In this month’s article, I would like to address the issue of early commitments. As many of the readers might be aware, Brad Dalke, a member of the 2017 NCAA Championship team at the University of Oklahoma Golf committed when he was 12 years old. Since that time, many more young men and women are committing early with players like Ben James (2021) committed to UConn and Hudson Weibel (2021) to Oklahoma. As this becomes more common, I wanted to explore the reasons it is happening, as well as the thoughts of eminent scientists about the phenomena.
A key aspect of early commitments is about the information available to people on sites like National Junior Golf Score Board and AJGA. These sites, which list college signees, only cover those which sign a National Letter of Intent; that is the player gets a scholarship. Scholarship players likely only make up less than half of all that play college golf, therefore the numbers for these players leave a poor anchor for players, families and coaches.
It is also important to remember that Letters of Intent can be offered two times per year. The first time is a 10-day window in November, when coaches are done the fall season and have the time to report results to outlets like NJGS or AJGA. The other window is in the spring, after April 1, when coaches are in the middle of exams and conference or regional tournaments. This makes it more likely they will not report the results.
Players, parents and coaches should also consider the long-term impact of the decision. According to Dr. Fran Piozzolo, a PhD and mental trainer for Northwestern University and Bishop’s Gate Golf Academy the decision one makes about where he or she will go to college is a very complicated and important decision that most 18 year-old high school athletes are not fully prepared to make. “The phenomenon of even younger student-athletes, some as young as 11 or 12, participating in recruiting activities, is troubling from several perspectives. Even the most mature and intellectually gifted young people cannot possibly be expected to make good decisions for themselves, with or without the assistance of parents and other advisors”. His comments are based on his own research which demonstrates the development of exceptionally talented athletes follows no predictable algorithm (Pirozzolo & Bjork, 2017), instead the research found “the myth that young prodigies have a gift that spans across many performance domains is just not supported by scientific data. Research strongly supports the assumption that gifted athletic prowess has more to do with the family than any other single factor in the development of exceptional talent (Bloom, 1985)”.
Dr. David Grecic, the chair of Sport at the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom agrees with many point of Dr. Piozzolo, suggesting “the focus on early specialization in golf and its resultant practices is a worrying development. Youngsters and parents alike are being given the impression that adult level skills are required at younger and younger ages or they will be excluded from golf’s talent pathway. This focus is transmitted from and to high schools, colleges and even management companies who are now exerting unwelcome and unmerited pressure on young golfers without understanding the true nature of the potential elite performer’s individualized developmental pathway. Indeed, unless we have a crystal ball and can see into the future many of the decisions made by recruiters to predict success are ill conceived and are not helpful in supporting youngsters who love the game”.
Brendan Ryan, a former college golf coach who writes extensively on junior and college golf suggests “players, under the supervision of their parents and coaches, need to own the process and understand they are on a unique journey that is not about checking boxes, but building developmental assets which will prepare them to lead healthy adult lives”. The issue, according to Brendan is that players and parents are too worried about aspects of the school that are not important, instead his advice is: ‘the only thing young people need to consider is how the school can help the student transform during their adolescence years into a healthy, happy adult”.
The fact is, in the US, there are lots of amazing universities that combine the opportunity to earn a degree, while playing competitive college golf. With so many amazing options, students should not be a hurry but instead work through to find a place where they will have the best opportunity to grow academically, socially and financially.