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Opinion & Analysis

How good do you REALLY have to be to compete at a high-level in college golf?

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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

Players

  • 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

Players

  • 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.

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Brendan is the owner of Golf Placement Services, a boutique business which aims to apply his background in golf and higher education to help educate players, their families and coaches about the process! Website - www.golfplacementservices.com Insta - golf.placement.sevices Twitter @BMRGolf

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Dan

    Jun 10, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    Great article. As a former college player it’s really eye opening the amount of talent competing for so few spots.

  2. Aaron

    Jun 10, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    It’s shocking to me how many high schoolers think they’re going to play golf at Auburn or Duke just because they start for four years.

  3. Nick

    Jun 10, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    I also believe in being able to play somewhere all the time. I would also suggest looking at competitive Division II schools. I was about a 75-76 average golfer in high school and went to a DII school where we were ranked in the top-10 every year and had chances to win national titles. The competition was great, but I also liked the fact that DII still had a strong focus on academics, which I think is great. We still traveled and played great courses. Personally, if a golfer can’t play for a top-50 team in DI, I would strongly suggest a top tier DII school. I may not have have played against many guys who made it out on tour, but there were still quite a few who played on tour and won that I competed against.

  4. Jack

    Jun 10, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    Agree with everything said except…over 4 years at a school where you play EVERY event, if your team has 10 regular tournaments, a conference championship, regionals, and the national championship, that’s 13 events a year. 52 over four years, not 100+? Are you assuming that the player is playing a full amateur schedule in addition to college golf, or are you counting each individual round as a start? Sorry to nitpick, just don’t want parents or kids thinking a school is gonna have them play in 25+ events over an 8 month season.

  5. shawn

    Jun 10, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    Deer coach. I am a jr goffer an I reely reely luv goff and I wanna play fer u if u giv me a chance. I once scored a 59 an had a hole in 1. I feeel i will be a toor goffer if u giv me a chance to play fer u. thanx a lot.

  6. Tom

    Jun 10, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    sub 70’s in competetion on a regular basis

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On Spec

On Spec: Talking about slow play

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Ryan has guest Rob Miller, from the Two Guys Talking Golf podcast, to talk about slow play. They debate on how fast is fast, how much time should 18 holes take, and the type of players who can play fast and slow.

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

If Jurassic Park had a golf course, this would be it

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I have had the good fortune of playing some unbelievably awesome tracks in my time—places like Cypress Point, Olympic, Sahalee, LACC, Riviera, and a bunch of others.

However, the Bad Little 9 is the most fun golf course I have ever played…period.

Imagine standing on the first tee of a 975-yard track and praying to God almighty you finish with all your golf balls, your confidence, and more importantly, your soul. Imagine, again, for example, standing on a 75-yard par 3 with NOWHERE to hit it beyond an eight-foot circle around the flag, where any miss buries you in a pot bunker or down into a gully of TIGHTLY mown grass.

Sound fun?

I have played the BL9 twice at this point, with the first time being on a Challenge Day in November. It was cold, windy and playing as tough as it can. My playing partners Chris N., Tony C., and I barely made it out alive. I made four pars that day—shot 40—and played well. Do the math, that’s 13 over in five holes on a course where the longest hole is 140 yards.

It’s a golf course that makes zero sense: it’s punishing, it’s unfair, it’s crazy private, and on “Challenge Day,” it’s un-gettable even for the best players in the world. Rumor has it that there is an outstanding bet on Challenge Day for $1,000 cash to the individual that breaks par. That money is still yet to be paid to anyone…keep in mind Scottsdale National has PXG staff playing and practicing there allllll the time. To my knowledge, James Hahn has the lowest score ever at one over. That round apparently had multiple 20-foot par putts.

The Jackson/Kahn team which is responsible for the two big courses at Scottsdale National (Land Mine and The Other Course) were tasked with a challenge by Mr. Parsons: create a 9-hole course with ZERO rules. Take all conventional wisdom out of it and create an experience for the members that they will NEVER forget.

In this video, you will get a little context as to how it came together straight from the horse’s mouth, so I won’t get into that here.

I will end with this before you get into the video.

The Bad Little 9 sits in a very exclusive club in North Scottsdale, most will never see it. HOWEVER, what the idea of it represents is a potential way into bringing more people into the game, making it more accessible, saving real estate, playing in less time and having an experience. Hell, YouTube made short-form content a necessity in our culture. Perhaps the idea behind the Bad Little 9 will inspire short form golf?

