Exploring opportunities to attend college and play golf is an exciting time for any young player. It is important that you’re doing the right things to be noticed by college coaches. We spoke with leading Division I coaches to summarize the 5 takeaways that any player who aspires to college should be doing to improve their chances of selection.
Your academic performance plays a significant part of selection and is paramount to a successful application. There are a number of places that you can turn to for support in this area, so we will not dive into the topic of academics. We will say that one consistent comment from coaches was that they look not only at GPA – they want to understand the habits that drive those academic results. A player who is consistent in their application of effort is as important as the grades themselves, as an indication of the discipline that will flow through to their golf game.
The focus of this article is on the things you can and should be doing to improve your golf to a college level and how to position yourself as an attractive recruit. Selection to a NCAA Division I college is extremely competitive, and you need to find a competitive edge. Here are the top 5 takeaways that from Head Coaches of leading collegiate programmes:
We will start by discussing the numbers behind your golf performance. You need to know the context of your performance in detail, both for your ability to find the right coaches to help you achieve at the required level, and your ability to communicate this to college coaches.
Every player has a unique DNA of their performance. Particular strengths they can rely on, and opportunities that will help them excel if improved. All the coaches we spoke with utilize shot data as a tool to objectively evaluate player performance with their team, and highlighted the opportunity for recruits to communicate performance in this method. Communicating performance in objective terms to highlight your strengths and opportunities, identifying the support you’re looking for from a coach, helps strengthen your application. This helps you identify which areas of the game you should focus on immediately with your current coaches, as well as helping you stand out from the competition in your outreach (see takeaway 4: own your outreach).
How are you currently communicating this information to your coach, and ultimately the college coach who wants to better understand the context of how you perform on the course and in practice? A helpful article on the best tools you can use to gain a competitive edge can be found here. You can register free for a trial with Circles to better understand and communicate your performance.
Knowing your numbers for college is also about the costs involved, a point often overlooked by players when considering their options. For an NCAA Division I team, colleges are restricted to 4.5 and 6 scholarships for mens and womens teams, respectively. Even for the best players in the best programmes, each player is likely to have no more than a 50% scholarship. You need to ensure you know what you’re able to afford, with each college charging different tuition.
If you aren’t familiar with Junior Golf Scoreboard (JGS) and the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), then take note. These are the primary places that coaches will go to evaluate performance prior to talking with a player. While there are strict rules around when a coach can talk to players, there is no restriction on their ability to follow and track scores or rankings. While the recruiting window is small, it’s a year-round activity for coaches.
It’s crucial that you’re competing on an even playing field, with players who are also competing for roster spots, in tournaments that are known to college coaches. If you’ve performed incredibly at a tournament that isn’t known, there is an increased risk in offering you a roster spot. You can alleviate some of this risk, by providing coaches with detailed performance data to help them gain an appreciation of your game (refer back to takeaway 1: know your numbers). Ideally you will travel and compete at nationally ranked tournaments.
Playing at the right tournaments also allows college coaches to visit and scout multiple players. If they have the choice of traveling to see you, or somewhere else to see multiple players, you’ll likely miss out on valuable scouting time. Coaches have a limited window to recruit and you want to ensure that you’re in the locations they’re going to be traveling.
During a competition, a coach will have limited time to watch you as they split their time across multiple potential applicants. They could see you pull together a string of birdies, or have a bad stretch of bogeys. Remember this as you’re playing, as a coach will be looking not only technically at your skill, they’ll also take note of your attitude. Your ability to stay positive, grind through a bad stretch and bounce back will evidence your grit and determination, and ultimately your value to a college team. Play as though there’s always someone evaluating you.
Specifically, understand everything you can about a college programme. You’re wanting to understand the methodology of the coach, the culture of the team, and the fit of the college.
“We spend more time with our players during the course of a season than we do with our families. You want to be around people that you have symmetry with.”
Attending college as a student athlete is an incredible experience during formative years both in your golfing and your personal life. College coaches are motivated to build a strong roster of players, as well as provide an experience for their team which lasts beyond their years of college. Your ability to express why you believe the programme is a good fit for you, and to have that well considered, is an attractive appeal for any college coach. It feeds directly into your ability to own your outreach, which we talk about in the next section.
Two great ways of understanding the team culture, especially with the coach who you’ll be working with for four years, is by talking directly to current or former players, and by attending tournaments where you’ll see the team culture in action.
While there are restrictions about coaches reaching out to players, you, at any time, are able to reach out to any current or former player at the school. If you’re able to connect with them, ideally through a mutual connection, you’ll be able to get a better understanding of what it’s like as a student athlete at the college. The team will be your family through the course of your studies, and it’s important that you’ve done your homework. It’s also seen as a positive from a college coach, that you’ve seriously considered your options and that you’re committed to attending their college.
By attending events, you can observe how they operate under stress on the final day: what are the behaviors of the group? What are the interactions between coaches and players? Is this an environment where you can thrive?
If you can do any of this before you reach out to your prospective colleges, it will help significantly for our fourth takeaway.
There are two myths surrounding recruitment that need addressing. The first is that it’s the responsibility of the coach to find and recruit you. The second is that all communications are made equal.
College coaches will spend a lot of time on JGS and WAGR tracking performance of potential recruits and their limited time will typically be utilized communicating with these top players. There are many who are further down the list who can get on a coaches radar through personalized outreach, ultimately gaining spots on leading Division I rosters. It is critical that you’re providing as much context about your performance to these coaches, evidencing to them why you should earn a roster spot and scholarship. Your outreach must address your game in detail (see takeaway 1: know your numbers) and express why you’ll be a good fit for the team.
Up to 70% of email outreach is either ignored or rejected by coaches because of poor quality content. It may be tempting to look at ways to automate your outreach through generic content, however this is hurting your chances, especially with the top teams. All email communication you send coaches must be genuine and personalized. Address the coach personally with their name. Double check the spelling is correct as you’d be surprised how many are wrong. Provide the coach with information about your golf, including your golf resume. Explain why you want to attend their college, importantly why you think the programme and the coach would be a good fit for you. If you mention performance at a previous tournament, ensure your comments are accurate and will be well received. Show them that you’ve done your research through a well considered email. Time doing your research is key.
If you’re looking at using a recruitment agency, ask for examples of their outreach. Ensure that they are personalized. Especially if you want to attract attention from leading Division I programmes, you need to be involved in the process or risk your application falling short.
If you have aspirations to play professionally, your college years are crucial. It will provide you with an unrivalled level of support and competition. To gain this experience, you need to be able to earn a spot in the team that travels.
While no spot is guaranteed and you’ll need to earn it, ensure that there is a clear pathway and the relative support to help you achieve this goal. This is where your research is so important. Understand the team composition, how the coaching structure works, and the types of players who will thrive. Understand the opportunities that you’ll have to earn your place on the team.
If you plan on entering the NCAA system with the intention to prove yourself in competition and enter the transfer portal for the aim of a higher ranked school, you must be aware of the potential consequences. Entering the transfer portal can have implications for both your position on the team and your scholarship with immediate effect. You should make yourself aware of these implications before considering and executing this approach.
Understanding where to focus your practice time for greatest score improvement isn’t easy. Circles allows you to identify skills in every area of the game, highlighting the greatest opportunities for you to increase your rate of improvement. The insights you gain from Circles can be provided to college coaches to gain a better understanding of your performance and aid their selection process.