Playing US College golf is a worthwhile goal, whether you reach it or not. At the very least it should help you improve, as making the jump to colligate golf should provide plenty of motivation for practice and training. It helps you be aware of your academic responsibilities as well, given you can’t play (regardless of your handicap) until you meet the academic requirements. So, at worst it’ll facilitate you being a better student and a better golfer than you would be if you didn’t set out to play at the college golf level.
It’s important to mention that there’s more to US College golf than its top flight (NCAA Division I) powerhouses that expect to compete for an NCAA title every season. There are nearly 300 Division I schools. Then there are approximately 200 Division II teams and 270 teams at the Division III levels; there are 174 smaller schools that field golf programs in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Another entry point to college golf is the National Junior College Athletic Association with nearly 200 more teams. The most important aspect of playing golf at the collegiate level is finding where the best fit for your game, academic and athletic goals is. In 2008 there were 12,364 male players at all of these schools combined. This offers opportunities for most top class high school players to play somewhere, if they desire.
It’s important to have clear perspective on what you are trying to do. No one ever successfully climbed Mount Everest by underestimating what it took to get to the summit. While playing for a college team isn’t the same as scaling Everest, it’s not a walk in the park either. If you’re considering playing Division I golf, you need to be good, very good; certainly among the best at the County/State Level and possibly the best on a National Level. Keep in ming that the world of golf is shrinking. Annika Sorenstam arrived at the University of Arizona from Sweden, Luke Donald was recruited from England to play at Northwestern; Adam Scott made it to UNLV from Australia. High Performing NCAA Teams recruit worldwide for ability.
So just getting to Division I is a feat in itself. If your ultimate goal is to play on the PGA/European Tour, earning the chance to play college golf is certainly a key step, however it’s certainly not a guarantee of success at the professional level. By all means aim high, but it’s important to see the whole picture when planning for a future in golf.
How difficult is it to get a US college golf scholarship? Consider some of these numbers from the turn of the last decade:
There are around 163,341 males who play on ‘High’ School Teams in the US.
If we assume a quarter of those are in their last year of School (Seniors), that means there are about 41,000 males in their final year of high school golf. Since most varsity teams are likely to be more heavily weighted to Seniors than Freshmen, the real number is a little higher.
There are approximately 300 schools that play NCAA Division I mens golf.
There are about 3,200 men playing on those Division I teams.
If we assume around a quarter of those are graduating Seniors, that means that each year there are roughly 800 openings for freshmen across all 300 Division I programmes.
So when you do the maths, 0.02% get the chance to move from High School to NCAA Division I golf. Just take that in for a second… That equates to 50 high school golfers competing for every available spot in Division I golf. Confident you’re the favourite to win a tournament against 49 other seriously good golfers?
Fortunately you can stack the odds in your favour. Excelling academically is one. Being able to manage the requirements of competitive golf and academics is not something everyone can do. If you have a proven track record of good grades along with an impressive golf CV, college coaches might consider you more favourably than a player with similar golf accomplishments but a sketchy academic record. Having a great attitude (easy to coach, pleasant to deal with) helps as well, as does your ability to interact positively with a team.
So let’s assume you’re a good student, a good person and one of the best players around means you’ve got what it takes to succeed at the colligate level and then ultimately the LPGA/PGA Tour? Think again:
In the 10 year period from 1997 to 2006 only 7 NCAA Division I golfers jumped directly from college golf to the PGA Tour: Tiger Woods, Ryan Moore, J.B Holmes, Jeff Overton, Anthony Kim, Matt Kuchar & Matt Davidson.
In that decade, roughly 8,000 golfers teed it up on the Division I level.
That means that even the best college-aged golfers in the US (a population that includes players from all over the world) have a 1 in 1,150 chance of making the PGA Tour directly from their University programme.