I’m in.

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Opinion & Analysis

Hot Drivers: What’s really going on!

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Thanks to the R & A and Xander Schauffele, along with (allegedly) at least three other players we don’t know about yet having drivers test over the CT limit for speed, the golf world has exploded with hot takes on the subject.

Did the players know? Did someone else know? Are OEMs building fast drivers to trick the machine?

I’m not here to make hot takes, I’m here to talk facts and truths about how we got here and how Xander Shauffele (and potentially others) arrived at Royal Portrush with drivers over the CT limit.

First, let me make one thing straight, I don’t believe Xander, or any of the other players, had any idea their drivers were illegal/over the limit. Did they know they had a great driver that performed? Yes, but golf is a game of integrity and like life, in golf your reputation is everything; I don’t believe for a second they thought they were getting a distinct advantage against their playing competition.

How Does This Happen?

Modern driver heads are complex things. The tolerances that the OEMs and their suppliers work with are extremely tight—like aerospace industry tight—one engineer I have spoken to many times has said its actually tighter. You have extremely thin yet strong titanium, moveable weights, carbon fiber, and more working together in a complex geometry. They are built to launch golf balls up to 185 MPH all while maintaining flexibility so as not to explode on impact. It’s not easy to make a good one but the good ones make it seem easy.

A driver face will eventually wear out, its a fact. It can only take so many impacts before it will fail. The number it takes is generally very high, so high that many golfers will switch before failure ever occurs. It is well known within the industry that as drivers are used they actually get FASTER! The fastest a driver will ever be for ball speed are the few balls before eventual failure because of the increased flex happening with the face and the great energy transfer… but where does this flex come from?

OEMs are in the business of distance, and making drivers as long as possible. Thanks to advanced manufacturing, processes, and materials, they can now make drivers right to the limit and truly push the envelope with every single head. TaylorMade, for example, even openly talks about how thanks to the new speed injection on the M5 and M6 drivers, they are building drivers beyond the limit and dialing them back—pretty cool technology if you ask me.

Fast drivers + high swing speed players = a perfect storm for drivers to become hot.

The CT (characteristic time ) limit is .239 with an allowance of .018, meaning the absolute limit the OEMs have to work with is .257. If you get a driver that was measured by both the factory and your tour department and deemed legal at say .255 then you are good to go. But, without daily testing, we dont’t know when this “hot” stage in the driver’s life occurs: 100 balls? 1,000? What if you test before and after a round and it only fails after? No way to tell when it failed, maybe it was after the final tee shot and it was never non-conforming during play, what is the outcome? It’s not like the .003 increase would offer any distinct advantage once you factor in player and environmental factors, but still under the rules it’s a NO-NO.

You could even go the other way when it comes to wedges. I’ve been suggested the hypothesis that you could mill illegal grooves into a wedge beyond the limit but after a single bunker practice session of say 150-200 shots it’s now legal and RIGHT at the limit because of wear. In reality, this CT limit-pushing greatly benefits the regular golfer and allows any players to get the absolute most out of their driver (legally) when they get fit for a new one. Tour players get this same advantage, but because of their swing speeds, the likelihood of then getting to the fastest/hottest point is going to happen, well…faster.

Tolerance, Tolerance, Tolerance…

With so much talk about the tolerances of each head, what about the CT measuring devices? We’re talking about .003 microseconds! One tiny change to the way the test is conducted by the user, or how the machine is calibrated and there will be variance.

It’s the same thing when talking about lies and lofts, if unknown to you, the machine you use is off by a single degree then at least the whole set is “off” which from a players perspective is fine as long as you are seeing the intended results. Unfortunately, when it comes to the rules this could be the difference between a driver passing and failing—that’s a big deal.

What this has exposed and shown the world is that modern drivers really are pushing the limit for all golfers. Does it mean we need a rule roll back or adjustment to the CT variance to get the “hot” driver okayed…OR, does this mean the governing bodies to need put a real clamp down of how and when a driver can be tested and what it really means to “be at the limit”?

There is certainly a lot to discuss on many sides of this issue from player, rules,  technology perspectives, but if one thing is for sure, this really is just the tip of the iceberg to another element of the distance debate.

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