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College Golf Search: Don’t count out Division III just yet

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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.

Prior to the formation of Division III athletics, the NCAA was split into two divisions. Larger, more funded schools were placed into what is now considered Division I, while smaller schools that wanted less expensive, but still competitive athletic programs were grouped into the “College Division.” This division split in 1973, with colleges who wanted to continue giving out athletic scholarships being placed into Division II, and colleges who chose not to offer athletic scholarships being placed into Division III.

The absence of athletic scholarships from DIII schools is what sets it apart the most from DI and DII. Because of this, Division III colleges offer smaller, very limited athletic programs. At these colleges, athletics teams are non-revenue-generating, extracurricular programs that are barred from using endowments or funds whose primary purpose is to benefit the athletes. While this can seem constraining to many, it is not necessarily a reason to discard DIII schools from a junior golfer’s search for a college team. DIII programs can still offer a fulfilling athletic experience at a comfortable level of competition for golfers who are looking to play for a team, but wish to direct most of their focus towards academics or other aspects of their college experience.

Just as with Division II men’s teams, top Division III men’s teams still play at a high level. The average scores of the top 5 and 25 Division III teams are a respectable 72.79 and 74.36 strokes per round, respectively. These scoring averages stay consistently in the 70s until around the 50th best team that has a scoring average of 80.14 strokes per round. For the next 50 or so teams, this number stays relatively consistent, with the 100th best team shooting an average of 80.52 strokes per round. While these numbers certainly aren’t anything impressive in the grand scheme of college golf, these players are still performing well above-average for their division, better than some DII programs, and in some cases better than bottom-tier DI programs. Following the 100th best teams, there is a steep drop off of the average scores of teams. The the 150th best team holds a scoring average of 82.39, while the 200th best team shoots a whopping 88.84.

Despite the fact that some teams are far more skilled than others, true competitiveness of DIII golf lies mostly on an individual level. For example, three Division III players have placed in the Golfstat Cup Top 250. The Golfstat Cup compares all college players’ scoring averages versus par regardless of division level. The #96 player from No. 2 UT Tyler has a scoring average of 71.43, the #139 player from No. 1 Huntington has a scoring average of 71.44, and the #168 player from No. 5 LaGrange holds a scoring average of 71.27. If these players are considered the top collegiate golfers in the country and out-performing DI and DII players alike, DIII golf is clearly nothing to disregard.

If you are interested in being recruited by a top Division III school, feel free to take a look at who they are recruiting to see how you match up. Once again, I took a look at this year’s 2017 List of Signees on Golfstat to see how good recruits at the top 25 DIII schools are performing. The average JGS ranking was 750. The player with the lowest ranking of 150 is a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps recruit from California, while the player with the highest ranking of 1768 is a Texas-Tyler recruit from Wisconsin. From this data I gather that a player should have a JGS of about 775 or better to be considered by a top 25 DIII school.

As far as Division III men’s golf goes, a player is only going to get out what he puts in. If he wants to take his game seriously and play at a high level there is certainly room for him to do so. There is undoubtedly a substantial group of superior golfers to compete against and utilizing practice time and team resources will definitely give him the opportunity to rise to their level. At the same time, if a player is looking to add athletics as a non-serious facet of his college experience Division III gives the player the chance to do so. Whatever the case, I would never discourage a player from playing golf at a collegiate level. It is a unique, enriching experience and an impressive feat regardless of college division.

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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

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. D

    Oct 11, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    So do not let academics get in the way of golf and social life?

  2. Bert

    Oct 10, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    Some great schools, Rhodes, Oglethorpe, Huntingdon, Methodist, many more, many super players.

  3. ActualFacts

    Oct 7, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Very informative snippet into the world of college golf for aspiring players looking take their games to a higher level. I played golf at a tiny naia program after high school and I had an absolute blast traveling around and playing.

  4. Billable Hours

    Oct 7, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    I played DIII golf. Miserable trying to balance difficult academics, athletics, and social life.

    • ROY

      Oct 9, 2017 at 10:29 am

      I always heard you can have any 2 of those 3, but not all 3

      • Billable Hours

        Oct 9, 2017 at 5:49 pm

        Fortunately focusing academics and social life in college have given me the opportunity to play a lot quality golf as an adult.

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A shockingly simple drill to hit the golf ball farther

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One of the biggest requests I get on the lesson tee is for more distance. Everyone wants to hit the golf ball farther. Obviously. That being said, there’s many things that go into producing distance, such as…

  • Swing Length — how long is the swing or how long does the club stay in the air before hitting the ball?
  • Swing Width — are you at full extension at during the swing or do you get soft arms?
  • Impact Point — the horizontal and vertical point of contact that influences gear effect, launch, and spin rate.
  • Spin Rate — how much backspin does the ball have?
  • Height — how high is the ball in the air?
  • Launch Angle — what is the angle of the ball off the face during impact?
  • Ball Speed — how fast does the ball leave the blade?

But one thing remains true: if you want more distance, then you must swing faster with all of the above being maximized for your current swing speed. So how do you create more speed? Simple — set up the drill as shown below.

Use between 6-to-10 balls and swing 100 percent all out with no regard for where the ball lands. Then repeat the drill and make your normal speed swing and you will find that your clubhead speed will slightly increase. Do this drill 5 to 10 times per practice session and you will train yourself to swing faster.

However, it’s up to you to figure out how fast you can swing yet maximize the qualities listed above so you can maintain consistent contact.

Remember, you don’t have to get complex to solve your distance problem. Try this first and see what happens!

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Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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Let’s Talk Gear: Frequency and Shaft CPM

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When it comes to fine tuning a golf shaft and matching clubs within a set, frequency and CPM play a critical role in build quality and making sure what you were fit for is what gets built for you.

This video explains the purpose of a frequency machine, as well as how the information it gives us relates to both building and fitting your clubs.

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