In 1978, Mike Bentley had a dream: build a world class junior golf tour to service young people in pursuit of college golf. That dream quickly became a reality when he started the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA). Thousands of junior golfers later, the AJGA has become the international standard for junior golf with 7,199 members and 120 events in 2018.
This article looks at the 40 years of the AJGA and their important contributions to the development of junior golf, career advancement of so many important individuals in golf, as well as adding to the meritocracy by introducing Performance Based Entry.
The early years: Introduction of Performance Based Entry (PBE)
In 2003, the AJGA made one of their most crucial decisions; introducing Performance Based Entry. The idea was born out of the need to create a more objective and efficient method to fill competitive entry tournament spots by assigning value to finishes in state, regional and national junior golf events.
Under the system, junior golfers earn “performance stars” by having top finishes in both AJGA and non-AJGA junior golf events. Players with the highest number of accumulated performance stars gain entry into most types of AJGA tournaments with a fixed number of performance stars being deducted for each tournament entry. Over time, the number of junior golf events included in the AJGA Performance Based Entry system has grown significantly, providing more equitable access to AJGA tournament entry for all regions of the country.
For players who have not yet had the opportunity to accumulate Performance Stars, the AJGA offers another route to tournament entry. Most AJGA tournaments include an 18-hole Qualifier round, similar to the PGA Tour, that is conducted just prior to the tournament. Because AJGA tournament entry is “performance based,” the top performers (approximately 10 percent) in each Qualifier earn a spot in the tournament that follows. In addition, the top 50 percent of the participants in each AJGA Qualifier earn a minimum of one Performance Star to help with future tournament acceptance.
Career and Advancement and Junior Golf Development
The AJGA has distinguished itself by operating world class events throughout the country. Over the 40-year history of the organization former AJGA juniors have compiled more than 900 victories on the PGA and LPGA Tours. AJGA alumni include Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods, Paula Creamer, Ariya Jutanugarn, Cristie Kerr, Stacy Lewis, Brittany Lincicome, Anna Nordqvist, Inbee Park and Lexi Thompson.
The AJGA has not only had an impact on players, but it’s also offered unique opportunities for members of the golf work force to gain valuable training and mentorship. Notable alumni include: Mark Brazil, Tournament Director, Wyndham Championship; Casey Ceman, Global Golf Director, ANNIKA Foundation; Jeff Monday, President, PGA TOUR Canada; C.A. Roberts, III, President / Principal, OB Sports; Steve Ethun, Director of Communications, Augusta National Golf Club; Peter Ripa, Chief Executive Officer, Farmers Insurance Open / Century Club of San Diego; Ben Kimball, Director of U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Amateur, USGA; Rachel Graves Sadowski, Director of US Women’s Mid-Amateur and Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championships, USGA; Amanda Herrington, Senior Manager of Communications, PGA TOUR; Courtney Jones, Head Women’s Golf Coach, Oklahoma State University; and Stephanie Rogers, Digital Marketing Manager, PGA Tour.
“My summer spent completing the AJGA internship was one of the greatest summers of my life. Not only did the internship provide incredible work experience, professional development and unlimited networking opportunities, it also gave me some of my closest friends and hundreds of unforgettable memories,” said Rogers, who worked with the AJGA as a Communications Manager.
“The AJGA Internship is also very highly regarded in the golf industry. Not many weeks go by that I don’t have someone reaching out because a resume, job candidate or recommendation they’ve received has AJGA experience and it’s caught their eye. If you want it to and work hard enough, the AJGA Internship can jump start your career in a way no other internship can.”
As the AJGA has grown into the juggernaut of junior golf, it has kept kids and the desire to support their development at the heart of the organization. In 2003, the AJGA introduced a unique program to support players; The Achieving Competitive Excellence (ACE) Grant. The ACE Grant provides financial assistance to young men and women who aspire to earn a college golf scholarship through competitive junior golf. The program began in 2003 with 12 juniors.
Ryan Hillstrom of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was the first recipient. In 2015, Smylie Kaufman became the first ACE Grant alumnus to win a PGA Tour event, the Shriners Hospital for Children Open. In 2016 the number of recipients broke the previous record at 206 and overall reimbursements surpassed $3 million.
In 2009 the AJGA empowered juniors to take an active role in supporting their communities through the Leadership Links program. Leadership Links helps develop young men and women by teaching charitable giving skills and service-oriented practices at an early age. This program gives juniors all the tools necessary to donate their time, talent and resources to local charities and the ACE Grant. $2.2 million has been raised through Leadership Links since 2009.
How important is playing time in college if a player wants to turn pro?
One of the great debates among junior golfers, parents and swing coaches is what is the most crucial factor in making the college decision. My experience tells me that many students would answer this question with a variation of coaching, facilities and of course academics (especially if their parents are present).
