The years spent in college often are called the best in life. That’s especially true for aspiring golfers. While men’s professional golf is becoming a more difficult and risky vocation, the college and amateur experience has improved.
That’s why male players, unlike their female counterparts, are waiting longer to turn pro.
“There’s just not that many reasons to go (pro) early in the men’s game,” Washington men’s coach Matt Thurmond said.
Colleges have upgraded practice facilities in recent years, and high-level amateur and college events give a “Tour” feel while insulating players from the high stakes of pro golf.
Increased depth on the PGA and Nationwide tours in recent years has made it harder for players to make an immediate leap to one of the “big tours.” Meanwhile, a down economy has decreased the amount of endorsement money for players coming out of college.
“I tell my guys that you might not ever have it this good again,” said Stanford head coach Conrad Ray, who played the Nationwide Tour. “Someone is paying your way, you have great facilities, all of your travel arrangements are taken care of.”
This generation has seen plenty of cautionary tales that illustrate the hazards of turning pro too early.
Ty Tryon earned his PGA Tour card at age 17 in 2002, lost it after a medical extension in ’03 and hasn’t been back since. Casey Wittenberg turned pro in ’04 at 19, just a few months after tying for 13th at the Masters, but has held a PGA Tour card for only one season (2009). Tadd Fujikawa, who turned pro in ’07 at 16, won the eGolf Professional Tour Championship this year but still seeks his first PGA or Nationwide card.
“Any time a 19- or 20-year-old kid turns pro, the likelihood of success – unless you’re Rory McIlroy – is pretty slim,” said Oregon men’s coach Casey Martin, a former PGA Tour player. “You don’t want to rush it. It’s a lot easier to get (sponsor and endorsement) money the first time around than go back to the well.”
Oklahoma State junior Morgan Hoffmann has finished in the top 10 at the Nationwide Tour’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational each of the past two seasons, but he is returning for a third college season.
“When I turn pro, I want to be ready to win on the PGA Tour,” Hoffmann said, “not just . . . try and make cuts.”
Added teammate Peter Uihlein, the U.S. Amateur champion: “You have instances where guys just make cuts and think they’re ready. But they didn’t win. There’s nothing wrong with developing in college.”
Players aren’t just staying in school longer. Some, such as former Stanford player Joseph Bramlett and Washington’s Nick Taylor, the 2010 Ben Hogan Award winner, are delaying their pro debuts several months, choosing to spend the summer after their senior years playing amateur golf.
Bramlett, who earned a degree in communications, qualified for this year’s U.S. Open, then won the prestigious Northeast Amateur.
“There’s so many great tournaments, that I felt I could spend the summer playing amateur golf and that would definitely prepare me for Q-School,” he said. “You play very high-quality competition at high-quality courses.”
It’s just one more reason the men are in no rush to turn pro.
“For every Rickie Fowler, there’s 10 guys that really struggle,” Martin said.