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Opinion & Analysis

Is specializing in golf necessary to get recruited for a college golf scholarship?



The college golf recruiting process is complicated and often causes undue stress on players and parents, resulting in exhausting financial and emotional resources to secure college placement. Throughout the process, players and parents often attempt to better understand how and why certain players are recruited aggressively while others are often overlooked. To complicate matters, colleges appear to be recruiting players younger and younger, creating an urgency for players to play more competitive, regional and national events at an earlier age.

To help parents, coaches and junior golfers in the process, with the cooperation of the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) and Dr. Bhrett McCabe, we created a survey for players participating in the AJGA Senior Showcase in Florida. The goal of the survey was to collect information and to help tailor tools to assist players and parents through the collegiate recruiting process.

The online, optional survey created by Dr. McCabe, the AJGA and myself had 8 questions and was sent via email to participants the week of the tournament. The survey was optional. Fifty of the 71 participants in the field completed the survey and spent an average of three minutes. The survey asked players:

  1. At what age did you first become interested in golf?
  2. At what age did you play your first 36-hole tournament?
  3. At what age did you start the college recruitment process?
  4. What other sports do you play competitively? Please list the sports, as well as the number of years you have participated
  5. To play Division I golf, do you believe you need to specialize in golf?
  6. How many hours (in total) do you think you have spent on the college recruitment process?
  7. How much control do you believe you have over the recruitment process (1= very little, 100=Total Control)

What We Learned about the Participants

In the AJGA Senior Showcase field, the average age to become interested in golf was 9.2 years with 30 percent of golfers starting at 5 years of golf or younger, 54 percent of golfers starting between the ages of 10-14, and 10 percent starting between the ages of 6-9 years old. The average age for the participants first 36-hole tournament was 13.48 years and only 10 percent reported playing a 36-hole event before their 10th birthday. We also know that the average player started the recruitment process early into their junior year and have spent, on average, about 43 hours of time emailing and calling coaches.

What the Data Tells Us

The data highlights that many respondents to the survey were at one-time, multi-sport athletes, and while many started playing young, the average player took a larger interest in golf as they grew older. Nearly 75 percent of the respondents felt it was necessary to specialize in golf to be recruited to play collegiately. In our opinion, this is likely creating a struggle, in that players are transitioning to golf from other sports in their early teenage years, but feel that specialization is necessary for collegiate advancement, particularly in Division I. The perception of successful early specialization only creates greater concern when those that have played longer have early success and separate themselves from the field as compared to those that are learning to play at a prominent level after transitioning in from other sports. When the “optimal recruiting window” is shifting younger and younger, those who do not specialize, but who have enormous potential, may be overlooked, feel greater pressure, or possibly overtrain in order to level the playing field.

Although early commitments often get media attention, there is data to suggest that players still have significant opportunities well into their Senior year of high school. Data collected by reviewing numbers on Junior Golf Scoreboard up to 35 percent of people sign scholarships in the late signing period.

Further, a review of data from previous senior showcases (2013 to present) shows a pattern of winners having opportunities at Major Conference schools with past participants getting opportunities at schools like University of South Florida, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and University of Arkansas to name a few. Overall, since the Senior Showcase concept started in 2012, the AJGA reports a better than 60 percent success rate among all players in these events ending up on a college golf team that next Fall.

Below, please see data on previous Senior Showcase participants, the school they attended and their finish in the showcase.


2016 (Feb)

  • Sebastian Diaz: USF (W)
  • Michael Spinger: Coastal Georgia (T3)
  • Daniel Faccini: Barry University (10)


  • Branden Meyer: South Mountain Comm. College (W)
  • Michael Jura: Stanislaus State (T6)
  • Eric Duarte: South Mountain Com. College (T10)


  • Paul Gunness-Bendetti: Dominican University (W)
  • Sam Yamauchi: Cal State Fullerton (6th)
  • Newport Laparojkit: University of South Carolina Beaufort (10)


  • Colin Hamilton: Oklahoma State (W)
  • Noah Lubberding: South Dakota State (5th)
  • Blake DiPola: Rhode Island (10th)


