The American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) is a breeding ground for college golfers; according to its mission statement, the AJGA is a “nonprofit organization dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf.” Some of the best juniors in the country/world collect at AJGA golf events to compete, hone their competitive skills, and also to showcase their talents to college recruiters who use AJGA scores, finishes and performances to evaluate prospective student-athletes. They also pay a lot of money to play in these events — this particular 54-hole event cost $295 entry fee (plus any travel, lodging and practice rounds).
Name a player on the PGA Tour, and chances are he played in AJGA events as a junior… Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, whoever you can think of really. Even yours truly, the GolfWRX Editor, once upon a time played in AJGA events. But that was over 10 years ago now, and I wanted to revisit an AJGA event to see how things have changed.
So, recently, I went to the AJGA Junior at Forest Lake presented by Tom Holzer Ford in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to cover the event. Below are my takeaways.
1) Treated like Tour players
Each of the players are given individual lockers with their names on them for the week. I’ve always been a change-the-shoes-in-the-parking-lot kind of guy myself, but this is a nice touch.
2) It’s official
Like most professional events, the AJGA events have tents, waters, granola bars, tees, scorecards and pencils on the first tee. And they announce your name/hometown, which is always intimidating.
As a popular junior golf organization, the AJGA attracts a number of big-name sponsors.
But the most important sponsor is Care for the Course. These kids hit pretty much every green, so repairing ball marks on the green is crucial.
4) College Coaches do show up
During the first round of a random AJGA event in Michigan, there were a number of college coaches on site, representing DI, DII and DIII colleges. While that does mean added pressure for the 12-18 year old kids, it also means that playing well in these events could very well land you a scholarship. After talking with a few of the college coaches, however, it’s often positive body language even after a double bogey that can really impress coaches. Juniors, keep that one in mind.
5) Push carts, or carry bags?
By my estimation, about 70 percent of the competitors used pull carts. Back in my days of AJGA golf, it was rare to find 1 or 2 juniors using push carts. Why the change? Well, it seems kids have smartened up. Speaking with a few competitors, it seems they prefer push carts over carry bags because it adds additional space for water bottles, scorecards, weather gear, umbrellas, and it’s easier on your body during long rounds.
6) Yea, these kids are good
16-year-old Maxwell Moldovan shot a 9-under 62 (and course record) in the first round of the event. He made 9 birdies against 9 pars. Speaking with him after the round, he seemed unfazed by the 62, instead enjoying his position and plotting his first AJGA victory. These kids just have no fear. (Also, live scoring is awesome).
The new course record holder was gaming a mixed iron set of Titleist CBs and MBs (as shown above), and was using custom Titleist SM7 wedges stamped with “M2,” surely a play on his initials. And yes, he’s pro-push cart.
7) The most nerve-racking moment in the round
Have you ever shot a great round in a tournament, then been nervous you’d make a stupid scoring mistake and get DQ’d, so you go over your round multiple times to confirm the scores? I know I can’t be alone.
8) Tough track
The quirky, par-71 golf course measured just 6,283 yards on the scorecard — AJGA employees estimate most events are played between 6,800 and 7,200 yards — but many of the holes seemed to either take driver out of the players’ hands (although they typically hit driver anyway), or at least made hitting driver very difficult.
Plus, they had pins tucked pretty good. After the round, participants estimated the greens were running at about a 12 on the stimp, and one player said “the greens were some of the hardest I’ve putted on all summer.”
Also, painted dirt inside the cups goes a long way to making the tournament feel more official. I thought they painted cups white so the TV cameras could better see where the hole is, and as far as I know this AJGA event wasn’t televised, but hey, it looks cool.
9) Keeping up
The AJGA keeps players moving, timing them on a number of holes at “timing stations,” and handing out warnings for slow play. Enough warnings and the group gets reprimanded with a penalty stroke. There’s not nearly as much leeway out here as on the PGA Tour… they do actually hand out penalty strokes, and the participants seemed well aware of that.
