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How difficult is it REALLY to play NCAA Division I Men’s Golf?

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This article was written in collaboration between Brendan Ryan and Estefania Acosta. To research more on the subject of college golf from these authors, please check out their book, The College Golf Almanac, that is now for sale on Amazon for $19.99.

Just about every client I work for wants the same thing — to play Division I college golf. While I never discourage anyone from pursuing this dream, it is my job to recommend the college that best fits the client from a golf, academic, and social standpoint. So, while it would be nice for all of my students to play at a DI school, it just simply isn’t possible. In many cases I am stuck with the unenviable task of explaining to junior golfers and their parents why they may not be Division I material.

The fact of the matter is that recruits and their families have a hard time understanding how few opportunities actually exist in Division I golf, particularly for men. Only 298 Division I schools have men’s golf teams, most of which will take an average of two players per recruiting class. This means that there are only 596 Men’s Division I roster spots offered per year.

Those chances seem slim, but they get even slimmer when you take an international perspective into account. According to the European Golf Association, there are 47,178 male junior golfers in Germany, 47,333 juniors in Sweden, and 8,478 juniors in Denmark. Add almost 150,000 juniors in America and the juniors from the fifteen-plus other countries I left out, and those 596 spots are significantly harder to land than most people realize.

Because of the ever-increasing amount of prospective student-athletes, coaches need an efficient means to quickly seek out juniors and evaluate their performance. Enter the Junior Golf Scoreboard (JGS) and World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), the most accurate ranking systems for junior golfers around the world. Coaches often use these two systems as a way to quickly examine potential recruits. The JGS and WAGR gather data from junior golf tournaments to provide an objective look at how players perform and where they rank with their fellow competitors.

Junior golfers and their parents should pay attention to these rankings to understand the level of performance they need to play at a DI level. Extensive statistical analysis of the JGS and WAGR rankings of players on the JGS list of 2016 Early Signees could tell you exactly how good you need to be. But nobody wants to do that. It is tedious, daunting, and takes far too much time. Luckily, I did all of that dirty work for you.

So you want to play Division I men’s golf? Here’s how good you need to be:

Recruits from the Top 25 Schools

I split my analysis into three sections of group data, first analyzing the top 25 schools, then the top 26-100, followed by the top 101-150 schools, the top 151-200 schools, the top 201-250 schools, and the top 251-298 schools. Beginning with the top 25 schools, I used data from Golfstats’ Top 25 college teams from the end of the Fall Season. There were 67 players signed, 58 of whom were from the United States and 11 of whom were international players.

In terms of geography, the most recruits in the United States were either from California (12), Florida (6), and Texas (5). Of the 58 American signees, 33 of these players were recruited in-state, 8 were recruited regionally (schools in states near where they live), and 17 were recruited to non regional out-of-state schools. The international students were from Denmark (2), Philippines, Australia, Norway, Sweden (2), France, Thailand, Ireland, and South Africa.

As far as statistics go, the average JGS class ranking was 89.45 and the average WAGR was 533. While this may seem fairly cut-and-dry, these averages do not paint a full picture of the players recruited to the top 25 teams. There are some outliers.

For example, there was a vast discrepancy in the rankings of players. Although the player with the lowest JGS class ranking was an Oregon recruit from California with a ranking of 5, the highest ranked player was a UNLV recruit from California with a ranking of 406. Although a Norwegian player who was recruited to Texas had the lowest WAGR rank at 87, the player with the highest WAGR was a Thai player ranked at 2256 who was recruited to San Diego State. This player drastically skewed the data; if we took him out then the average WAGR would be 349.57.

Schools ranked in the top 26-100

The second tier of recruits I studied were from the next 75 best Division I men’s golf teams. 139 players were signed, 113 of whom were from the United States and 26 of whom were from international countries.

Out of the 113 American players, 67 signed to in-state schools, 23 signed to regional schools, and 22 signed to non regional out-of-state schools. The 26 international players were from Costa Rica, Chile, New Zealand (2), Australia (5), Scotland (2), Malaysia, France, Germany, England (4), Spain, Thailand (2), and Canada (5). One of the Australian signees was also a transfer from a junior college.