I would agree that all three are important, but I wanted to explore the data behind what I think is an often overlooked but critical part of the process; playing time. For this article, I examined players under 25 who made the PGA tour and played college golf to see what percent of events they participated in during their college career. In total I identified 27 players and through a combination of the internet, as well as conversations with their college coaches, here are the numbers which represent my best guess of their playing time in college:
Player Percent of Events
- Justin Thomas 100%
- Rickie Folwer 100%
- Xander Schauffele 100%
- Bryson DeChambeau 100%
- Jon Rahm 100%
- Patrick Reed 91%
- Jordan Speith 100%
- Beau Hossler 100%
- Billy Horschel 100%
- Aaron Wise 100%
- Daniel Berger 100%
- Thomas Pieters 95%
- Ryan Moore 100%
- Kevin Tway 98%
- Scott Langley 95%
- Russell Hendley 100%
- Kevin Chappell 96%
- Harris English 96%
- JB Holmes 100%
- Abraham Ancer 97%
- Kramer Hicock 65%
- Adam Svensson 100%
- Sam Burns 100%
- Cameron Champ 71%
- Wydham Clark 71%
- Hank Lebioda 100%
- Sebastian Munoz 66%
Please note that further research into the numbers demonstrate that players like Pieters, Munoz, Clark, Reed, Hicock, Langely, Reed and Champ all played virtually all events for their last two years.
This data clearly demonstrates that players likely to make a quick transition (less than 3 years) from college to the PGA tour are likely to play basically all the events in college. Not only are these players getting starts in college, but they are also learning how to win; the list includes 7 individual NCAA champions (Adam Svensson, Aaron Wise, Ryan Moore and Thomas Pieters, Scott Langley, Kevin Chappell, and Bryson DeChambeau), as well 5 NCAA team champion members (Justin Thomas, Jordan Speith, Beau Hossler, Patrick Reed, Abraham Ancer and Wydham Clack) and 2 US Amateur Champs (Bryson DeChambeau and Ryan Moore).
As you dig further into the data, you will see something unique; while there are several elite junior golfers on the list, like Speith and Thomas who played in PGA tour events as teenagers, the list also has several players who were not necessarily highly recruited. For example, Abraham Ancer played a year of junior college before spending three years at the University of Oklahoma. Likewise, Aaron Wise, Kramer Hickok and JB Holmes may have been extremely talented and skillful, but they were not necessarily top prospects coming out of high school.
Does this mean that playing time must be a consideration? No, there are for sure players who have matriculated to the PGA Tour who have either not played much in college. However, it is likely that they will make the PGA tour closer to 30 years of age. Although the difference between making the tour at 25 and 30 is only 5 years, I must speculate that the margin for failure grows exponentially as players age, making the difference mathematically extremely significant.
For junior golfers looking at the college decision, I hope this data will help them understand the key role of playing time will have in their development if they want to chase their dream of playing on the PGA Tour. As always, I invite comments about your own experience and the data in this article!
Hidden Gem of the Day: Republic Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas
These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We recently asked our GolfWRX Members to help us find these “hidden gems.” We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!
Today’s Hidden Gem of the Day was submitted by GolfWRX member pdaero, who takes us to Republic Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas. The course is situated just ten minutes from downtown San Antonio, and pdaero gives us some excellent insight into what you can expect should you make the trip here.
“My favorite golf course to play, it is always in really good shape. These pictures are from wintertime, which the greenness is still impressive. The course has a ton of fun holes and unique designs, and only houses visible on 4 tee and between 14 green and 15 tee.
The course rating is strong, with a 74.2 rating on a par 71 (7007 yards from the tips), and even from the second tee you get 1.3 strokes.”
According to Republic Golf Club’s website, the rate for 18 holes during the week ranges from $29 to $49, while the weekend rate ranges from $35 to $69.
An interview with State Apparel’s founder Jason Yip
For the past five years, Jason Yip has been building an apparel company that redefines the purpose of golf wear. With a strong background in innovation from his days in Silicone Valley, Yip wanted to reinvent golf apparel to be a functional tool for the golfer.
The other day, I had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Jason Yip about State Apparel and a little about himself. It is not every day that you get to speak with someone who can exude passion through the phone. On this day, though, I could hear the passion Jason has for golf, California, and for State Apparel.
Yip said State Apparel has two major foundations
- Functional innovation
- Social responsibility
Jason loved talking about watching Tiger Woods. However, he watched for something I believe few ever have. How was Tiger wiping the dew and the grass off his clubs, hands, and ball? The answer that Jason observed was that Tiger and others are utilizing their clothing as wiping surfaces. The core of State Apparel is the functionally located wiping elements on your article of clothing. The staple of the brand is their Competition Pants which have wiping elements located on the cuffs, side pockets, and rear pockets.
State Apparel recognizes the need to be socially responsible as a company. This seems to be from Jason’s earlier days of playing golf behind a truck stop in Central Valley, California.
How is the State Apparel socially responsible? Yip identified three ways.
- Production is done in San Francisco.
- Most of their apparel utilizes sustainable fabric.
- Proud supporter of the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance.
Jason’s desire is to provide not only apparel that is golf specific but also the experience that we have on the golf course. A little over a year ago the State Apparel Store and Urban Clubhouse opened on Filmore Street in San Francisco, California.
“I wanted to provide the golfing experience closer to the home of many golfers in the area,” Yip told me.
Among the State Apparel clothing at the store, there is an indoor hitting by with launch monitor. And they have even hosted speaking events with local professionals and architects at the clubhouse.
At the end of our conversation I asked Jason, what would he say to someone who knows nothing about State Apparel, especially those of us not in California?
“State Apparel is a unique authentic brand that is designed specifically for golfers by a golfer. Look at the product because it is something you have never seen and absolutely communicate on what you see or what you have questions about.”
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