One of the major complaints I hear from parents is, “schools don’t email my son back.”
In October of last year, I published a story with data from college coaches called “Stop Bothering Me! Why NCAA coaches already get too many emails.” The story demonstrated the overwhelming demand of time coaches need to respond to emails from a melee of people from junior golfers to donors to members of their own administration. That article, however, tells only half the story; the other half is for junior players, their parents and coaches to understand the level it takes to contribute to a NCAA Division I team, which has the potential to make the post season (regional championship). For this story, we examine the college rankings of Oklahoma State and Alabama, who just met in the NCAA match play final, as well as Michigan State. Michigan State, ranked No. 54 in the final GolfStat rankings, was the highest and last team to make the post season after automatic bids.
When reviewing the data, keep in mind that currently 62 Power-5 schools have golf teams. If only the top-54 schools make regionals, after automatic qualifiers, it means that 8 Power-5 conference schools are not going to make regionals. Considering the strength of mid-major schools overall, that makes regionals a tough order.
So, what does it take to play at this level? Let me present some data; the teams, their scoring average per player, their averaged dropped score, the Golfweek rankings of the players when they signed to attend the schools and the average Golfweek rankings of the traveling team. Please note that no international players where included because none where ranked by Golfweek, and I did not want to include the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Oklahoma State (Ranking: No. 1)
Scoring Average: 69.85
Average Dropped Score: 74.13
Players (Golfweek Rank)
- Zach Bauchou (8)
- Austin Eckroat (18)
- Mathew Wolff (36)
- Nick Heinin (31)
- Hayden Wood (55)
- Sam Stevens (26)
- Stratton Nolen (40)
- Brandon Jelley (24)
Overall Average Ranking: 29.75
Alabama (Ranking: No. 6)
Scoring Average: 71.04
Average Dropped Score: 75.92
- Alex Green (70)
- Davis Riley (6)
- Johnathan Hardee (21)
- Ben Fuller (407)
- Wilson Furr (6)
- Davis Shore (3)
- Lee Hodges (Transfer)
Overall Average ranking: 85.5
Average ranking of starters: 9
Michigan State (Ranking: No. 54)
Scoring Average: 72.86
Average dropped score: 76.6
- Devin Deogun (96)
- Dylan Deogun (Transfer)
- James Poit (81)
- Zach Rosendale (436)
- Andrew Walker (44)
- Austin Jenner (93)
- Kaleb Johnson (565)
- Michael Sharpe (170)
- Charlie Green (204)
Overall Average ranking: 219
Average ranking of starters: 212.8
Do you see a pattern? Although the sample size is small, teams who compete at the national level (including playing regionals) need difference makers who in college can average 73 or better. Historically, the data suggests that difference makers usually have scoring differential that is negative, and they are ranked in the top 100-150 in their class. How good is the 20th ranked player in the class? According to Junior Golf Scoreboard, the 20th player in the 2018 class has a scoring differential of -3.92, and the 20th player for the 2019 has a scoring differential of -2.51. Likewise, the scoring differential for the 220-ranked player in the 2018 class is -.14, and the 220th player for the 2019 class is +.18. This means that a player recruited at 20 in the country, who typically ends up at Alabama or Oklahoma State, is about 3.5 shots per round better than a recruit at 220 (which make sense since the data above suggests that Oklahoma State’s average counting score is about 3 shots better than Michigan State).
The simply fact is that coaches need difference makers and it is not getting any easier. Under title IX, most teams are only allowed 8-10 players. In a 4-year recruiting cycle, this means 2 players per year. Being wrong is quite literally a matter of being fired. As a result, you better believe that coaches take recruiting seriously and are carefully weighing all options. For the most part, coaches are likely to prefer not only a negative scoring differential but strong physical ability, sound technique and a love of competition. Occasionally, a coach will take a risk. The data suggests this happens about 1/10 times for a team ranked in the top 100. For example, Casey Lubhan at Michigan State, decided to give Kaleb Johnson a chance because of his power and work ethic. The result? Kaleb is now a as a sophomore is a Big Ten All Conference player. Nice call, Casey! Over time, coaches like Casey who make the right calls are rewarded by making regionals, getting incentives and keep their jobs. However, some many make similar investments and get stuck with a player who does not develop; taking up a valuable roster spot.
For coaches who are in programs where they are held accountable and funded fully, the clear majority are expected to make the regional tournament. The data collected demonstrated to have a chance at regionals, a team must average about 292 or better, or 73 shots per player. Most of the players capable of doing this consistently are going to have junior rankings in the top 100 in their class, with scoring differentials at or near 0. It is important to remember many athletic administrators expect coaches to make at least the regional tournament. Since the best way to do this is recruit talent, data suggests that administrators from nearly all institutions carefully monitor the rankings of signees, expecting coaches to get top talent ranked within the top 100 players in the class (at least).
Beyond the pressure to recruit, it is likely coaches will need to have a strong background in player development. Why? My data suggests that the average AJGA Open boy’s tournament is played from a distance 6849 on a course rating of 71.9. This year’s national championship at Karsten Creek was played at 7460 with a course rating of 77.2. To keep scores the same from junior golf to college, coaches need to make players approximately 5 shots better. Five shots, that’s a lot!
