Future of Golf: A look at how junior golf recruiting could evolve

Future of Golf: A look at how junior golf recruiting could evolve

Juniors

Future of Golf: A look at how junior golf recruiting could evolve

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The exposure for junior and college golf has increased significantly in recent years, and as that attention has grown it’s fair to wonder how exactly recruiting will evolve in the coming years.

A natural inclination would be that junior golfers must become more focused on making a splash nationally. The avenue is there, too. The American Junior Golf Association, the premier U.S. junior golf tournament organization that runs hundreds of junior events per year, has expanded extensively over the last decade.

“I do think there’s an emphasis and direction where junior golf is going where the norm is being to compete in national events,” said Justin Suh, a senior at USC.

And yet, that change may not be so obvious.

Even as national attention has jumped at the junior level, names such as Bryson DeChambeau, Aaron Wise and Maverick McNealy thrived despite playing a more localized junior schedule. Suh himself played sparingly outside his native California as a junior, yet he has been college golf’s top-ranked player at times.

Ricky Castillo has had to play a limited national schedule, but that didn’t stop the Florida signee from ranking No. 1 in the Class of 2019.

Forces for a big national schedule are strong, but expect local junior golfers to continue to find success.

One reason is financial. Playing an extensive national schedule quickly gets expensive. One payoff for all the travel would seem to be much higher odds at a big college scholarship, but those aren’t as plentiful as one might assume.

“Here’s the one thing I try to tell parents: If you’re going to break the bank traveling all over the country or the world playing in these junior tournaments and the expectation that it’s going to come back to you with a scholarship, if you’re playing that big of a schedule, you’re probably going to break even or you’re going to lose money because there’s just not enough huge scholarships to go around,” said Chris Haack, Georgia’s coach.

Suh believes he more easily avoided burnout by keeping his junior schedule tied more locally. It also meant he had a better chance to dominate, which is invaluable.

“If you learn how to win, that’s something you can’t really teach,” Suh said. “That’s something you have to learn through experience.”

Haack has been at the Bulldogs’ helm since 1996 and worked for the AJGA for 15 years before that. Through his extensive experience, he’s found value in junior golfers both locally and nationally.

Russell Henley, Harris English and Hudson Swafford were among the more local junior players who became stars under him at Georgia. The local guys can be the great surprises who help invigorate a team. They also may require less scholarship money, especially if they qualify for in-state tuition at a public school.

The polished national junior products, though, seem to arrive at college ready to contribute right away. And they often bring a desire to prove they are as good as their lofty records imply.

“I think they’re good for each other,” Haack said, referring to local vs. national junior recruits.

Indeed, as the AJGA has thrived, so have local junior tours as kids look for more opportunities and maybe a chance to find a stepping stone to the AJGA itself.

It’s possible the opposite trend is coming soon, though. Mark Castillo, who has been engrossed in junior golf for nearly a decade through sons Derek and Ricky, believes he sees fewer junior golfers and theorizes that may have to do with this being the tail end of the generation inspired by Tiger Woods.

If junior golf participation does indeed dwindle, then …

“I think it will be more kids staying local,” Castillo said. “It’s more kids who are going to stay local as the years go on just because there are less kids playing.”

The landscape of junior golf will evolve in the coming years. Whatever direction junior golf heads, one thing is for sure: The local kid is not going away.

(Note: This story appears in the December 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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