10) Cross-hand putting grips
Everyone out there was using a cross-handed putting grip. Literally, everyone I saw was putting cross-handed.
11) Rules officials
Like any big tournament, rules officials swarm the course. This kid hooked his tee shot up against an outhouse, and resolved the situation with a volunteer and a rules official. As soon as he hit his shot, he asked to make sure “Are we still on pace?” That’s the timing stations doing their jobs.
Parents can be seen all over the course, following their son/daughter, grinding over each shot just as hard or harder than the players themselves.
“I’m holding up OK, but my husband might have a heart attack,” one mother of a first-time AJGA participant told me. The pressure is real out there for everyone involved.
13) And that’s all she wrote
Here’s who should be the four U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s picks based on analytics
After the PGA Championship, the U.S. Ryder Cup team solidified 8 of its 12 players on the team. Now, captain Jim Furyk will have to decide who the other 4 players will be to join the team. In this day and age of advanced data analytics, it is imperative for the U.S. team to utilize an analytical approach. The European team has used advanced analytics in recent Ryder Cups, and they now field one of the best European squads of all time. Any advantage that the Europeans have that the U.S. team can counter would behoove Furyk and his chances of being a winning Ryder Cup captain.
Normally, captains have sought out players that have played well right before the Ryder Cup. This is a sound strategy. My statistical research on the subject is that most players reach peak performance for about four events in a row. Then their performance inevitably dips to a degree before eventually they hit peak performance, again.
The golden rule is that 80 percent of a player’s earnings in a season come in about 20 percent of the events they play in. Thus, if a player earns $2 million and plays 25 events in a season there’s a good likelihood that he earned $1.6 million of that in just 5 events.
These trends show that picking a hot player is fairly important. However, the issue is that Furyk has to make 3 of the picks by September 3rd and the last pick by September 9th and the Ryder Cup starts on September 28th. Thus, it’s very plausible that a player who is picked because they are playing great golf may cool down a bit by the time the Ryder Cup is being played. Therefore, finding a player with a hot hand is not quite what it is cracked up to be. But, I would recommend staying away from players that are playing miserably. History has shown that a hot player that is selected is more likely to perform better at the Ryder Cup than the cold player that gets selected.
There are some simple statistical rules to follow for optimal picks:
- Seek out quality performers around the green as it helps most in the Foursome (alternate shot) and individual match play format.
- You want birdie makers and quality performers on each of the holes (par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s) for the Fourball (best score) format.
- Ryder Cup experience doesn’t mean anything if the player is a poor Ryder Cup performer.
- All things being equal, take the younger player.
- Lean towards the player who fits into both Fourball and Foursome formats over the slightly better player that only fits well into one format.
A good way to start to determine what picks you need is to understand your current team. Here are the rankings in key metrics for the top-8 players on the U.S. team (rankings based out of 205 players):
The top-8 players compile a good driving team that drives the ball effectively thru hitting the ball a long ways rather than being deadly accurate off the tee. One of the best attributes the top-8 has is that they are a very good Short Game team (median ranking of 40.5). They are also pretty good from the Red Zon (175-225 yards), but are better from the Yellow Zone (125-175 yards).
The top-8 has dominated par-4’s (median ranking of 11.5) and par-5’s (median ranking of 20) while being good on the par-3’s (median ranking of 44.5). They also make a lot of birdies (median ranking 27th).
It should also be noted that Brooks Koepka’s data could probably be thrown out since it was skewed by him coming off an injury and he is clearly a different and much improved player in recent months. Koepka has typically been one of the better putters on Tour and a pretty good Red Zone performer.
The potential issues I see is that they do not hit a lot of fairways and have some players with issues hitting shots from the rough which is a bad combination in the Foursome format. Also, Webb Simpson currently stands as their weakest link on the team as he has not played that well in recent months and they will likely need to figure out a way to work around him if his performance doesn’t improve between now and the Ryder Cup.
