actually aren’t that good, I’m thinking Poulter and Donald, or their majors performance is too poor. How does someone with T9 as a best major performance even get into this article.

    Shank off a cliff into a volcano.

  8. Kisner's caddy's calves

    Apr 12, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Biggest “shank” article of the year …

  9. Brian

    Apr 12, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Hope Luke Donald can turn his career around. Such a pretty swing and a decent guy to boot.

  10. Tom54

    Apr 12, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    Maybe being on the list of best not to win a major not such a bad thing in the long haul. List of 1 time major winners is full of people who never fulfilled expectations after finally getting a major. I agree with wondering about Ian Poulter on the list. Never recall him even contending in a major. Westwood and Montgomery for sure were on that list. I would prob put Fowler and Matsayama as ones to want to quickly get off that list asap

  11. Brian

    Apr 12, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Maybe watch the Ryder Cup some day?

    • Steve

      Apr 12, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      Why? Pretty much all those guys are playing (and winning/contending) on the PGA Tour every week, not the European Tour… You’re kind of proving his point…

      • The Real Swanson

        Apr 12, 2017 at 6:50 pm

        He said Europeans not European tour players. I agree that these days the European tour is generally second rate, mostly due to it all being on Sky. No one watches any more.

        • Steve

          Apr 12, 2017 at 8:14 pm

          He clearly meant European Tour players.
          “Q school failures are stars over there”
          “Why should a player should have won a major playing weaker fields and slower greens”
          “Face it, someone has to win the “beneath Web.com” tournament they just get world record points for traveling.”
          Everything clearly points to him talking about the European Tour, not European players in general…

        • Forsbrand

          Apr 16, 2017 at 3:56 am

          Sky really is second rate, I blame the loss of The British Open / The Open from BBC to Sky as the reason less people play or follow golf 🙂

  12. Tourgrinder

    Apr 12, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Lee Westwood isn’t just a questionable putter. He’s a fairly awful putter when the pressure gets ratcheted up. On top of that, he has a mediocre chipping and short game. He’s always been on leaderboards because of tee-to-green game. Nice guy, but he’s never going to win the Masters or any other major with a game so suspect around and on the greens. Ian Poulter? If it wasn’t for a couple Ryder Cups where his putter suddenly started channeling mid-60s Jack Nicklaus, it’s possible nobody would even know exactly who Ian Poulter is. Paul Casey — (not an American hater, btw!) — has game to win any major. Ian Poulter has a good agent and very good publicity guy.

    • Jack Nash

      Apr 12, 2017 at 12:52 pm

      “Fairly Awful Putter”? I think you’re giving him too much credit.

      • Forsbrand

        Apr 13, 2017 at 11:04 am

        Ha ha ha love that call!

        Can’t believe some folk believe Westwood and Monty. They had there time and either didn’t take advantage of the situation or we’re just beaten by a much better player, or of course as Tom Watson would say, just lost their bottle.

        RC doesn’t mean anything it’s matchplay, no score card, so until there is a major with matchplay features then it doesn’t count for anything.

        • The Real Swanson

          Apr 15, 2017 at 2:43 am

          I fully agree that ultimately they are both poor under pressure, but Westwood was in the fifth from last group last week, so ‘had their time’ (you had a typo), isn’t completely true in his case. I also agree with your earlier comment that these sort of articles are meaningless.

  13. Dat

    Apr 12, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Trash list.

  14. Mike Honcho

    Apr 12, 2017 at 11:24 am

    No one golfed their ball harder than Anthony Kim. That may be the funniest golf related statement I’ve ever heard. Well outside of people thinking Tad Fujikawa could ever make it to the show or Michelle Wie’s parents signing her up for men’s events.

  15. Jamie hall

    Apr 12, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Webb Simpson needs to be added to worst golfers to win a major list

  16. TCJ

    Apr 12, 2017 at 11:19 am

    The only thing missing from this terrible article is listing Bryson DeChambeau as “belongs”.

  17. Matt

    Apr 12, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Agree that this article is pretty awful. Totally incoherent at times. Mentioning Jon Rahm has a monkey on his back (or will soon) in the opening paragraph. What on earth is this guy talking about. “No one golfed his ball harder.” Who talks like this?

