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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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WATCH: What to do when you’re short sided

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it

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This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!

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