Here are the picks I would recommend making at this point:
This is clearly the easiest pick to make even though Tiger’s Ryder Cup record has not been exactly stellar. Forget about Tiger being arguably the greatest player of all time, his performance has clearly indicated that he deserves to be on this Ryder Cup team. Furthermore, he’s statistically a quality fit in either the Fourball or Foursome format. The only issue I see is that given his age and his back issues, it would be wise to use him in no more than 3 matches in the first two days and even that may be too much for him. But, I would love to see him paired in the Foursome format with a player who hits fairways and can play well from the rough for those drives that Tiger struggles with.
Finau has had 8 top-10 finishes and 2 second place finishes this season. He’s a nice looking fit at the Ryder Cup because he’s a great fit in the Fourball format and a pretty good fit in the Foursome format. In fact, my simulations find that he and Tiger would be a good fit together in either format.
Again, versatility and youth play a key role in his selection. You never quite know who is going to show up at the Ryder Cup and who may get injured. Thus, there’s always a need for a player that fits both formats and can play in ever match if needed. The simulations I’ve ran really like a Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau pairing.
This was a difficult choice between Cantlay, Mickelson and Zach Johnson. The pros for Mickelson is that he has played well in recent Ryder Cups and certainly has the experience. He’s also not a bad fit in the Foursome format and a really good fit in the Fourball format if paired with another birdie making machine that avoids bogeys and plays well on par-3’s (i.e. Koepka, Fowler and Tiger). Zach has been a quality Ryder Cup performer as well and is best suited for the Foursome format. However, he’s not such a bad fit in the Fourball format. He doesn’t hit it long, but he does make birdies (43rd in Adjusted Birdie Percentage).
From a pure numbers point of view, my simulations favor Cantlay. I wish he was better from the Red Zone and from the rough, but he’s still a quality candidate in both formats and has youth on his side. For sentimental reasons, I would pick Mickelson because the simulations such as him and Tiger in the Fourball format, and this will likely be the last time that the two can ever be paired together. The numbers don’t care about emotions, though. And that’s why Cantlay is the pick for now. It would just be wise to wait until September 9th to make the final pick.
Prospective NCAA Golfers, are you ready for September 1? Here’s what you should be doing
In June, I reported changes to the NCAA rules, including new legislation that prevented college coaches from contacting a prospective student athlete before September 1 of their Junior Year. With September 1 just around the corner, the question is: are you ready?
If not, don’t worry. As always, I am here to help you understand the college landscape and find the best opportunity to pursue your passion in college! Here’s what you need to know:
Over time, you are going to hear from some coaches. It is important that students are prepared to talk to coaches. Before speaking to a coach, it is important to do research about their institution; what are the grades required for admissions? How many players are on the team? How much of the student population lives on campus? Know the basics before your conversation.
It is also important that you are ready to answer a couple questions. Coaches are very likely to ask, why are you interested in my school? Tell me about your grades or academic interests? Or, tell me about your golf game? Be honest and remember a passion for the game goes a long way.
Coaches are also likely to ask if you have any questions. Having a couple questions written down is important. If you are not sure what to ask, here are some questions I recommend:
- What is your coaching philosophy?
- What is your favourite part of coaching?
- What type of student best fits in at your university?
- What type of athlete best fits in?
- What are the goals for the golf program?
- How do you determine who play play in your top 5 at tournaments?
- Do you ever take more than 5 players to a tournament?
- What access does the team have to golf courses?
- Is it expected to have your own vehicle?
- Do you do any technical swing work with the players?
- What is your greatest strength as a coach?
- Do you offer academic support, such as tutors for students?
- What percent of teachers have terminal degrees?
- How does my major (X) impact golf? Can I do it and golf?
- Do you support graduates in getting jobs?
- What success do people have getting jobs?
- What success do people have getting into grad schools?
