Is College Hurting US Male Golfers?

The question apparently is making the rounds: Is college golf hurting US competitiveness in the sport?

In an article on Jacksonville dot Com, writer Garry Smits offers the following observation:

College golf, especially for American male players, has come under assault.

Hank Haney, Tiger Woods’ current swing guru, wrote an article for Golf Digest earlier this year and asked the question: “If you want to be the best golfer in the world, why would you go to college?”

Jack Nicklaus, observing the recent defeats suffered by the U.S. in the Ryder Cup, said last fall that college golf is partly to blame, because the usual format of starting five players and scoring the low four rounds, “isn’t teaching kids how to win.”

And while Haney blames college golf for the fact that only one American in his 20s is among the top 50 on the World Golf Rankings (at the time of his article, it was Lucas Glover – now, Charles Howell III is the only such example), LPGA players who bypassed college are enjoying great success.

The thought is that the colleges do not do as good a job in training young players as national development programs in other counties, or even as well as private academies in the US.

I think that the argument is utter nonsense. Tiger went to Stanford. Phil went to Arizona State, where he was the 1990 consensus college golfer of the year. Jim Furyk, Adam Scott, Jay Haas, Fred Couples, Mark Calcavecchia, David Toms, Bubba Watson, Davis Love and Fred Funk all went to college—as did many dozens of other current and past PGA Tour players. The college experience didn’t seem to hurt any of them.

While it’s probably true that there are a few players who could or should skip college, the vast majority of college golfers are not going to play on the PGA Tour —any more than the vast majority of college football players will make the NFL. In fact, the PGA Tour is inarguably an even tougher nut to crack than the NFL or the NBA. There are only 30 new spots available each year through Q School, and a good many of those are going to go to existing players. There are more opportunities available on the Nationwide Tour, but not enough to accommodate even a third of the top college players.

No, most of those players are going to need degrees—and golf is their meal ticket through college. Lets not discourage them. Even the more sure-fire prospect has in the past come up well short in Q- School. Remember Ty Tyron? He could have used a bit of College golf.


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2 thoughts on “Is College Hurting US Male Golfers?”

  1. Golfweek also addressed the issue after Haney’s article in Golf Digest.  Haney’s focus is on how to make America more competitive in world golf. Golfweek doesn’t speak to that issue directly, instead talking about what is best for the person. They both are correct on their respective issues.

    The American system of college golf was never meant to provide the best world-class athletes, it is a system to provide an education to those who otherwise couldn’t attend college (due to finances or grades). Haney is right, that with the new emphasis on having the players do well academically, the focus is removed from golf.

    I think people should go to college who want to study and improve themselves, and if golf can get them there, that’s fine. The problem is, America doesn’t have another way to develop talent, we don’t have National Institutes of Sport. Even though it’s not in our character, I think that’s the only way we can remain competitive in the future, for all the individual sports. That will open the game to those who are talented, but cannot afford to pay for private academies, or pay to get on the mini-tours. Will it happen? It might, if there’s a concerted push by a group of influential types.

    On the other hand, it’s actually a good thing to see the internationals developing great players and doing well. It reflects the general increase in the world’s standard of living. You now see golf being played in eastern Europe, the near and far East, former repressed areas now experiencing freedom. Golf is a sign of economic vitality, and an indicator of a good social fabric. As the world continues to develop, there’s no reason the U.S. should remain dominant in golf.

  2. Very well said.

    The only thing that I could add to that is what I’ve been thinking about over the past several hours … that perhaps the PGA Tour, with all of its money, could fund a series of scholarships to some of those private golf academies.

    But that said, I think we may just be in a phase right now where the world players seem stronger. But I’m not sure that they really are. Els, for example, is fifth in the WG rankings. But I think that’s deceptive. What he’s done is place highly in a few relatively minor events. When playing in top field events, he hasn’t done so well.

    And Adam Scott is third. But he’s a product of the American College system.


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