  • Jeffery Yamaguchi: University of Hawaii Hilo (W)
  • Harrison Frye: Coastal Carolina University (W)
  • Ty Macias: Dominican University (5th)
  • Riley Schank: University of South Carolina Beaufort



  • Elle Otten: University of Colorado (T1, lost in playoff)
  • Audrey Kennett: Elon University (T4)
  • Staesha Flock: Portland (10)


  • Alex Wright: Ohio State (W)
  • Noemie Pare: Barry University (5th)
  • Marisa Hisaki: Northern Colorado (T8th)


  • Hannah Haythorne: Pepperdine (W)
  • Claire Carlin: University of Kentucky (5th)
  • Ximena Name: Newman University (10th)


  • Shu-Lin Lin: Academy of Art (W)
  • Alana Uriell: University of Arkansas (6th)
  • Kirsten Leigh Campbell: Dallas Baptist University (11th)

Although the population data here is small and likely involves more than just one week of good golf, it does demonstrate that strong results in tournaments after the November signing period can lead junior golfers to fantastic opportunities. The data is also supported by other tournaments, such as Doral where former winners Hurley Long and Ivan Ramirez, both uncommitted before the tournament, signed to play major conference golf at Oregon and Texas Tech, respectively.

It is important to note that for the class of 2015, the NCAA changed the rules on contacts — when coaches are initially allowed to text, call and email recruits. Up until the class of 2015, coaches were not allowed to contact players until July 1 between their Junior and Senior years. Now, coaches can contact Prospective Student Athletes September 1 of their Junior Year. This rule has had significant consequences for recruiting; now coaches can look at players in their junior years and senior years concurrently. Before this rule, it was more likely to have coaches take a player late, because they did not know the potential for future recruits. With the new rule, now coaches are more likely to opt out of late players and put money into the younger player. Coaches rely heavily on ranking to determine fit and when two players are ranked similarly, they are more likely to take the younger player who has more room for development.

Early Specialization

The survey also tells us that 72 percent of participants believe that you must specialize in golf to play Division I golf. Of the data collected, this might be the most significant; clearly young people are getting the message that specialization is necessary if they have dreams of playing Division I golf. This message is understandable; as players see information online which perpetuates the stigma that the best athletes are early developers and have experienced relatively linear development, consistently getting better each year.

Early specialization has gained significant attention over the last few years. In a 2013 American Medical Society for Sports Medicine survey, 88 percent of college athletes who were surveyed played more than one sport as a child. Specialization is continuing to increase, however, despite its reported consequences. In a 2017 TIME article about the growth of the youth sports industry, the industry is estimated to reach beyond $15 billion per year and the pressure to secure college scholarships is only intensifying the specialization urgency. Early experiences in the game of golf were fantastic and in efforts to grow the game, exposing players to positive benefits of the game such as sportsmanship, motor learning, and resiliency, can prepare them for life ahead. It is important that we continue to educate and refine resources to maximize the recruiting process and allow those players ready to compete the opportunity to compete at the school that is right for them. Research done by Dr Neeru Jayanthi of Emory University and associates, suggests early specialization in a single sport is one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes in the study who specialized were 70 percent to 93 percent more likely to be injured than children who played multiple sports.

Although some PGA Tour players have significant success at every level like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Speith, many take years to develop their games and represent a comprehensive, longer path to professional success. For instance, I (Brendan Ryan) went to school at Campbell University with PGA Tour player, Brad Fritsch. As a junior at Campbell University in 1998-99, Brad averaged 73.79, which was the 4th best average on the team. As a Senior, he got a half shot worse and averaged 74.32. Today, however, he has played in the U.S. Open, won on the Nationwide Tour, and has earned over $1.2 million as a professional golfer. This story demonstrates that too many parents, coaches and student put emphasis on current results, rather than a commitment to long-term development.

