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Strength of Junior Golf

There is a growing theme in college and junior golf; going deep! I mean deep, here are some examples:

  • Andrea Lee of Stanford shots 58 in practice
  • Cal Berkley wins Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate with -47 as a team
  • College of Charleston wins Loyola Intercollegiate with -48 as a team
  • UNLV wins National Invitational Tournament with -50 as a team
  • Kaitlin Milligan of University of Oklahoma shoots 62 in the first round of the Westbrook Invitational
  • Ximena Gonzalez Garcia shoots 64 in the final round of the Global Junior Golf Event in Mexico
  • Florida Junior Tour had 27 boys break par at Stone Creek, including two final rounds 65’s
  • Dongjin Park shoots 61 in first round of IJGT Georgia Open at Savannah Quarters
  • Julian Perico shoots 205 (3 rounds) to win AJGA invitational, including 65 in 2nd round

These kids and college golfers are simply good, and this is not a trend that has just started. Data suggests that in 2016 there where 902 rounds in the 60’s by boys in AJGA tournaments and 626 rounds in the 60’s by girls. In 2017, boys broke par 1698 times, while girls did it 454 times. Even in 2004 numbers where very good and when considering the fewer tournament, work out to averaging approximately the same while still having significant rounds in the middle 60’s and tournaments won with scores under par.

The trend is not only in AJGAs, according to Chris Smeal, founder of Future Champions Golf, “the scores that it takes to compete in junior golf is very low! Last year, we had several scores under 65, including a 62 in our recent FCG Western States Cup and a record -15 under to win the girls division.” Data I have collected examining the Junior Tour of Northern California shows that to win in 2017 the average boys score was 143.48 (2 day) and the average girls score was 146 (2 day). When examining the scores, keep in mind that Perico’s 205 was at the Fazio Course at Carlton Woods which measures 7,358 with a course rating of 75.8 and a slope of 144. Likewise, the Florida Junior Tour at Stone Creek was played at 7,033 yards with a course rating of 73.4 and slope of 125. This means that at points junior golfers are playing at handicaps of +9 or better in tournaments, making the results eerily close to what it takes to play elite amateur and even professional golf.

According to Kevin Smeltz, a top 100 teacher and director of Instruction at Bishops Gate, as well as coach to Julian and Dongjin Park, “at Bishops Gate we have 80+ highly motived students who work to better their game every day. These students not only live right on a world class golf course and practice facility, they also have access to outstanding technology, and a support system which includes experts in fitness and psychology like Dr. Fran Pirozzolo and Ms. Karen Harrison, M.S.”

While the golf is not necessarily better than a decade ago, it is certainly deeper. Youth has more access to tournaments and opportunities to play. According to PGA tour Coach Dan Carharrer “the biggest difference from junior golf when I was a kid vs. now is that US Kids and other organizations have streamline the process allowing kids to build competitive experiences on courses where they have an opportunity to break par. Kids as young as 10 are shooting -10+ to win tournaments, creating a large pool of young golfers who are simply not afraid to shoot way low. With so many great young players, tournaments across the country are seeing low scores.”

While, more players are breaking par, the best players are demonstrating they can go long streaks under par earning scoring differentials into the -7 to -9 range. Scoring differential is the players scoring average against the course rating. A scoring differential of 0 would mean the player normally shoots the course rating. A negative scoring differential means the player typically shoots better than the course rating, which in broad terms means the players handicap would equate to a “plus” or better than par. Now consider there are 500+ boys on Junior Golf Scoreboard and 300 girls with negative scoring differentials!

For junior golfer, parents and coaches, it is important to make “breaking par” one of the skills that juniors learn and practice as part of their development. For many this process will begin on their home golf course and can start with the junior playing the course from as short as 5200 yards. The key is the junior learns to leverage their strengths to make birdies, as well as feel comfortable as possible with shooting scores that start with the number “6” and as they improve their skills, even start to think about scores which start with “5”.

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