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What college golf coaches really look for in a player

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A junior golfer may wonder what he or she needs to do to impress college coaches. There are many factors to recruiting aside from scores alone. Scores and physical ability are always what first grabs a coach’s attention, but it goes far beyond that. There are many good golfers that have good golf swings. If you really want to stand out to a coach, here are some elements that coaches value most.

Maturity

Maturity, both on and off the course, is very important. When a coach watches you play, they aren’t there to see if you shoot under par that day; they have already seen your resume and likely swing videos. A big part of what they are looking for is how you carry yourself on the course. Do you have good body language? Do you overreact to poor shots? How do you handle adversity? How you interact with those around you? These are some of the thing coaches look for, it’s not about seeing what you shoot that day. For example, if you make a double on a hole how you react and bounce back on the next hole carries more weight than the double bogey itself.

Maturity off the course is equally as important. Once you get to college you gain a lot more responsibility than you ever had before. Your parents can no longer wake you up for class and keep track of your schedule for you. The last thing a coach wants to do is babysit. Showing maturity on the course and in the way you communicate and carry yourself will go a long way.

Scores

Scores will always be the most important factor for a coach. You must have proven results that are comparable to the level of play the coach is looking for. It is imperative to understand that there is a big difference between shooting 72 in your local club championship from 5,400 yards (female) or 6,400 yards (male) and shooting 72 in a state tournament from 6,000 yards (female) or 6,900 yards (male).

The bigger tournaments are the first results that coaches will look at and carry the most weight. There are many good junior tours that provide good competition and allow you to show what you are capable of. A few of these are: AJGA, SJGT, PKBGT, HJGT and Golf Week Junior Tour.

Always try to play in at least a couple events each summer from distances comparable to college golf — which is around 6,000 yards on the female side and 7,000 yards on the male side. These distances are the reason many coaches don’t pay much attention to high school results, the length played is too short to really be comparable. To get your name out there for coaches to see you have to play in some bigger events.

Passion and Work Ethic

Scores are a big piece to the puzzle, as mentioned above, but that doesn’t guarantee success at the collegiate level. Coaches want players that are continually striving to improve and that love the game. If you aren’t willing to work hard and get better every day, and you just go through the motion doing the bare minimum asked of you it won’t cut it. Your talent can only take you so far, without hard work you will be passed by your teammates and those you compete against.

If you have a bad stretch and don’t make the lineup the first couple events a coach needs to know you are going to keep working hard and not give in to any setbacks. Coaches want players that want to get better, they don’t want to have to make players work — a player should want to do that on their own.

Mental Toughness

College golf is an incredible experience and is a lot of fun, but it is also very tough sometimes. Competing for a spot in the lineup, balancing school and golf, facing adversity, all these things can be hard at times and it is important a player can handle these situations as they come. Being mentally tough is one thing the best players have in common. No matter how you are playing and how tough it gets the ability to push through and become stronger from the experience is where growth and eventually success comes from. Mental toughness is something that isn’t taught near enough with junior golfers and understanding the importance on being a tough competitor and approaching situations with the right mindset is what separates the great from the good players.

At the collegiate level, and within a team, the physical ability is there. Some are more talented than others, but the real separation comes from grasping the idea of mental toughness and being able to approach the game with the right mindset. For example, college golf in the spring isn’t sunny and 75, more times than not, it’s cold and sometimes rainy.

Which player is going to play better on the day it’s 40 degrees and raining?

  • Player A: “It’s so cold and I’m wet, I can’t wait for this round to be over”
  • Player B: “I’m going to take advantage of these conditions and the fact that my competitors don’t wanting to be out here, before I tee off I already have an edge over my competition”

Regardless of playing ability, I would take Player B ever time.

There is a lot more that goes into choosing a player than just scores. If you have these intangibles, a coach will notice, and it will play a big role in their decision. If you feel like you lack in some of these areas, work on them along with your physical game, and it will help you both in the recruiting process and with your golf game as a whole.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Under the Roof

    Mar 23, 2019 at 8:14 am

    Golf is like life, you don’t always get a perfect lie or play in great conditions. The winners will be the ones who want to be out there when it’s crappy and cold, and are willing to grind it out.

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Squares2Circles: Course strategy refined by a Ph.D.

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What do you get when you combine Division I-level golf talent, a Ph.D. in Mathematics, a passion for understanding how people process analytical information, and a knowledge of the psychology behind it? In short, you get Kevin Moore, but the long version of the story is much more interesting.