It’s not entirely hopeless. Persistence can pay off. At the conclusion of each season, the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) recognises the top performers nationally in NCAA competition. These players are named ‘All-American Team’. The All-Americans are the ‘All-Star’ Team of collegiate golf. These players are truly outstanding. They represent about 1% of the total number of NCAA Division I players. While the numbers above suggests making the leap from college to PGA Tour is a big one, the size of the leap as an All-American is not as big. As long as they are patient.
For example, through the end of the 2007 PGA Tour Season:
Of the All-Americans from the 1994 to 2003 period, 33% earned their PGA Tour card.
10% of these players have won a PGA Tour event.
4% have won multiple times on the PGA Tour: Tiger Woods, Justin Leonard, Ben Curtis, Luke Donald, Rory Sabbatini, Chad Campbell, Heath Slocum and Aaron Oberholser.
3% have competed in the Ryder Cup: Tiger Woods, Chris Riley, Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink, JJ Henry and Luke Donald.
1.5% of these players (3/2006) have won a professional Major: Tiger Woods, Ben Curtis and Justin Leonard.
So there’s light at the end of the tunnel. However, the ‘tunnel’ is more critical than the light itself. While pursuing your dreams of professional golf is noble, the reality of how difficult it is to reach such a lofty goal requires that you make choices that serve not only your golf interests, but your development as a student and a person as well. Spending a decade or more of your life doing everything you can to be the best golfer you can be is a wonderful undertaking providing that in the process you gain a good education, broad life experiences and you build sound relationships. In that case, when the time comes and you realise that for all your best efforts, professional golf is not going to be your path, you can take pride in the journey and make a smooth transition into the next phase of your life.
If you sacrifice your education, life experiences and relationships in the pursuit of glory, chances are the transition won’t be as smooth and what should be a sense of accomplishment for your efforts will instead be a sense of failure - not only for falling short in golf, but of selling your life outside of golf short in the process.
Even though golf might be the most important thing in your life, and it’s an important factor in deciding what you do with yourself after school, a golf scholarship athlete is a student first & an athlete second.
This is as it should be. Studies show that the quality of post-secondary education and training that you receive directly influences the quality of your life. Where you go to college and what you do while you’re there is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life.
So find time to prepare properly for your Academics. Be the athlete college coaches know they will have few problems with academically.
Once you get to college and start playing golf, your free time will disappear between practice, travel and academic demands. One solution is to spread your course work over 5 years.
Don’t be shy! Tiger Woods never had any problem getting noticed when it came to getting a golf scholarship, but most golfers aren't in that category. Even if you’re a very good player, you have to remember there are a lot of very good players out there. It’s up to you to make sure you get noticed. Apart from playing well at key events, this can include creating a resume and cover letter that details your golf background and sending it to schools that interest you.
Don’t leave it too late - the results of the season heading into your second to last year at school (Junior) as well as the results that following summer are highly relevant to golf coaches, and by this time you should have a good idea about which schools might be a good fit for you academically and athletically.
Don’t lie to yourself or potential coaches. If you are a good but not great player based on past results, don’t waste your time or anyone else’s focussing on going to the University of Georgia or Oklahoma State or one of the other powerhouses. Look at your game, look at your results, consult people close to you and focus on colleges that are a good fit.
Don’t lie 2 - it’s tempting to dress up your playing resume to look a little shinier than it is, BIG MISTAKE. If coaches are serious about you, they will check the information you provide them. The fastest way for them to drop you out of consideration is to find out you exaggerated your results.
Make sure you know what you are getting into. You are permitted 5 on campus visits, paid for by the college, before you decide to attend. Use those visits to narrow your choices.
Approach recruiting services with caution. They are expensive and some are better than others. Do your research, talk to those with good and bad stories to tell. Find one that has a proven track record in golf, and be aware that some college coaches don’t look favourably on athletes recommended by recruiting services.
What do recruiting services do? For a flat fee they help you find a collage for you, they market you to coaches and schools that might not automatically be on your radar. This can be helpful, but it’s always wise to ask yourself a key question: Why do I need this service?