Know the Numbers
With only a couple weeks before September 1, I would recommend you take time and see where you (or your son and daughter) stands on websites such as Junior Golf Scoreboard or Rolex AJGA Rankings. Now that you know the number, consider in several previous articles I have presented how rankings related to college signings. My analysis of the numbers demonstrates that, for boys, the average Division I player is ranked approximately 300 in Junior Golf Scoreboard in their class with a scoring differential of about .5. The average Division II player is ranked about 550 in their class. For girls, it appears that ranking is less important, but there is a strong relationship between scoring differential and college signings. Girls that sign at schools within the top 50 have scoring differentials of at least -3 or better, while the average for any Division I player is approximately 5.
Keep in mind that when you search on Junior Golf Scoreboard for yourself, it will show your ranking overall. This number is going to be much lower for your ranking in your class. Without a subscription, you will not be able to find your exact rank, but I would generally say you can cut the number by about 50 percent to give yourself a fair gauge. So if you are 3750 overall, you are likely close to 1875 in your class.
For many members of the junior class reading this article, they may see that their ranking might be significantly higher than these numbers. Don’t panic; the rankings are over a 1-year period. After a year, old scores drop off and new scores can be counted. Also, on Junior Golf Scoreboard, your worst 25 percent of rounds are not counted. So, you have time to continue to work on your game, improve your ranking and get the attention of coaches!
Do your research
Now that you have an idea about your ranking, start researching. Where did players of similar rank sign last year? What is the rank of that school? What schools are ranked about the same? Answering these questions will require some time and two resources; Junior Golf Scoreboard and Golfstat.com. To find out where similar players signed from last year, go to njgs.com, then under the tab “rankings & honors,” the bottom option is college signees. Click there, and then you can order the signees based on class rank by clicking on “scoreboard class ranking as of signing date.” You will notice that last year, players ranked about 1800 in their class signed at such schools as Kenyon, Glenville, Southern Nazarene, Central Alabama Community college and Allegany college. Pretty good considering these schools have produced a president of the United States (Hayes, Kenyon), and a 5-time Major Championship participant (Nathan Smith, Allegany).
Now that you have a list of schools where similar students have signed, look up the golf rankings of these schools on golfstat.com. The rankings of schools are under the “rankings” tab on the home page and segmented by NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA.
First find out where the school is ranked and then consider schools ranked 5-10 spots ahead and behind that school. Are any of these of interest? Any where you think might sound interesting? Take time and build a list, then send an email to those schools introducing yourself, along with a swing video.
Have a Plan
Regardless if you are a Junior in High School or a Senior in High School, come September 1, remember that there is still time and regardless of what people say, coaches are always looking. For High School Juniors, it is likely that next summer will have a critical impact on your opportunities in college golf, so what can you do over the next 9 months? Where are you missing out on the most shots? Take time, talk to people and develop a plan to give yourself the best chance to succeed in the future. And then, put in the time!
For Seniors, although many might be in your ear saying it’s too late, don’t listen to them. You still have some time. Take a careful look at how you can use the next 2-3 months to improve and prepare for events such as the AJGA Senior Showcase in Las Vegas. Remember that data suggests that up to one-third of players sign in the late period (for all levels) and up to 60 percent of players who compete in the AJGA Senior Showcase in December in Las Vegas, go on to get offers.
As always, if you have any feedback on this article or a story idea, please feel free to reach out to me! I always love hearing from people and helping them connect with schools that meet their academic, athletic, social and financial needs! Best of luck to you, or your son/daughter.
TG2: Would you rather have Brooks or DJ’s career? 30+ more AMA-style Instagram questions
Brooks Koepka vs. Dustin Johnson? All-time favorite driver? Poker chips as ball markers? Editor Andrew Tursky and Equipment Expert Brian Knudson answer 30+ questions from the @tg2wrx Instagram. They also discuss Joe LaCava (Tiger’s caddie) paying off a heckler to go away.
Enjoy the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
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