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Opinion & Analysis

An analysis of junior golf events, and how to build your summer schedule

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Much has been written about junior golf and scheduling. I wanted to go beyond the speculation and carefully examine the data; what does it take to win at the AJGA level? How hard are the golf courses? What are other juniors doing? What is the best advice for building a junior schedule? If you’re interested in these answers, then read on!

To help the junior golfer, their families and instructors, I took the time to crunch numbers behind the AJGA. Here’s what I found when examining the numbers for 2017:

Junior All Stars

For Junior All-stars we found the average winning per round score for boys was 69.97 and the average 10th place score per round was 72.95. The average yardage for these events was 6599 and the average course rating was 73.35. The average grad year of a winner was 2019. This means to win; the average boy had a tournament handicap of approximately +3.

For Junior All-stars for girls, we found the average winning score per round to be 71.1 and the average score per round for 10th place was 74.9. Girls on averaged played courses which were 5751 yards long with a course rating of 71.95. These means to win; the average girl would need a handicap of about scratch in tournaments. The average graduation year of a winner was 2020.5.

AJGA Previews

For Preview tournaments, we found that the boy winners averaged 72.81 per round. The 10th place boy averaged 76.6 per round. The average course was 6484 long with a course rating of 71.77.

For girls we found that the winners averaged 75.6 per round. The 10th place girl averaged 83.11 per round from an average yardage of 5610 with a course rating of 73.08.

AJGA Open Events

The average winning score per round was 69.46. The average 10th place score per round was 72.75 on an average length of 6849 and slope of 71.9. For girls the average winning score per round was 69.36. The average 10th place score per round was 74.34. The average course was 5769 yards with a slope of 70.7.

Note on Junior Girls Golf

In my previous article titled, “In-depth analysis of the early signing period for NCAA Division 1 Women’s Golf,” I note that the scoring differential of the players within the top 40 in the class was -4.01 compared to 9.26 which is the overall average for Division 1 Golf. The data collected here demonstrates these differences; winners at AJGA previews are scoring approximately 8 shots better than the person finishing 10th. While at AJGA Open events the number is closer to 5. This numbers highlight the crop of young talents women who are developing in junior women’s golf.

Rounds Under Par

  • In total there were 1698 rounds under par by boys in 2017
  • In total there were 454 rounds under par by girls in 2017

Please note that when these numbers are compared at random to years since 2003, and then adjusted for the number of events, it demonstrates that junior golf has not really gotten much better over the past 15 years. Instead it is about the same.

Major Takeaways from analysis of AJGA Events

  1. Remember that tournaments are not the only way to test your game; use random practice (and maybe even some responsible gambling) at your local course to simulate tournament conditions and learn to win
  2. Play a reasonable distance day to day: so many young people are playing golf at their home golf course from “the tips.” Our data suggests that 15-year-old boys should be practicing from about 6500 yards, while 15-year-old girls should be playing 5800 yards. 16-18-year-old boys should be practicing from about 6800 yards while 16-18-year-old girls should be practicing from about 6000 yards.
  3. Learn to Break Par: to win at Junior Golf, it is likely going to take the ability to break par (or come very close). Boy golfers serious about playing Division I golf must likely have home course handicaps in the range of +3 or better. This is also the case for girls who want to compete at the highest level of women’s golf. If you play at an extremely difficult course, don’t be afraid to play very short until you are able to shoot in the mid 60’s. Like any skill, breaking par takes time and practice.

I also took time to examine the schedules of 20 junior golfers. I looked at two groups; players ranked between 1-10 in Junior Golf Scoreboard and players ranked 500-510. When looking at the top 10 players in Junior Golf Scoreboard, they played an average of 6.3 events per year/18 total rounds compared to an average of 15 events/30 total rounds for players with an average rank of 505. This data is somewhat misleading because the best juniors are playing a schedule which include major amateur tournaments which are not recorded on Junior Golf Scoreboard and further analysis suggests that they are playing a total tournament schedule of about 15 events per year.

The gap in junior golf between the best players and everyone else is closing; the top 10 players in Junior Golf Score Board accumulated 10 wins, whereas the players ranked 500-510 had 8. Both are breaking par a considerable amount of time and have net scoring differentials at or below 0, making them approximately 72.5 averages or better in tournament golf. The differences to not are the best players are breaking par more often (50 percent of the time compared to 23 percent) and shooting in the 80’s far less (2/188 rounds compared to 30/308 rounds). However, the best players are also making specific schedule; only 20 percent of the top 10 junior golfers played an event in December or January (both played in South Florida), compared to 70 percent of players ranked between 500-510 who often played in worst climates during colder months which often result in poor scores.

The best players play a schedule where they have proper time to prepare for events and rarely play leading up to events. A typical schedule would include an event in February (typically an AJGA Invitational), an event in April (Sage Valley) and then no golf until mid-June or July when the players have had time to finish school and properly prepare for summer golf.

Taking time off is an important distinction in the scheduling of the very best players; they allow themselves time for not only rest but also for digestion of the skills and to build new skills. Too many junior golfers and their families have been taken by skillful marketing that suggests playing tournaments is very important for the scholarship process when the data and feedback from coaches suggest otherwise.

Based on the data collected and my own personal experience, here is some advice for junior golfers and their families trying to build a schedule:

  1. The schedule should have between 8-15 tournaments. It is not important to travel far and if money is tight, put money towards a membership at a course rather than events.
  2. For people north of the Mason-Dixon Line, apply the 2-month Rule; don’t play your first summer tournament until your home course has been open and playable for 2 months and you have played at least 20 rounds.
  3. Quality > Quantity. Choose a schedule which will allow you to not only properly prepare but compete during a time without distractions like major tests.
  4. Use high school golf to build competitive experience. Contrary to myth, almost all the best juniors play high school golf.
  5. Avoid tournaments in December and January; not only is the weather statistically the worst, but new NCAA rules do not allow coaches to recruit off campus during December.
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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

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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Podcasts

The 19th Hole (Ep. 51): Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella on why Phil shoots guns to improve his golf game

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Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella joins host Michael Williams to talk about Phil Mickelson using shooting sports to prepare for the Ryder Cup, and the crop of golf destinations that include 5-star golf and outdoor sports facilities. Also featured are Jason Gilbertson of Winchester and Justin Jones of Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA).

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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