I’m bias on this front as I consult for Pro Dream USA as their Analysis and Performance Manager. I do this to help young golfers get to where they want to be and I certainly wouldn’t be involved with a company that had nothing other than the best interest of the Player and their families at heart.
Lastly, be persistent. You are likely to hear some NO’s before you hear a YES!
First, understand what a scholarship really is. It’s not free money. It’s a grant you receive from the school to offset the financial burden of enrolling there. Just because you get an athletic scholarship, doesn’t mean you get an academic one too.
Your scholarship is based on performance on the course and in the classroom. Just because you’ve got one doesn’t mean it can’t be revoked if you don’t meet the standards of performance in golf and academics.
Don’t expect to get a ‘full-ride’. NCAA Division I men’s golf programmes have a maximum of 4.5 scholarships to award. NCAA Division II have up to 3.5 & NCAA Division III don’t offer scholarships based on athletic prowess. There are typically 12 players on each team. Even highly regarded 1st Years (Freshmen) are extremely fortunate to get more than 50% scholarships. Some players receive NO scholarship money.
Schools are not permitted to pay for visits home at Christmas and other times of the year when flights and travel are expensive. Keep that in mind when mulling over the offer from that school in Hawaii.
What does this mean? You may need to pay Thousands in addition to the scholarship money you receive. It’s not uncommon to graduate with an accumulated student debt of TENS OF THOUSANDS or more.
Women’s teams have as many as 6 scholarships to grant because of equality provisions put in place by Title IX legislation.
Just because you make the team, doesn’t mean you play. Five players usually are included in the ‘traveling team’ for each tournament. Those spots are awarded by the coach based primarily on team qualifying results. If you don’t perform, you’re staying at home - that shouldn’t be a surprise as a golfer though…
If you do get an offer of a scholarship, make sure you understand every aspect of it. Ask for a detailed written breakdown. Ask questions - how much will you be responsible for and how much will the school be responsible for? Will you need a car at the school? Are there any hidden costs?
Not all college golf programmes are run by coaches in the traditional sense. Most college coaches expect their players to arrive on campus with solid games and encourage recruits to continue their relationship with the coach that got them to the college level.
College coaches have many responsibilities beyond your golf game. College coaches are required to recruit top athletes and plan and execute competitive events while otherwise supporting their athletes.
If you aspire to be a high-performance golfer, it’s your responsibility to have a coaching influence and support team focussed on skill development and personal growth.
Who Should Apply?
For Division I; Outstanding competitive golfers that have a playing resume showing they can qualify for and perform at top events at a 0 handicap level/73 Stroke Average or better.
Those with solid results: NCAA coaches look at organisations like the AJGA, USGA and National Golf association events to prove that you match well with other top golfers.
Those with sound mechanics, athleticism and playing skills; effective practice habits and razor-sharp scoring games, advanced mental skills and emotional control.
Solid students with good study habits with a burning desire to earn a college degree.
People with good attitudes, strong character and have have the ability to make the transition from school to college life and can cope with the challenges it brings.
The 5 Keys to College Golf
You must meet academic entrance requirements with appropriate grades and SAT scores and a school CV that is approved by the NCAA Clearing House. Ask an appropriate professional for advise on this.
The early signing period for high school golfers is in the November of you final year at school. That means you must be ‘scholarship ready’ by the end of your penultimate year a school. If you are not on a scholarship path by your Sophomore year (your second to last), you are behind.
With the right coaches, who have a good grasp of coaching people, not just swings and be a regular at the right tournaments if you want to be someone college coaches are looking for.
Play because you love the game and you want to explore its limits. Having college golf as a goal should reflect your desire to test your skills against top competition and enrich your college experience.
By the age of 16, golf needs to be your No.1 Sport and the only one in which you are investing the bulk of your time and energy. This means other sports and activities need to be put aside.
I hope the above has provided a useful insight into what’s involved with becoming a Collegiate Golfer. Please feel free to get in touch with either myself or the rest of the Pro Dream Team if you would like to pursue a Placement.
Thanks for reading!
Oliver C. Morton
The Leading Edge Golf Company