The average JGS Class ranking was 191.36 and the average WAGR was 858.09. But again, we see these statistics influenced by outliers. For example, the lowest ranked player on the JGS was a South Florida recruit from Florida who was ranked #1, while the highest JGS ranking was a University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) recruit from Alabama with a ranking of 1072. The lowest ranked player in the WAGR is a South Florida recruit from Chile with the #7 rank, while the highest ranked player had a WAGR of 2071 and was a Canadian player recruited to Colorado.

NOTE: The sample size of international students registered with the WAGR was too small and showed too much of a discrepancy to take into account for the rest of the teams in this study. 

Schools ranked in the top 101-150 

70 players were signed to the 50 next best schools. Two of the signees were transfers from junior colleges. Of the 63 players that were from the United States, 34 went to in-state schools, 18 went to regional schools, and 11 went to non regional out-of-state schools. The 7 international players were signed from Sweden (2), Canada (2), Japan, Czechoslovakia, and Scotland.

The average JGS Class ranking was 341.77. The player with the lowest JGS Class ranking of 21 was a Pennsylvanian player who signed to Kansas. The player with the highest JGS Class ranking of 1176 was a player from Wisconsin who signed in-state to Wisconsin.

Schools ranked in the top 151-200

63 players were signed to fourth tier of DI colleges I reviewed. Two Junior College transfers were also signed. Of the 54 United States recruits, 27 signed to in-state schools, 16 signed to regional schools, and 11 signed to non regional out-of-state schools. There were 9 international signees from Canada (3), France, Philippines, England (2), the Dominican Republic, and Japan

The average JGS Class ranking was 482.98. The player with the lowest JGS ranking was an Oral Roberts recruit from Oklahoma with a ranking of 41. The player with the highest JGS Class ranking was an Army recruit from North Carolina with a ranking of 1585. 

Schools ranked in the top 201-250

47 players were signed to the top 201-250 Division 1 men’s teams. Of the 43 United States recruits, 19 signed to in-state schools, 14 signed to regional schools, and 10 signed to non regional out-of-state schools. The 4 international students were from Canada (2), Thailand, and Spain.

The average JGS Class ranking was 516.70. The lowest ranked player was a Rutgers recruit from Maryland with a ranking of 132. The highest ranked player was a Temple recruit from Maryland with a ranking of 1547.

Schools ranked in the top 251-298

Only 19 of the final 47 Division I men’s golf schools even had Early Signings to report. 30 signees were recruited, all of whom were from the United States. 18 signed to in-state schools, 7 signed to regional schools, and 5 signed to non regional out-of-state schools.

The average JGS Class ranking was 573.37. The player with the lowest JGS Class ranking was an Xavier recruit from Kentucky with a ranking of 206.

General Statistics

The following are general statistics and totals I found for my entire study. I decided to keep these general statistics until the end of this article. I believe that it they are misleading if you do not understand the nuances of the group statistics that I explained above.

  • Average JGS Class ranking of all DI Early Signees: 364.54
  • Percentage of International Early Signings: 13 percent
  • Percentage of In-State Early Signings: 52 percent
  • Percentage of Regional Early Signings: 26 percent
  • Percentage of Out-of-State Early Signings: 22 percent

Conclusion

Based on my analysis, the highest average JGS class ranking for any section of the top 298 Division I teams was 573. Therefore in my opinion a male junior golfer must be in the Top 600 of his recruiting class to be seriously considered by a DI program.

But when everything’s said and done, it is important to remember that recruiting is not an exact science. The WAGR and JGS are not the be-all-to-end-all. Other factors such as academics, recruiting in-state, or legacy (having a family member attend a college or university in the past) can influence a coach’s decision. My data should only be a benchmark for knowing how well you have to perform to be a Division I golfer. Hopefully you find this information helpful on your journey to be a collegiate athlete.

