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College Golf Search: Don’t count out Division III just yet

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This article was written in collaboration between Brendan Ryan and Estefania Acosta. To research more on the subject of college golf from these authors, please check out their book, The College Golf Almanac, that is now for sale on Amazon for $19.99.

Prior to the formation of Division III athletics, the NCAA was split into two divisions. Larger, more funded schools were placed into what is now considered Division I, while smaller schools that wanted less expensive, but still competitive athletic programs were grouped into the “College Division.” This division split in 1973, with colleges who wanted to continue giving out athletic scholarships being placed into Division II, and colleges who chose not to offer athletic scholarships being placed into Division III.

The absence of athletic scholarships from DIII schools is what sets it apart the most from DI and DII. Because of this, Division III colleges offer smaller, very limited athletic programs. At these colleges, athletics teams are non-revenue-generating, extracurricular programs that are barred from using endowments or funds whose primary purpose is to benefit the athletes. While this can seem constraining to many, it is not necessarily a reason to discard DIII schools from a junior golfer’s search for a college team. DIII programs can still offer a fulfilling athletic experience at a comfortable level of competition for golfers who are looking to play for a team, but wish to direct most of their focus towards academics or other aspects of their college experience.

Just as with Division II men’s teams, top Division III men’s teams still play at a high level. The average scores of the top 5 and 25 Division III teams are a respectable 72.79 and 74.36 strokes per round, respectively. These scoring averages stay consistently in the 70s until around the 50th best team that has a scoring average of 80.14 strokes per round. For the next 50 or so teams, this number stays relatively consistent, with the 100th best team shooting an average of 80.52 strokes per round. While these numbers certainly aren’t anything impressive in the grand scheme of college golf, these players are still performing well above-average for their division, better than some DII programs, and in some cases better than bottom-tier DI programs. Following the 100th best teams, there is a steep drop off of the average scores of teams. The the 150th best team holds a scoring average of 82.39, while the 200th best team shoots a whopping 88.84.

Despite the fact that some teams are far more skilled than others, true competitiveness of DIII golf lies mostly on an individual level. For example, three Division III players have placed in the Golfstat Cup Top 250. The Golfstat Cup compares all college players’ scoring averages versus par regardless of division level. The #96 player from No. 2 UT Tyler has a scoring average of 71.43, the #139 player from No. 1 Huntington has a scoring average of 71.44, and the #168 player from No. 5 LaGrange holds a scoring average of 71.27. If these players are considered the top collegiate golfers in the country and out-performing DI and DII players alike, DIII golf is clearly nothing to disregard.

If you are interested in being recruited by a top Division III school, feel free to take a look at who they are recruiting to see how you match up. Once again, I took a look at this year’s 2017 List of Signees on Golfstat to see how good recruits at the top 25 DIII schools are performing. The average JGS ranking was 750. The player with the lowest ranking of 150 is a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps recruit from California, while the player with the highest ranking of 1768 is a Texas-Tyler recruit from Wisconsin. From this data I gather that a player should have a JGS of about 775 or better to be considered by a top 25 DIII school.

As far as Division III men’s golf goes, a player is only going to get out what he puts in. If he wants to take his game seriously and play at a high level there is certainly room for him to do so. There is undoubtedly a substantial group of superior golfers to compete against and utilizing practice time and team resources will definitely give him the opportunity to rise to their level. At the same time, if a player is looking to add athletics as a non-serious facet of his college experience Division III gives the player the chance to do so. Whatever the case, I would never discourage a player from playing golf at a collegiate level. It is a unique, enriching experience and an impressive feat regardless of college division.

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Estefania Acosta-Aguirre is a former college coach and player who has won an individual conference championship and two PGA Minority National Championship. She holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in International Business, and is a K-Vest, Flight Scope and Putting Zone Certified Coach. She is currently pursuing her masters in Sports Coaching at the University of Central Lancashire, as well as finalizing her second book due out in early 2018. You can follow her on Instagram at steph_acostacoaching

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. D

    Oct 11, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    So do not let academics get in the way of golf and social life?

  2. Bert

    Oct 10, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    Some great schools, Rhodes, Oglethorpe, Huntingdon, Methodist, many more, many super players.

  3. ActualFacts

    Oct 7, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Very informative snippet into the world of college golf for aspiring players looking take their games to a higher level. I played golf at a tiny naia program after high school and I had an absolute blast traveling around and playing.

  4. Billable Hours

    Oct 7, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    I played DIII golf. Miserable trying to balance difficult academics, athletics, and social life.

    • ROY

      Oct 9, 2017 at 10:29 am

      I always heard you can have any 2 of those 3, but not all 3

      • Billable Hours

        Oct 9, 2017 at 5:49 pm

        Fortunately focusing academics and social life in college have given me the opportunity to play a lot quality golf as an adult.

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Instruction

Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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