(The early signing period for college golf begins today and runs through Nov. 21. Here is some advice for junior golfers looking to play collegiately from longtime Northwestern coach Pat Goss, the director of golf and player development for the Wildcats.)
So you want to play college golf?
As someone who played college golf and has coached college golf for more than 25 years, I can attest to what an amazing experience it can be – life-changing, in my case. The opportunity for the camaraderie of a team, the golf trips, representing your university and continuing to play competitive golf while receiving an education is incredible. With this audacious goal in front of you, here’s some advice.
The first thing to understand is that there is a great academic and athletic fit for every golfer. Did you know that between all of the different levels there are more than 1,250 men’s and 900 women’s college golf programs?
Multiply that by the number of players on each team and there are plenty of opportunities out there, so be open-minded as you begin looking.
I promise that just because you don’t recognize the name of the school at first glance doesn’t mean it isn’t a wonderful academic university in a great location with a golf program that would provide a memorable experience. It’s all about finding the right fit for you that matches your goals, ability and commitment level – and that may not be at the top-50 Division I level.
In finding that perfect fit you should always start and end with academics and overall college experience. College golf doesn’t always work out for everyone, and you need to be at a school you would want to be at without the golf. Don’t sacrifice what’s most important.
Once you make that list, start looking at the golf programs. The best way to compare how you would fit on a college golf team is to go to the team’s website and look up the junior golf bios of the players currently on the team. And remember, you can’t just look at the bottom players on the team. Coaches are looking for players who will make their traveling lineup and help them achieve their programs’ goals. We need impact players, and you need to find a program where you have a realistic chance of being in the traveling lineup (top five) at least some of your first year.
The magic in college golf happens when you go to the tournaments. It’s the best and most rewarding part of the experience, where you really bond with your teammates and create lifelong memories. It’s difficult to develop competitively unless you travel so you can get the additional experience and coaching. Be realistic and find programs where you truly will fit in all aspects.
Now that you’ve made the list, it’s time to contact the coaches. Send a simple cover letter along with academic and golf résumés. Make it easy to find the relevant information – grad year, grades, test scores, golf results including scores and finishes. College coaches get an unbelievable amount of inquiries from potential prospects, and the first thing they’re going to do is skim your letter and résumé to find the pertinent information and see if you may be a realistic fit for their school.
By the way, I would estimate 75 percent of the inquiries we receive don’t fit academically and/or athletically. If you want to impress the coach a little, do your homework and include something personal about their program. Some coaches may not reply due to NCAA rules or just as a reflection of the amount of correspondence they receive. It doesn’t mean they didn’t see it.
Send periodic updates. If you’re good enough and a strong fit, I promise you’ll hear back.
Finally, make sure all the correspondence comes from the prospect and not the parent. The content should be genuine to them, and it’s essential for the kids to invest in the process.
As far as being ready to compete at the college level, focus on your overall development and improvement. Don’t worry about your ranking or focusing on playing a schedule to impress coaches. Love the game and go about the process of continually improving with the goal of being the best player you can be; do that and college golf will take care of itself.
Compete as much as you can at both a level you can win (coaches love a player who can win) and a level that pushes you out of your comfort zone where you can grow and develop. Work hard in school and be the best student you can be – it only increases your opportunities, and coaches want players who can balance school and golf, being successful in both.
Have fun, enjoy the process and love the game. You’re going to have a great four years! Gwk
(This story appears in the November 2018 issue of Golfweek.)