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Estefania Acosta-Aguirre is a former college coach and player who has won an individual conference championship and two PGA Minority National Championship. She holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in International Business, and is a K-Vest, Flight Scope and Putting Zone Certified Coach. She is currently pursuing her masters in Sports Coaching at the University of Central Lancashire, as well as finalizing her second book due out in early 2018. You can follow her on Instagram at steph_acostacoaching

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Susan

    Oct 14, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    It is very hard to buy into the WAGR stats given they changed from a 12 month cycle to a 24 month cycle about 18 months ago. That has significantly changed the information as currently who is playing well as it looks at 2 years. That is a lifetime for a junior golfer and now to reach the minimum divisor is over 104 when it used to be around 52. That means that AJGA events (some) invitationals and just a few other junior events and then amateur events are what contributes to WAGR. The AJGA rankings are straight forward and a much better representation of where a player stands, I completely disagree that coaches are watching WAGR for junior recruiting. International players have access to pro events/ elite amateur events and can zip up WAGR quicker than most US Kids. The players that would play toward the top of WAGR are for the most part AJGA players of note. Junior Golf Scoreboard is a good system in that all scores are being shown for each event. To state that only x kids can or are likely to go d1 in the 500’s is kinda short sided. You can have great players that play 25 events a year and a player that plays 6 events a year but played really well have almost the same ranking. As a general rule coaches are not obsessed with rankings. They are obsessed with scores, length off the tee and good putting. They want kids that are ready to go and play at the top level and contribute to the team. You analysis is interesting but the brush is way too broad.

  2. shandy

    Oct 4, 2017 at 8:17 am

    So what you’re saying is that you have to be among the top 600 of your class to garner one of 596 roster spots. Really crunching those numbers, eh?

  3. Riley

    Oct 3, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    Should probably be noted that this is not about gaining a full or even partial scholarship, that number is much smaller. Not all players are on scholarships, the number of available scholarships are not like football or basketball. This is simply to be recruited as a team member.

  4. D

    Oct 3, 2017 at 2:33 am

    D1 scholarships are out there in their hundreds, problem is kids want to play in places like Florida. Having played D1 for a time my conclusion is that their are tournaments all over the US, every week, winning scores at each tournament are in the mid 60’s, seriously good golf but the kid shooting 78 78 78 78 still finishes top 30 out of 100 guys, hailing from Europe my experience of D1 golf was such. The good guys were ridiculously good but the bad scores were worse then regional u16 events in Europe, guys shooting in the high 80s regularly.

    My advise to anyone wanting a D1 school, contact coaches directly, send your swing, your scores and your videos direct, get on their websites and find schools that have a bunch of juniors and seniors. Last but not least schools that have alot of european guys like my team will love to recruit local guys.

  5. HeavyG

    Oct 2, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    While the JGS and WAGR are analyzed,
    Most of us do not understand them. How does that translate to average score or HDCP?

  6. Branson Reynolds

    Oct 2, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    2 recruits a year? Do college golf teams only carry 8-10 players?

  7. Chris

    Oct 1, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Not to mention it’s nearly impossible to walk-on these days. I tried at a D1 school, had tournament scores in the 70s, and was playing my best golf at the time. The coach refused to take any walk-ons, the school just made him have tryouts.

  8. Guy

    Oct 1, 2017 at 1:37 am

    Playing D1 doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good, it means you were good in high school and had the money to play a lot of junior golf (Get a top-notch recruiting resume). I play D2 and know a lot of guys that would be able to play for some top D1 schools.

  9. Rwj

    Sep 30, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Or just identify as a girl. Most div 1 female players can’t break 80

    • Mr. Feel Good

      Oct 2, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      Really? I would love to see your statistics. My guess would be that you could not play division 1 mens golf and thought it would be easier if you were a girl. Thinking that makes you feel better. The only thing stopping you is your gender. God made men and women different. The top LPGA players have never been able to really succeed on the PGA Tour and likely never will. That is not a knock on women but a true comparison in terms of size and strength. The skill is VERY similar.

      Those averaging under 80 on top quality courses would not be a huge number but those who “can’t break 80” would be VERY few.

