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Opinion & Analysis

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

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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The 19th Hole (Ep. 51): Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella on why Phil shoots guns to improve his golf game

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Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella joins host Michael Williams to talk about Phil Mickelson using shooting sports to prepare for the Ryder Cup, and the crop of golf destinations that include 5-star golf and outdoor sports facilities. Also featured are Jason Gilbertson of Winchester and Justin Jones of Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA).

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

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