Karsten Creek is not the only hard golf course; for Michigan State to even have a chance to make regionals, they needed to have 4 players per round average about 72 in a tournament schedule which featured places like Inverness, Crooked Stick, Collection River and Ohio State. This means at a course like Ohio State with a course rating of 76.2 and yardage of 7455, you would need to be approximately a +3 handicap to help Michigan State. That’s ridiculous at the best of times; now consider the tournament is in March when the weather can be 40 degrees. Scarlett, 7500ish yards, 40 degrees, and a 73 average?! There are only several hundred players in the world that can do this and Michigan State needs four of them (at least).
If you have a scoring differential that’s not negative, it does not mean that you cannot play college golf. It also does not mean that you don’t have a future in golf. However, it likely means considering schools outside of the top 125 in Golfstat Cup in Division One Golf. When doing the search, if you are serious about a future playing golf, I would encourage you to carefully weigh more than just ranking; find a place where you will have the opportunity to play every event. This will give you 100+ college starts over 4 years, which is likely to provide you a solid foundation in tournament golf to prepare you for the next level.
I hope this article has given junior golfers, their parents and coaches insight into recruiting from a coach’s perspective. Having been involved in college athletics for 15+ years, it has been my experience that college golf is a meritocracy and follows the simple principal; if you are good enough, you will make it. So even if right now your game is not at that level, find a place, work hard and compete. No reason we will not see you on TV someday.
Chat with a Champion: Keegan Bradley
Since bursting on the scene in 2011 as Rookie of the Year and joining a very short list of first-time winners in their major championship debut, Keegan Bradley has been part of the PGA Tour landscape for almost a decade now. It hasn’t always been an easy road for the New Englander, with some down years in 2016 and 2017. He jumped back into the winners circle in 2018 with his victory at the BMW Championship, which also propelled him to an 8th place finish in the 2018 FedEx Cup standings.
I had a chance to catch up with Keegan recently. From his early days to his love of the Ryder an Presidents Cups, we covered a bunch of topics related to his golf journey to this point.
What was your earliest memory of the game? Being your dad is a PGA Professional, I’m sure that he was an early influencer…
KB: I’ve been holding a golf club as long as I can remember. I am guessing I started swinging it around 2 years of age… I used to love going to the golf course with my dad.
When did you realize that golf was “Your Sport” over skiing? As you think back, was there something that sticks out as the biggest influence on your decision?
KB: I was probably a better skier than golfer, growing up in the Northeast. I remember one day, challenging for a title while I was in high school, standing on the top of the mountain, in the freezing cold thinking, ya, I am probably done now, golf it is. I was 16 at the time.
How much did your Aunt (Pat Bradley) play a role in your development as a player?
KB: Aunt Pat has been an unbelievable mentor for me over the years. She has had such a great influence on me and I like to think that we are both very similar. She has taught me the importance of focus and intensity. Not only in competition, but in practice.
Growing up in the Northeast (as I did) golf is very seasonal. What did you do to practice in the winter? Or did you just kind of shut it down for a few months?
KB: I didn’t play and I rarely even practiced in the winter months in the Northeast. I think it prevented me from burning out as a kid. People tell me that it was a disadvantage, I thought it was a huge help! I was on skis all winter and then couldn’t wait to get my clubs out in the spring!
What lead to your decision to attend St. Johns? How important was your College experience in your development?
KB: Honestly, at the time, I just had to go somewhere that offered me a full scholarship. Coach Darby showed belief in me and that meant a lot. Once I started having success, I got offers from bigger golf schools to transfer, but I stayed loyal to Coach, as he did to me. To this day, my best friends are the guys I played golf with during my college career. We all still hang out together today.
Obviously, a rookie year like yours must have been a dream. How did it feel to not only be Rookie of the Year in 2011 but to also join the likes of Willie Park, Sr. and Francis Ouimet as one of only 4 players in the history of the game to win in their debut in a Major?
KB: It was a complete whirlwind, I started out trying to figure out how to keep my PGA Tour card and trying to plan a schedule, to all of a sudden, becoming a PGA Tour winner and a Major Champion. Winning the PGA was beyond a dream, and to be one of only four players to win a Major at their first attempt is something I am very proud of.
I was in attendance for your win at the PGA, I’m curious what you felt was your biggest takeaway from that experience?
KB: It validated that I could play under the most intense pressure and gave me the launchpad for my career.
I was also in attendance at the Ryder Cup in Chicago. Considering the much different outcome of that experience over the win at the Atlanta Athletic Club, what were your take away from that Ryder Cup?
KB: I love team golf and it kills me when I am not on a team now, representing the USA and I can’t wait to get back there. I played some of the best golf of my life, at Medinah and the memories will last a lifetime. Playing alongside Phil, who has become a friend, as well as a mentor was inspirational.
How much do you love the team events?
KB: I love team events. The fact that we play an individual sport, but we can come together and be such a tightknit group, under a crazy amount of pressure is awesome and it is so much fun. I am going to be working very hard to play on the next USA Team!