      • Egor

        Oct 3, 2017 at 12:14 am

        How dare you assume his gender (or.. her.. or.. zee, or it..). If it want’s to identify as a fem and play golf in college on the girls team wearing a skirt to hide his twig and berries – so be it. These stupid schools that cave to that agenda deserve every bit of wrath coming to them.

        When you open the “stupid” door, you never know what is going to walk through.

  10. nicelife

    Sep 30, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    It’s been a long time sine Undergrad. What is a Division I (igloo) / DI vs. a Division 1 (number one), D1 school?

  11. wt

    Sep 29, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    596 spots for the seniors only who want to go college and 150K are the juniors from all ages. So the number should be much less if you only count the senior golfs.

  12. The Dude

    Sep 29, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Wow…someone did their homework

  13. 2putttom

    Sep 29, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    an enlightening article. More complicated than it was three decades ago. This article is something I will use as a reference.

    • matt_bear

      Oct 1, 2017 at 10:23 am

      it got “complicated” when the money got ridiculous. First being the cost of attending college is astronomical, and secondly the money available if you “make it” to pro golf.

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Opinion & Analysis

A road trip to St. Andrews

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In 2017, my son Brian and his wife Lauren, proposed a family trip to Scotland. Both of them have traveled a surprising amount for a couple barely 30 years old, but for us it would be a huge trip. We couldn’t get it scheduled for 2018 but everything lined up for October, 2019, a trip that might even include playing the Old Course in St. Andrews, if we got lucky. The amazing Lauren made all the arrangements, beginning with multiple email exchanges with the staff at the Old Course, who were extremely gracious and encouraging in their communications.

Unlike most other courses, in order to play the Old Course, you have three options: One is to book a very expensive trip through a travel broker who will guarantee a tee time. This is the only way to make your arrangements in advance, but you’re paying thousands for the package, which would include at least three other days of golf. Sounds great but above our budget. Secondly, you can take a real gamble and just show up at the starter’s window the day you are hoping to play, and get in line as early as 3 a.m., put your name on the list and then wait, maybe all day, maybe hopelessly. It’s no way to budget an entire day on your vacation. The third way is to use what is called the “ballot system,” submitting your request for a tee time via email to standrews.com, 48 hours ahead and hopefully getting a spot.

Now, it’s not as grim a prospect as it may sound for planning to play golf in St. Andrews. The above only applies to getting onto the Old Course. We were able to make a tee time for the Jubilee Course, one of six other courses (Jubilee, Castle, New Course, Eden, Strathtyrum, and Balgove), all part of the St. Andrews Links complex, “The Home of Golf” as their brochure proclaims. Since we were scheduling our trip for the tail-end of the golf season, the gentleman from St. Andrews wrote that he was cautiously optimistic we would be successful using the ballot system.

This wasn’t just a golfing vacation, the five us had an outstanding time touring the west coast of Scotland, including the Oban Whisky distillery, the Harry Potter train in Glencoe, Ben Nevis—the highest peak in the UK, Fort William, and the spectacular Highlands, the town of St. Andrews, and finally the marvelous city of Edinburgh. We ended up spending one night in St. Andrews, at The Saint, a lovely four-room hotel, a 10-minute walk from the Old Course. That evening, walking down cobblestone streets, with the R&A clubhouse coming into view, was like walking in a dream.

Our day started out by driving directly to the new Links Clubhouse, which has wonderful views of the courses from the restaurant. We had lunch, and I must admit to being a bit nervous over my chicken bacon mayo sandwich. We’d parked our bags in the locker room down below, it’s just what you’d expect in terms of world-class accommodations and feel. I could just imagine the pros suiting up there as they prepare to play in The Open.

