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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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Opinion & Analysis

Chat with a (soon-to-be) PGA Tour champion: Sam Ryder

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From 2003 through 2008, I had a side job as a high school golf coach for Bishop Moore High School in Orlando, Florida. One of the kids to come up through the ranks during my tenure at Bishop Moore was a young man named Sam Ryder. Now, at 29 years of age, Sam is in his sophomore season on the PGA Tour, qualifying by way of his second-place finish in the standings on the 2017 (then) Web.com Tour.

Ryder played on the PGA Tour Canada in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, he finished fourth in the PGA Tour Canada Order of Merit earning a place on the Web.com Tour for 2016.

In July 2017, Ryder had his first Web.com win, at the Pinnacle Bank Championship, finishing eight strokes ahead of the field. He finished second in the 2017 Web.com Tour regular season rankings to gain a place on the PGA Tour for 2018.

In his rookie campaign on the PGA Tour, Sam had a T2 finish at the John Deere, a fifth-place finish at the Houston Open and a T7 at the Barbasol Championship. He finished the year ranked 101 in the FedEx Cup Race.
This year, despite battling an injury, Sam has a third at the Shriners, a T4 at the Safeway and just last week, a T18 at the John Deere. He is currently ranked 92nd in the FedEx Cup standings and 190th in the World Golf Rankings.

I recently caught up with Sam to chat about his run-up to the PGA Tour and all the various experiences that go along with that.

So, let’s go back to your Bishop Moore days…when I was coaching my last year of vrsity, I think you were a junior. Sean took over your senior year. Curious, if back then, did you aspire of playing professionally?

SR: Generally, yes, I think I always saw myself playing baseball growing up. I wanted to be a professional in Major Leagues. When I turned to golf, I continued the path. I have always thought, “Why put in the effort if you don’t have a means to an end?” Without putting the goal on paper, it was always the end goal: to see how far I can go.

How about your years at Stetson? How did that play into your development as a future PGA Tour star?

SR: Stetson was my only Division 1 scholarship offer, and actually the only school I applied to. I knew I wanted to give golf a shot. Playing Division 1 in Florida was going to give me my best opportunity to get better.

At what point during your rise through the Canadian and Web.com did you really feel like you had what it took to play full time on the PGA Tour?

SR: I’ve always just wanted to see how good I can get. I love the game of golf, so it’s easy for me to work hard. I never knew if I was going to be a failed pro who never made it on tour or make it to number one in the world. But I’ve always been driven by the competitive nature of the sport and wanting to see where I “stack up” so to speak.

What was the most eye-opening part of playing full time on the PGA Tour for you?

SR: I think the biggest challenge of being a PGA Tour rookie is trying to learn all of the new golf courses. Everything about being a rookie on Tour is setting you up to be uncomfortable. Rookies are really behind the eight-ball when they get out there. Until you’re able to get into a routine and develop a level of comfort it’s hard to expect good results. I wanted to stay true to my approach for the most part. I earned my way on the PGA Tour and knew I was good enough based on the success I had on the Web.com Tour. I’m always trying to get better, but I wanted to do it my way, the way that got me there. It’s really easy to try to be someone you’re not when you get on Tour.

You have been in contention multiple times on the weekend and deep into a Sunday, what have you taken as the biggest positive from those experiences and what do you feel you still need to work on in regard to notching that first win?

SR: Biggest positive: playing well in big-time pressure moments. I haven’t really “lost” an event, so to speak. I have come from behind to make a good push. Knowing that when I am in these situations, and the adrenaline is going, I am able to hit the shots and make the putts. It gives me confidence that I am not going to fold in a pressure situation.

Something that everyone is always working on, including Tiger Woods, is to stay in the moment. As cliche as that is, it is a constant struggle to focus on the task at hand. Don’t get too high or low- treat each shot for what it is…

As a PGA Staff Professional with Cleveland/Srixon for several years, I know how great the equipment is with them. What had you join their team as a staff Tour Professional?

SR: I’ve been with Cleveland since I turned pro in 2012-13, they were the first manufacturer to approach me, and I love their equipment from the ball to the wedges and now the irons and driver.

What currently are you and your coach working on?

SR: Having missed significant time due to injury recently, we are just working on a lot of the same things I have been working on, my swing doesn’t change much. Right now, distance control with the irons and wedges is a focus.

Any veteran Tour members welcome you as a new member when you first came out? Kind of show you the ropes.

SR: Former player, Fulton Allem, gave me advice about managing strengths and weaknesses. Some players get so consumed with their weakness that they lose their strengths. Other players maximize their strengths and have awareness and the ability to monitor and play around their weaknesses. That goes along with the importance of staying true to your identity as a player as opposed to trying to be someone you’re not.

Chris DiMarco has been a mentor to me, growing up in the Orlando area. He has been able to provide guidance and support over the past few years, as I navigate my first years on TOUR.

For the most part veteran players as a whole have been accommodating and welcoming and are happy to share knowledge along the way.

So, what’s a typical work week look like for you? Tournament week and non?

SR: Tournament Weeks are pretty consistent…

Monday- is usually a travel day and I make a point to good work out in that day, as it’s a day off from golf Tuesday- I play nine holes
Wed- Pro-am
I go to the gym every day before I go to the course, just to get my body warmed up. Thursday and Friday rounds alternate AM/ PM tee times. I get up three hours before regardless of the time of the round, just to get body ready.

Non-Tournament Weeks…
When I am home, I go to the gym with my trainer, Alex Bennet @ TPC Sawgrass performance center 5/6 times per week. Usually, Monday and Tuesday are days off from golf, to give my body a rest.

I practice on Wed/ Thursday and play money games with other TOUR players on the weekend, to keep my game sharp and prepare for the high stakes the next week. I live less than a mile from the beach, and I enjoy going there to relax. I spend time visiting friends too.

You’ve become somewhat of a fashion icon on tour…what is your take on style and dress on Tour? It seems like a big thing for an observer from this side of the ropes…a way of self-marketing perhaps or standing out from the pack?

SR: I definitely care about my style on the golf course. I’m certainly not afraid to make a little bit of a fashion statement and wear things other players may not be willing to wear. The clothes I wear can definitely contribute to some added confidence, and confidence is one of the most important components to playing good golf.

Curious on your take of the health of golf in general?

SR: I think it’s great. The game of golf is in a good spot. I think Tiger Woods being relevant is massively important to the game, it brings sponsors and more viewers to the game. There is a great crop of young players right now. It is in a healthy, sustainable spot. Jay Monahan really has the TOUR moving in a good direction.

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The 19th Hole: Gary Player, Irish ambassadors talk Open in Northern Ireland

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Hall of Famer Gary Player returns to the 19th Hole to talk about the Championship, his record and his favorites to win this year. Also features Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall and Northern Ireland Consul Director Norman Houston.

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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TG2: Up early watching The Open Live! SPOILER ALERT!

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Rob talks Knudson into getting up WAY early to watch The Open Championship. Talking about live play, Darren Clarke’s hair, and how Rory started his day. Definitely spoilers, so don’t listen if you are recording!

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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