  18. Gordy

    Apr 12, 2017 at 10:17 am

    If I were to honestly evaluate this list and say that none of these are elite golfers in my opinion. Rickie and Lee are the only ones who have the talent with some career accomplishments that make you scratch your head and wonder why they haven’t won. Sergio was in my opinion the last great golfer who couldn’t win one.

  19. Bob

    Apr 12, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Lol. You say media members shouldn’t make arbitrary lists but then you go and do the exact same thing. Just because you are asking the incredibly vague question of “How surprised am I…?” doesn’t make your list any better than the others. You are all over the board with your logic too. Bringing up how nice a guys swings is and if they exceeded your personal expectations for them are two of the worst ways to judge someone. You also give credit to some guys for having wins on both tours but not Fowler. Just terrible.

  20. Jonny B

    Apr 12, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Casey and Poulter? You have to be joking. One glaringly obvious neglect: Monty. Dude belongs at the top of this list.

    Kudos for mentioning Kim. I followed the dude in a couple tournaments and still remember he hit it amazingly. Like Tiger-esque.

    Now you know what would be really fun… let’s have a list of worst players with a major. My picks: Keegan, Bradley, Willet. Ready set go.

    • God Shamgod

      Apr 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Agree on Monty. He was an exceptional player who just couldn’t get it done. I think Westwood will end up the same.

      Worst major winners? Bradley and Willet aren’t in the top 10.

      Beem
      Micheel
      Ian Baker Finch
      Larry Mize
      Lawrie
      Grady
      Steve Jones

  21. Desmond

    Apr 12, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Poulter is kind of done. Hot putter in RC and flashy tartans does not make for a potential major winner.

  22. Keith

    Apr 12, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Colin Montgomerie and it’s not even very close.

    • Bob

      Apr 12, 2017 at 10:25 am

      It’s best current golfer… I thought this was obvious.

      • Matt

        Apr 12, 2017 at 10:56 am

        Its clearly not just best current golfer… Ian Poulter is on the list. And if it was best current golfer without a major the author thinks Matsuyama is the best player in the whole article, but for some reason doesn’t belong. The criteria in this article changed with every player.

        • Steve

          Apr 12, 2017 at 1:04 pm

          Matsuyama “doesn’t belong” because he doesn’t have enough major championship experience YET. Reading is your friend…

          • Matt

            Apr 13, 2017 at 8:37 pm

            Pal… sorry you can’t understand complex points. If you want to call that complex. Its highlighting that there was no criteria for the article. The fellow who I replied to stated “best current golfer.” The author states Matsuyama is the best player on the list, yet doesn’t belong… because he’s too young. Ok… so best actively playing golfer is not the criteria. Sooo best resume who hasn’t won one I presume??? Nope Monty can’t be on the list because its best current golfer. Ok, back to square one. Whats the criteria?

        • Bob

          Apr 12, 2017 at 1:29 pm

          Poulter still plays on both tours. I’m not agreeing that Poulter should be anywhere on the “Belongs” list but he’s still playing at least.

  23. Steve

    Apr 12, 2017 at 9:03 am

    Andrew Tursky,

    Your credibility as an editor is questionable for even mentioning Ian Poulter as a BELONGS!!!

  24. Steve

    Apr 12, 2017 at 8:54 am

    Paul “I hate America” Casey hasn’t won on the PGA Toir since 2009 and has 1 win in 208 PGA Tour tournaments. He doesn’t belong on any “best of” list.

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Gear Dive: USC head golf coach Chris Zambri on the challenges that will come with the new NCAA rules

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In this Special Edition of The Gear Dive, USC Men’s Head Golf Coach Chris Zambri discusses his thoughts on the new NCAA mandates, how to get recruited, and the pros and cons of recruiting can’t-miss superstars.

  • 9:55 — Zambri discusses thoughts on new rule
  • 17:35 — The rule he feels is the toughest navigate
  • 26:05 — Zambri discusses the disadvantages of recruiting a “can’t miss” PGA star
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A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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