Our day of golf at the Jubilee Course was spectacular, although it got off to a rainy start, but the weather cleared by the fourth hole. Mary, Jill, and Lauren formed our gallery as we teed off, then they went for a walk around the lovely town. I parred the first hole and told Brian that made my entire trip to Scotland. I was on fire, shooting 42 on the front nine but hitting only three fairways and two greens in regulation. Brian shot 45. We’d decided on match play, and I was up by three on the 11th hole. Brian then said the fateful words, “You haven’t hit into a pot bunker all day!” Which I promptly did. My game immediately tanked while he proceeded to make a total of nine pars, shooting 42 on the back, and won the match 2 & 1. Our gallery re-appeared on the 17th hole, the sun was shining, and we were in golf heaven! We ended the day with a pint at the famous Dunvegan Pub by the R&A clubhouse.

Earlier in the day, Brian had received an email from St. Andrews, unfortunately stating that we had not been selected for the ballot to play on the Old Course the next day. He resubmitted our request for the following day with fingers crossed. We headed to our next stop, Edinburgh, looking forward to exploring this ancient yet cosmopolitan city. During our walking tour, Brian received the email notification that we’d scored an 11 a.m. tee time on the Old Course for Friday. He and I would be making a road trip back north while the ladies spent the day in Edinburgh.

It was about an hour ride back to St. Andrews but traffic was quite manageable and we arrived at 9:30, plenty of time for breakfast at the Links Clubhouse. I felt that anticipatory excitement I always have right before marshaling at a big event, like a U.S. Open, where the atmosphere of the place is nearly overwhelming. Not really nervousness, but we were about to play the Old Course! Isn’t that every golfer’s dream? To say Brian was wound up tight would be an understatement, he could barely choke down half a scone. The walk over toward the starters shack, where we would meet our caddies, with the R&A clubhouse right there at the first tee was unreal.

The clerk was so gracious, taking our 130 Scottish pounds green fee (about $160), and handing us a very nice valuables pouch complete with an amazingly detailed yardage book, tees, pencils, divot tool, and scorecard. We were then approached by our two caddies, who between them had nearly 30 years of caddying experience. I got John, whose personality was perfect for me, quiet, calm, not too chatty, yet personable. Brian’s guy, Steve was just right for him as well, right from central casting with a thick Scottish brogue. He instantly bonded with Brian to become his playing partner/coach, which was just what he needed to get over the first tee jitters.

The starter, Richard, approached us as we made our way over to the first tee, greeting us much like you see them do at the start of the Open Championship. He made our presence there seem extra special, despite the fact he’d probably done the same routine 10 thousand times. He even took our picture. We were then introduced to our two other playing partners, both former members of the course, so they didn’t need caddies to show them the way. These guys were hilarious, self-deprecating, with brogues so thick I could understand maybe one word in three, not the best golfers by any stretch, which was somehow quite reassuring and certainly less intimidating. Brian proved to be the best golfer in our foursome by far although he had a rough start, hitting his drive into the Swilcan Burn.

I was really calm on the tee, it helped that there were very few spectators as it was drizzling and maybe 50 degrees. John told me where to aim, (“at that gorse bush off in the distance”) and I was able to do exactly that. As we walked off the first tee Steve said “now you can all breathe again!” I found having a caddy to be such a wonderful added dimension to this whole experience—not just as a guide to point out where in the world I should be aiming on this alien golf layout, but also to set an expectation for me on each shot which I then tried my best to fulfill. The greens weren’t too scary as I felt used to the speeds having played Jubilee, but having John read the subtle breaks and provide aiming points was terrific.

I played bogey golf through the first 12 holes but the rain only intensified and despite John’s best effort to keep things dry, the final 6 holes were a mess. Brian was one up on our match at the turn, then went on to win decisively at 5 up, with a total for the day of 5 pars and a birdie, including par on 17, the famous Road Hole. As the day went on, we found ourselves saying over and over to each other, what a wonderful experience this was despite the conditions. Steve took the traditional picture of us on the Swilcan Bridge, on our way to finishing on 18, which Brian almost parred. He later said he had such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, having conquered the Old Course.

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TG2: Brooks and Peter Kostis rip Patrick Reed

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Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis both talk about Patrick Reed and his cheating allegations. Brooks was on SiriusXM and Kostis on No Laying Up don’t hold back their feelings on cheating. Kostis also has some PGA Tour beef, saying that they don’t care about the television broadcast.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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