Today the ideal path to the Tour is through the AJGA and college golf through a top Division I Golf Team. This is accepted by just about everyone. It leads parents to spend lots of money and players to work hard and feel lots of pressure to perform in their Junior year in High School. Most players on Tour have taken this route but not all. For most of them, it was the expected path. Is this the best path to your Tour career?
What are Your Goals?
For over 20 years we have worked with hundreds of competitive Junior Golfers and their parents. One of the primary motivators for the parents to spend money with us is gaining a college golf scholarship which could be worth thousands of dollars.
The Junior Golfer always fills out a questionnaire form to start and it asks for their Goals. Over 70% of the Juniors list PGA Tour or LPGA Tour or be Best Golfer in the world as one of their Goals.
Many of the parents understand that pursuing College Golf is the path to reaching the Tour. They feel it is their responsibility to give their child every assist in developing their golf talents to be most successful. Certainly some ego contributes to the dreams of the parents and the child.
High Goals are good, but those “Play on Tour” and “Best Golfer in the World” Goals are really high. Very, very few golfers accomplish such high Goals. Still the dreams are motivating and enable our clients to maximize their talents.
Getting to those Goals is not guaranteed by following the College Golf path. In fact, they may be hindered by playing College Golf. (They could also be hindered by playing for a High School golf team, but that is another article).
When I question pursuing College golf with parents and players, often the response is the College degree will give them something to fall back on if they don’t make it professionally in golf.
In our society, the propaganda or dogma is super strong for getting a college degree. All the statistics say that over your lifetime, if you have a college degree, you will earn more and be healthier, live longer.
This leads many people to go into substantial debt to earn that college degree, which is a burden for many years after they graduate.
There are notable examples of people that do not have college degrees yet are fabulously wealthy or successful, like Bill Gates.
The Degree is No Guarantee of Future Success.
So why college at all? It opens doors. It is a requirement for some jobs. It usually means a higher starting salary. But if everyone has one, then you have to find ways to distinguish yourself from the competition. A masters or doctorate with more expense is one way to do this.
Experience in your field is another. Demonstrated effectiveness in your job history with recommendations from employers is another.
Some Additional Benefits of College
Four or five years to grow and mature. Social connections and experience. Deeper knowledge in your field. Figuring out what you want to do with your life, although this may not happen by the time you finish. A delay to enjoy life as an individual before you have to earn a living? Increased self-respect for completing it. Potential friends for life. Certainly there are more.
Junior Golf Expense is High
The competition is strong and pursuing a college golf scholarship is expensive. Travel expenses, lessons, equipment, tournament fees and all the other expenses of developing and competing, plus the expenses parents generate by interrupting work and home life to support this effort. Attending Junior Golfer Academies takes this expense to another level.
There are no guarantees you will get an offer from any school or a full College Golf Scholarship after spending all that effort and money.
The savings from a Full Ride College golf scholarship may re-coup the Junior Golfer expense but very few get a Full Ride. Most College teams split the scholarship money among all the players. Men’s teams get 4.5 scholarships and Women’s teams get 6 scholarships. Most teams carry 7 or more players to divide this money among.
Many coaches supplement this golf scholarship money with academic and other scholarship money to make their offers more attractive.
You have a lot of competition for those College Team spots and scholarships. Lots of foreign golfers come to this country to develop their games in our College system. They have made the odds of getting that scholarship even worse.
College is One of the Biggest Problems with College Golf
The NCAA and the Colleges have academic standards that you have to meet to stay in school and to compete for the school. This means you have to study and do homework, attend classes and are not free to practice and play as much as you want. Your swing coach may not be nearby when you need a tune-up.
Most people would say just keeping up your grades is hard enough without the added challenges of qualifying rounds, travel to tournaments and missed classes because of away tournaments. The demands of College Golf may be greater than any other sport and you have two seasons each year not just one.
One of the biggest reasons always stated for playing college golf is to get good competition to develop your competitive abilities. For most programs this competitive schedule consists of 4 tournaments in the Fall and 5 tournaments in the Spring plus Conference, Regional and National tournaments if you qualify.
Playing is not guaranteed. Most coaches make you qualify through multiple rounds to play in upcoming tournaments. Only 5 players get to play in the tournaments. Making all the tournaments through your college career is not likely.
Qualifying rounds help your competitive development until you gain that confidence that you can always qualify. Once you gain that confidence, then the benefits of the qualifying rounds drops a lot. Some players qualify really well but then struggle in the tournaments.
Many tournaments are in the format of two rounds on Monday and one round on Tuesday. This format is never used in professional golf unless there is a weather issue but almost never 36 holes on one day.
Aside from the Regional and National tournaments most of these tournaments do not have as strong a field as the many amateur tournaments in the Summer.
Support in Developing Your Game
Another reason often cited for playing College golf is the coaching support and facilities available. Many College golf coaches have a long history and some reputation. This may or may not be deserved in our experience.
Recruiting top talent is key to their reputation. Most top players already have their support team in place. There can be conflicts between this team and the College Coach. Often the College Coach and their assistants have their own ideas and egos that generate conflicts with the player’s team.
The Coaches often press the player to practice in certain ways and exercise with the team at early hours.
The Coaches are pressed by other college faculty and staff to use their services. We have found football conditioning coaches leading the golf team in strengthening exercises. Physical therapists that have most of their experience with the major team sport athletes. Psychology professors that want to do the sport psychology coaching. None of them expert in golf.
Athletic Directors will push the Golf Coach to use those personnel because there is no additional cost to the school.