Kevin Moore attended the University of Akron on a golf scholarship from 2001-2005. Upon completing his tenure with the team, he found himself burned out on the game and promptly hung up his sticks. For a decade.

After completing his BS and MS degrees at the University of Akron, Kevin then went to Arizona State to pursue his Ph.D. Ultimately what drew him to the desert was the opportunity to research the psychology behind how people process analytical information. In his own words:

“My research in mathematics education is actually in the realm of student cognition (how students think and learn). From that, I’ve gained a deep understanding of developmental psychology in the mathematical world and also a general understanding of psychology as a whole; how our brains work, how we make decisions, and how we respond to results.”

In 2015, Kevin started to miss the game he loved. Now a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, he dusted off his clubs and set a goal to play in USGA events. That’s when it all started to come together.

“I wanted to play some interesting courses for my satellite qualifiers and I wasn’t able to play practice rounds to be able to check them out in advance. So I modified a math program to let me do all the strategic planning ahead of time. I worked my way around the golf course, plotting out exactly how I wanted to hit  shot, and minimizing my expected score for each hole. I bundled that up into a report that I could study to prepare for the rounds.

“I’m not long enough to overpower a golf course, so I needed to find a way to make sure I was putting myself in the best positions possible to minimize my score. There might be a pin position on a certain green where purposely hitting an 8-iron to 25 feet is the best strategy for me. I’ll let the rest of the field take on that pin and make a mistake even if they’re only hitting wedge. I know that playing intelligently aggressive to the right spot is going to allow me to pick up fractions of strokes here and there.”

His plan worked, too. Kevin made it to the USGA Mid-Amateur at Charlotte Country Club in September of 2018 using this preparation method for his events just three years after taking a decade off of golf. In case you missed the implied sentiment, that’s extremely impressive. When Kevin showed his reports to some friends that played on the Web.com Tour and the Mackenzie Tour, they were so impressed they asked him to think about generating them for other people. The first group he approached was the coaching staff at the University of Georgia, who promptly enlisted his services to assist their team with course strategy in the spring of 2019. That’s when Squares2Circles really started to get some traction.

At that point, UGA hadn’t had a team win in over two seasons. They also hadn’t had an individual winner in over one season and had missed out on Nationals the previous two seasons. In the spring of 2019, they had three team wins (including winning Regionals to advance to Nationals) and two individual wins (including Davis Thompson’s win at Regionals). Obviously, the credit ultimately belongs to the players on the team, but suffice it to say it appears as though Kevin’s involvement with the team was decidedly useful.

“One of the things we really focused in on was par 3 scoring. They finished 3rd, 2nd, 4th, and 3rd in the field as a team in their spring tournaments. Then at the SEC’s they struggled a bit and finished 6th in the field. At Regionals, they turned it around and finished 1st in the field with a score of +6 across 60 scores (186 total on 60 par 3’s, an average of 3.10).”

Sample Squares2Circles layout for the 18th hole at Muirfield Village. Advanced data redacted.

Kevin is available outside of his work with UGA and has been employed by other D-I teams (including his alma mater of Akron), Mackenzie Tour players, Web.com Tour players, and competitive juniors as well. Using his modified math program, he can generate generic course guides based on assumed shot dispersions, but having more specific Trackman data for the individual allows him to take things to a new level. This allows him to show the player exactly what their options are with their exact carry numbers and shot dispersions.

“Everything I do is ultimately based off of strokes gained data. I don’t reinvent the wheel there and I don’t use any real new statistics (at least not yet), but I see my role as interpreting that data. Let’s say a certain player is an average of -2.1 on strokes gained approach over the last 10 rounds. That says something about his game, but it doesn’t say if it’s strategy or execution. And it doesn’t help you come up with a practice plan either. I love to help players go deeper than just the raw data to help them understand why they’re seeing what they’re seeing. That’s where the good stuff is. Not just the data, but the story the data tells and the psychology behind it. How do we get ourselves in the right mindset to play golf and think through a round and commit to what we’re doing?”

“Even if you’re able to play practice rounds, this level of preparation turns those practice rounds into more of an experiment than a game plan session. You go into your practice round already knowing the golf course and already having a plan of attack. This allows you to use that practice round to test that game plan before the competition starts. You may decide to tweak a few things during your practice round based on course conditions or an elevation change here and there, but for the most part it’s like you’ve gained a free practice round. It allows you to be more comfortable and just let it fly a lot earlier.”

Kevin is in the process of building his website, but follow @squares2circles on Twitter for more information and insight.

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