Concluding Thoughts

The data collected in the survey demonstrates participants of the AJGA Senior Showcase are on a very healthy development track which includes playing multiple sports background. Many of these players will go on to play college golf and should be aware with further dedication to the sport have possibilities, if they wish, to pursue golf at the professional level, while others will combine academics and athletics to learn invaluable life skills which will give them advantages as they enter the work force and become tomorrow’s leaders.


Jayanthi NA, Pinkham C, Dugas L, Patrick B, LaBella C, “Evidence-Based Recommendations: Counseling the Young Athlete on Sports Specialization,” Journal of Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, May 2013 5:251-257

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Brendan Ryan, an entrepreneur and scientist, is a passionate golfer who loves his local muni. Armed with a keen interest in the game, a large network of friends in the industry, Brendan works to find and produce unique content for GolfWRX.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. bill

    Mar 10, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    You can’t think yourself into a golf swing… as most adult beginners seem to believe. You gotta start when you are a pre-teen and then play in an organized club environment.
    Even adult athletes from other sports cannot conquer the game with an aged swing. You gotta be hard wired from childhood to make the golfswing a natural part of your neuro-muscular system and brain. Why? Because the golfswing is unnatural for the human body.

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The Wedge Guy: What really needs fixing in your game?



I always find it interesting to watch how golfers interact with the practice range, if they do so at all. I certainly can figure out how to understand that some golfers just do not really want to get better — at least not enough to spend time on the practice range trying to improve.

What is most puzzling to me is how many golfers completely ignore the rationale for going to the range to at least warm up before they head to the first tee. Why anyone would set aside 4-6 hours of their day for a round of golf, and then not even give themselves a chance to do their best is beyond me. But today, I’m writing for those of you who really do want to improve your golf scores and your enjoyment of the game.

I’ve seen tons of research for my entire 40 years in this industry that consistently shows the number one goal of all golfers, of any skill level, from 100-shooter to tour professional, is simply to hit better golf shots more often. And while our definition of “better” is certainly different based on our respective skill level, the game is just more fun when your best shots happen more often and your worst shots are always getting better.

Today’s article is triggered by what we saw happen at the Valspar tour event this past Sunday. While Taylor Moore certainly had some big moments in a great final round, both Jordan Spieth and Adam Schenk threw away their chances to win with big misses down the stretch, both of them with driver. Spieth’s wayward drive into the water on the 16th and Schenk’s big miss left on the 18th spelled doom for both of them.

It amazes me how the best players on the planet routinely hit the most God-awful shots with such regularity, given the amazing talents they all have. But those guys are not what I’m talking about this week. In keeping with the path of the past few posts, I’m encouraging each and every one of you to think about your most recent rounds (if you are playing already this year), or recall the rounds you finished the season with last year. What you are looking for are you own “big misses” that kept you from scoring better.

Was it a few wayward drives that put you in trouble or even out of bounds? Or maybe loose approach shots that made birdie impossible and par super challenging? Might your issue have been some missed short putts or bad long putts that led to a three-putt? Most likely for any of you, you can recall a number of times where you just did not give yourself a good chance to save par or bogey from what was a not-too-difficult greenside recovery.

The point is, in order to get consistently better, you need to make an honest assessment of where you are losing strokes and then commit to improving that part of your game. If it isn’t your driving that causes problems, contain that part of practice or pre-round warm-ups to just a half dozen swings or so, for the fun of “the big stick”. If your challenges seem to be centered around greenside recoveries, spend a lot more time practicing both your technique and imagination – seeing the shot in your mind and then trying to execute the exact distance and trajectory of the shot required. Time on the putting green will almost always pay off on the course.

But, if you are genuinely interested in improving your overall ball-striking consistency, you would be well-served to examine your fundamentals, starting with the grip and posture/setup. It is near impossible to build a repeating golf swing if those two fundamentals are not just right. And if those two things are fundamentally sound, the creation of a repeating golf swing is much easier.

More from the Wedge Guy

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Great debut for Savannah at the WLD opener + Hideki’s driver grip



A great start for Savvy in her second season competing in the World Long Drive Organization! We talk about the whole experience and we also take a look at the Katalyst suit and how our training sessions are going. Plus we speculate why Hideki is experimenting with a putter grip on a driver, thanks to GolfWRX’s Ben and Brian help.