You have become close with Michael Jordan over the years. What influence has he had on your career?
KB: MJ may be the greatest athlete of all time. I feel very privileged to call him a friend. He has been around during both the peaks and the valleys of my career and he always knows the right thing to say. He is a very inspirational and motivational person and just great to be around.
How big was your win last year for your confidence going into this season?
KB: My win last year was huge for me. It was a validation of all the work I had been doing with my instructor Darren May. It is no secret that I had struggled for a couple of seasons, even though technically, but I was improving and felt good. The way I won and the field I beat to win, gave me an incredible amount of satisfaction and has set me up to keep moving forward.
I asked Jack Nicklaus in his interview (which will post in a few weeks) about the work-life balance for a world ranked PGA Tour Professional. Obviously, it was a different time in his era but how do you manage this as a husband and fairly new father?
KB: I am always learning, and I try to keep as balanced as possible. I love spending time with my wife, Jillian, and my son, Logan, but like any husband/father there is a need to work in order to provide. I think I have just got better at structuring my practice, so that I am more efficient with my time.
What are your feelings on the overall health of the game? From both a professional and recreational standpoint?
KB: I think the game is in a GREAT place right now. Tiger is back and that is huge for our sport, add to that the great young players contending each week and the personalities we have on the PGA Tour and internationally, I think we are in a great position to grow the game.
What is your advice for a young golfer looking to pursue a career in golf? Either as a player or club Professional?
KB: I will always advise all children to play as many sports as possible, have fun, don’t take it too seriously too early or you will burn out. You have to make the game fun. Once you have made the decision to pursue golf, work hard. You need to make sure that when you are done for the day, that no one else you are competing with, could have out worked you. It is a mindset more than anything. Golf is a very competitive industry, but there are many ways to get into it. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again!
Lastly, what in your opinion is one way we as an industry can bring more people to our game?
KB: Make it fun and make it more affordable for the masses. Encourage 9-hole competitions; time is one of the biggest barriers to entry for golf, as a sport.
The Gear Dive: Sacks Parente Golf
In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist Golf, Johnny chats with longtime club designers Steve Sacks and Rich Parente on the old days with Callaway, Goldwin Golf, Carbite and the new endeavor Sacks Parente.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
There’s a major omission in Brandel Chamblee’s list of the 10 best seasons in men’s golf
Brandel’s list is great, but he’s missing a BIG one…maybe the BEST one. Earlier this week Brandel Chamblee, whom I respect and enjoy, tweeted a list of the top 10 years in men’s golf.
The ten best years in men’s golf.
Tiger 2005 https://t.co/I9ZqGH03E1
— Brandel Chamblee (@chambleebrandel) June 25, 2019
It’s a great list and one that was very well thought out. However, there is one season that is missing, and in my opinion, it could go down as one of the top 5 of all time, if not the best: Tiger Woods’ 2008 season.
Yes, the year he played only the first half of the season
Before the trolls start to engage, let’s look at all the facts…
Tournaments worldwide: 7
Wins: 5 (Dubai, Torrey, Bay Hill, Match Play, U.S. Open)
Top 5s: 7
Scoring average: 67.65
*also won the Tavistock Cup
So, let’s put this in perspective, the guy teed it up eight times total (including the Tavistock). He won six times. His worst finish was fifth. He came from behind to win in Dubai, Bay Hill, and the U.S. Open. The only tournament that he didn’t really have a chance to win was the Masters, and frankly, if he makes any putts at all he wins that too.
He dealt with serious left leg and knee injuries all season; having arthroscopic knee surgery two days after the Masters, hurrying his comeback, and suffering stress fractures in his tibia and continued ACL issues. AND TW also revealed in 2010 that he injured and re-injured his right Achilles tendon multiple times throughout 2008.
In regards to the competition: Phil, Ernie, Padraig, Sergio, Westwood, Adam Scott, and many others were in their primes and gunning for him harder than ever before. Keep in mind that from 2005-2007, Tiger won 21 times in 52 starts on the PGA Tour. What would he have done if he was healthy?
Let’s also discuss the moments in this season. The nuclear putt on the 18th at Dubai, the utter dominance at Torrey, the hat throw on 18 at Bay Hill, The absolute smackdown of Stewart Cink in the Match Play final, Tiger’s back 9 on Friday at U.S. Open, Tiger’s back 9 on Saturday at U.S. Open, Tiger’s final round at U.S. Open, Tiger’s playoff vs. Rocco. So, in perspective, he had maybe 20 moments that year that probably land in his top 100 highlight reel.
While you are all taking this in, go to YouTube and watch videos from that year, and I guarantee you will get lost in the countless moments of absolute greatness. What he did in 2000, 2006, 2007, etc was unbelievable BUT what he did in ’08 is truly unworldly.
And, oh yeah, one other thing: Tiger played six times on the PGA Tour, finished second on the money list just $1 million behind Vijay who played 23 times. He was No. 1 in Fed Ex Cup points going into the playoffs….in 6 events.
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