The NCAA limits the amount of coaching and practice each week and has seasons when you are allowed to get that coaching. They are trying to make sure you have enough time for your studies and no school gets advantage over another by increasing the coaching and budget.
Some Colleges have their own practice facilities and golf course. Others have relationships with local clubs and access to their facilities. This access is nice but you will be limited in how much you can use those facilities either by the NCAA rules or the clubs’ needs. A variety of clubs to play and practice at may be superior to a dedicated facility. The more variety the better you will learn to adapt to any new course and grass, conditions.
Control of Your College Career
When you commit to a College and the Coach commits to you, you cannot leave the program with your eligibility to play NCAA competition without that Coach’s release. If you leave without that release, then you have to wait a full year before you can play for another program. Do you have a year to waste, to lose all of these perceived benefits?
Sometimes you are not able to compete well or effectively your Freshman year and are pushed to Red Shirt or sit out a year, extending your College career to five years instead of four. Is this best for you and the team? Good for your development? No college tournaments during this year. Additional expense?
Let your grades slip below the required average and you will not be eligible to play any competitions.
The Coach determines what tournaments the team plays. Look at the schedule and the teams that will be playing. Are they top schools and top players? Some Coaches are better at lining up good tournaments. Playing in Hawaii and Cabo are certainly fun in the Winter time but not many schools get to do that.
Often Coaches qualify to determine the traveling team at first but then pick favorites and qualify for the remaining spots. Sometimes they simply pick players over those that qualified. These decisions are subjective and can be very unfair. There is nothing you can do about it.
You Cannot Choose Your Team, They Choose You
You may have a favorite school you want to play for but the situation may preclude the coach from selecting you. Or they simply choose others to fill the team. Most Coaches do not recruit a full team each year. They only fill 2-3 spots each year if they have spread out their recruiting. Some Coaches recruit a full team and simply have no spots for several years.
Playing for Southern schools means more playing time and practice outside year round. Getting recruited to play for Northern schools will limit your practice quality and amount. It is not surprising that the dominant schools are located in good Winter weather locations. Of course most good players are aiming for those schools.
If you cannot get into one of the top Division I Schools then all the arguments for playing College golf to develop your competitive golf abilities are reduced. The Coaches may not be as good. The facilities may not be as good. The schedule may not be as good. The support may not be as good as those top schools. The budget will not be as generous.
You will be on a Team
Golf Team is an oxymoron. Golf is an individual sport. You have to make every decision and play every shot. In professional golf there are very few Team tournaments, yet you will spend four to five years in the Team format.
Your teammates are also your competition, yet you are supposed to support each other once you have made the tournament roster.
You may have to deal with others that you do not get along with. It means that you will have to deal with their stuff.
You do not get to choose your teammates. You have no control.
You will suffer their results and they yours. What if the team does not win Conference? What if the team does not make it to Regionals and Nationals?
You will be stuck in this situation and every year new players are added. Sometimes the Coach that recruited you leaves.
Some of Your Competition is Not Taking the College Golf Path or Only Pausing There.
There are examples of players that have not played for a College team and are tops in the World. Justin Rose and Michelle Wie are the top examples.
Justin Thomas played College golf for two years and turned Pro. A top-ranked Junior boy, Akshay Bhatia, is considering turning pro instead of going to College. He is scheduled to graduate high school in 2020. He is dominating in Junior Golf now.
Like tennis has done, the top competitors seem to be getting younger. College delays you four to five years from trying to get on Tour. Are you already very capable?
Playing Well in College does not mean you will make it on Tour
Every year hundreds of good players graduate. Very few make it to the Tour. Very few stay on Tour if they do. The challenges of the Tour life, the expense and the travel are difficult. The competition is deep.
Some Do Not Play Well in College and Still Make it on Tour.
There are examples of players that played poorly in College and still made it on Tour. Paul Azinger had a very poor College career but persevered. You might say College delayed his development.
Tom Lehman graduated from University of Minnesota in 1982, played on Tour from 1983-1985 and then fell off for 6 years. He played around the world and through the Hogan Tour made it back on Tour in 1992. He finally won his first PGA event at the Memorial in 1994. Did College help his golf career? He wasn’t ready to stay on Tour after he graduated. He needed more time to develop. His perseverance was key.
College certainly did not determine Paul or Tom’s success on Tour.
Are you a Good Student?
Academic achievement is still required to get into College. What if you are not a good student or have a learning disability? Then a top school may not be possible.
College is much harder academically than High School. Will you be able to handle it? And work on your golf?
A College Golf Scholarship and a College degree are not required to play on Tour.
So after all that discussion, are you ready to choose another path? Is your Tour goal driving you? Do you really want it? Can you stand to wait to finish College to pursue it? Is it OK that some of your peers may be passing you to the Tour?
Today there are lots of places to play outside of college. You can play on professional tours as an amateur and usually get a discount on the fees. All the amateur Summer tournaments are available. So are the State Opens and National Opens.
You make the choice. Follow the conventional path through College. Overcome all the challenges along the way and then turn Pro and keep climbing.
Or focus all your efforts on your golf and pursue that dream directly. It won’t be easy and lots of people will doubt you. Persevere like Tom Lehman and Paul Azinger and maybe just maybe you will find your place on Tour.
If it doesn’t work out, you can always go to College. When you get your Amateur status back you will be able to play for a College team if you want to. There is no age limit to eligibility. Of course, you will be the old guy or girl on the team by then but so what.