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Opinion & Analysis

The best bets for the 2023 Corales Puntacana Championship



Golfing’s great take to Austin GC this week for the WGC Match Play, but the jamboree makes little appeal as a betting medium as far as pre-event odds are concerned.

Though the event doesn’t contain the likes of Cam Smith and pals from the LIV Tour, most of the world’s top lot take part in a tournament that is great fun to watch but, from my point of view, is only worth jumping in once the group stages are sorted. Good luck if you play.

Instead, we’ll hop off to the Dominican Republic for the Corales Puntacana Championship, where world number 90 Wyndham Clark heads the market.

After making seven straight cuts, and having a better chance of winning last week’s Valspar than the eventual fifth place suggests, he is probably the right favourite. However, quotes of single figures are incredibly short and I’d much rather be a layer of the win than a backer.

The last five Corales champions have averaged a world ranking of around 219th, with 2021 winner Joel Dahmen the highest ranked at 79. Given that and the unpredictability of the coastal winds, this is the chance to get with some bigger prices and progressive golfers whilst the elite play around in Texas.

According to 2018 victor Brice Garnett, this is a second-shot course, whilst previous contenders talk of the importance of mid-long range irons. The course won’t play its full 7600-plus yards, but with little punishment off the tee, those bombers that rank highly in long par-4s and par-5s will have an advantage.

Clearly, being coastal leads us to other clues, and all the last five champions have top finishes at the likes of Puerto Rico, Houston, Hawaii, Bay Hill, Pebble Beach and especially Mayakoba.

Sadly, the last-named Mexican track has gone over to LIV but at least for now it remains hugely relevant, with Dahmen, Graeme McDowell and Brice Garnett with top finishes at El Chameleon. Meanwhile, last year’s winner Chad Ramey, had previously recorded top-20 at Bermuda and fifth at Puerto Rico.

Best Bet – Akshay Bhatia

Full respect to the top lot, but given the recent ranking of the winners, the pair of improving youngsters make obvious appeal given their world ranking of around 280, almost certainly a number they will leave miles behind in time.

Runner-up behind the equally promising Michael Thorbjornsen at the 2018 US Amateur, the highly decorated junior star turned pro after contributing two points from three matches at the U.S victory in the 2019 Walker Cup.

Mixing various tours and invites, the 21-year-old finished a closing ninth at the 2020 Safeway Open before a short 2021 season that saw a 30th at Pebble Beach (top-10 at halfway) and a top-60 when debuting at the U.S Open.

2022 started well with a two-shot victory in the Bahamas on the KFT and whilst he racked up two further top-20s, they were not enough to gain his PGA Tour card.

After the conclusion of the ’22 season, Bhatia’s performances have been improving steadily, with a 17th in Bermuda followed by 45th at the RSM, and fourth when defending his Great Exuma Classic title, and seventh at the second Bahamas event a week later.

49th at the Honda disguises that he was 16th at the cut mark, and his fast-finishing second place at Puerto Rico just three weeks ago is further evidence of his ability in similar conditions.

Latterly, the Wake Forest graduate (see Webb Simpson, Cameron Young amongst many others) missed the cut at Copperhead, but again lost sight of his 21st position after the first round.

In the top-30 after his first round on debut in 2020, he said, “The more experience I can get, the better I can learn for myself,” and that certainly seems the case for a player that should play with a tad more confidence now he has secured Special Temporary membership on the PGA Tour.

Danger – Ryan Gerard

He may be two years older than Bhatia, but the 23-year-old is a novice at pro golf.

Having only played eight times on the Canadian Tour – containing one victory, a third, fourth and eighth place finishes, five times on the KFT – including a career-best third place in Columbia, and four events on the PGA Tour, there is no way of knowing how high the ceiling is for the Jupiter resident.

Take a chance we reach somewhere near that, this week.

