The big-name schools almost always get the big-name recruits.
But that doesn’t stop college coaches from smaller, lesser-known conferences from recruiting talented junior players and building a solid and formidable program. They just have to work a little harder and dig a little deeper to find them.
The way Texas-Arlington coach Jay Rees looks at it, “There are a lot of stones I have to turn over in hopes of finding that diamond in the rough.”
Unlike the trend at bigger schools in which top recruits are foregoing official visits and committing as much as a year in advance, many mid-major coaches say they are not signing players much earlier than in the past. One reason is because they often have to wait to see which players don’t hook up with powerhouse programs.
Rees – who is in his 11th season with the Mavericks, members of the Southland Conference – has guided his program to regional berths in eight of the past 10 years. Though he does look at junior players’ rankings, his first goal is to get the best player in Texas, then look outside the state.
“The pool (of players) is so deep,” said Rees, whose team finished No. 53 in last season’s Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. “I know we have a nitch for that kid who is under the radar, the one who has the right mindset, the right work ethic and the one we feel has future potential. I definitely feel, where college golf has gone the last 10 years, there is room for the so-called mid-major schools to be successful and compete on a national level.”
That has long been the case for Herb Page, who has coached the Kent State men’s program since 1978. Not only have the Golden Flashes been a dominant force in the Mid-American Conference, they’ve held their own against the college golf powers.
Page has guided Kent State to 18 NCAA regional appearances, finishing first in 1993 and 2001, and 13 NCAA finals, placing ninth in 2000 and sixth in ’08.
“I’m not afraid to go after the best players in the country,” said Page, whose list of former players includes 2003 British Open champion Ben Curtis and pros Jon Mills, David Moreland, Bryan DeCorso and Kevin Gessino-Kraft. “But I’m also a realist. I know I’m probably never going to get anyone from states like Georgia, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, pretty much the Southern states. My main focus is on the Midwest and up into Canada.
“I look at the rankings, but that’s not the only thing,” Page said. There are a lot of kids out there who don’t play a lot of national tournaments but have a lot of talent and potential. You just have to find them.”
Tennessee-Chattanooga coach Mark Guhne has found his share of late , guiding the Southern Conference school to its first NCAA finals appearance and a No. 25 final ranking last season.
“My first priority is to go after the very best players in Tennessee,” Guhne said. “Then I look at the top players in other states and if there are any foreign players out there. The thing is, it’s tough recruiting against the SEC and ACC. Sometimes you feel like you’re beating your head against a wall, but it’s getting better. We’ve had some pretty good success the last few years, and that definitely helps.”
Denver coach Eric Hoos summed up the type of player whom many mid-major schools are seeking: “Mainly we try to find the kid who we feel fits best in our program,” he said.
“We’re looking for that blue-collar kid who will get down and work hard and put in the extra time and effort for not only golf but his education, as well.”
Because of the mid-major schools’ success in doing so, the landscape in college golf has changed for the better in the past deca