It’s a small sample but having qualified for the Honda Classic via Monday Q-school, Gerard opened with a 69/63 to lie third at halfway, before finishing with a final round 67 and sole fourth place behind play-off candidates Chris Kirk and Eric Cole, and one place ahead of Shane Lowry.

That unexpected effort got him into the Puerto Rico Open, where he again defied expectation, always being in the top-20 before recording an 11th place finish.

Last week, he needed better than 54th place to earn his STM to Bhatia’s club, but whilst that proved a bit too much, showed plenty in recovering during his second round just to make the cut.

Gerard’s form is certainly a small sample size, but there is enough there to think he can step up again in this field.

He has that Spieth-type feel on the odd occasion we have seen his play, and he believes he should be here, telling the PGA Tour reporters that:

“But it’s definitely something that I’m not surprised that I’m in this position. I may be surprised that I’m here this early in my career, but I’ve always kind of felt like I wanted to be here, and I was going to do whatever I could to make that happen.”

Others to note – Kevin Chappell – Brandon Matthews

Far more experienced than the top two selections, Kevin Chappell appeals on best form.

Formally 23rd in the world, the 36-year-old has dropped to outside the top 600 but has dropped hints over the last two weeks that he may be approaching the play that won the Texas Open, run-up at Sawgrass, and finish top-10 in four majors.

Since his body broke down in 2018, golf has been a struggle, and he has not recorded a top 10 since the CIMB in October of that year. However, after missing nine of his last 10 cuts, the Californian resident has improved to 29th at Palm Beach Gardens (round positions 84/48/50/29) and 15th at Puerto Rico (47/54/33/15).

Strokes gained were positive throughout at the Honda, and he’ll hope to at least repeat last season’s 15th here, when again coming from way off the pace after the opening round. That effort was one of the highlights from the last 18 months or so, alongside repeat efforts at the Honda (13th) Texas (18th) and Barbasol (21st).

The work after major surgery may have taken taken longer than originally anticipated, but he says he handled the recovery badly. Perhaps that’s now a bad time gone, and Chappell can start making his way back up to where he belongs.

Brandon Matthews makes a little appeal at three figures, particularly on his win here on the Latino America Tour. This massive driver led those stats twice on the KFT and at the Sanderson Farms, and ranked second behind Rory McIlroy at the Honda Classic, when also being top 10 for greens-in-regulation.

He has a way to go on overall PGA Tour form, but Joel Dahmen won after missing six of seven cuts and whilst the selection’s three wins are at the KFT level, he made the cut on his only major attempt – at Brookline – and we all know one mammoth driver that took courses apart from time to time.

Top-10 Banker – Cameron Percy

I looked closely at Aaron Baddeley. The ultimate family man loves a test in the wind and comes here having shown a tad more consistency this year in better class. However, he loses out to his compatriot, Cameron Percy.

The 48-year-old Australian veteran may only have one KFT title to his name, but if we are going to make money out of him, it’s likely to be at one of these coastal ‘opposite’ events.

With top-10 finishes at likely locations such as Bay Hill, Deere Run, Puerto Rico and Panama, Percy’s game is testimonial to his heritage, ranking top-10 finishes aplenty in his homeland.

Best finish in 2021 was a seventh place at Puerto, and he repeated that same number a year later, just three weeks before finishing in the top five at this event.

2022 saw Percy mix with higher grades when eighth at Sedgefield and whilst he missed the cuts at both the RSM and his home Open, he was lying 29th and 25th after the first rounds respectively (6th after round two in Oz).

This season has seen just two cuts from five starts, but there is relevance in a 12th at Honda, and a closing 16th last week at Innisbrook, certainly enough to believe that he can carry on a solid Corales record of two top-eight finishes over the last two outings.

Recommended Bets:

  • Akshay Bhatia – 33/1 WIN/TOP-5
  • Ryan Gerard – 50/1 WIN/TOP-5
  • Kevin Chappell – 90/1 WIN/TOP-5
  • Brandon Matthews – 150/1 WIN/TOP-10
  • Cameron Percy – 9/1 TOP-10
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