College athletics can enhance your life path, opening doors you never knew existed. In my own experience as a Vanderbilt division golfer, competing at such a high level gave me the opportunity to leave my hometown of Windermere, Florida, surround myself with high achievers and reach an influential platform from which to chase my dreams.
Playing for the Commodore was the ultimate test and reward. It forced me out of my shell and out of my face more than I ever thought possible. Although staying in my bubbles was my comfort zone, I soon realized I couldn’t do it alone if I wanted to be successful on and off the track. This meant learning to utilize my academic resources, building relationships with my professors and colleagues, and prioritizing my health and well-being.
I was challenged to constantly think outside the box and adopt a problem-solving mindset. How do I balance schoolwork, practice, course travel, social activities, and sleep? How can I make adjustments in my environment and routine to improve efficiency? How can I ensure that I have been communicating my timetable requests effectively with my professors? How can I be a good teammate and friend? How can I prioritize my goal so that I can better lead others?
These questions allowed me to dig deep inside myself when the going got tough, prompting me to learn lessons and develop mental tenacity. Now, I want to help college golf aspirants build on the same experience I had, and that starts with finding the right school that will allow you to thrive as a student and as an athlete.
The hiring process can sometimes feel like an unsolvable puzzle with a million pieces to put together in time. What information do you need to lay a solid foundation? How do you differentiate yourself from the competition? Sure, you may have researched employment and course sign-up dates, but there are other steps you can take to put yourself in the best position to get a trainer’s attention. Here are 5 tactics that will help you increase your chances of getting that offer.
1. What is the “why”?
This is the million dollar question you should ask yourself before embarking on any journey. It’s also a question college coaches are guaranteed to ask you on phone calls and visits: “Why do you want to play college golf?” An SEC coach told me that the best players ask and answer three key questions: How am I going to achieve X, what do I need to achieve X and why do I want to achieve X. Players with a strong sense of reason are more efficient and effective in everything they do.
Your “why” is also important because it comes from within and will force you to do the work even when you’ve lost motivation — or when progress requires short-term pain. The reason behind you will keep you motivated to keep working because it aligns with your goal no matter what you are sacrificing for in the moment. Why is it the uniqueness that sets you apart from everyone else.
Players with a strong sense of reason are more efficient and effective in everything they do.
Not only does your “why” inspire you to take action, but it is also what inspires others to take action. Here’s how to find your personal “why”:
Understand that everyone’s “why” is different. Incentives include academics, scholarships, the opportunity to play professional golf, or just a deep love for the game.
Make the reason simple, clear, and actionable.
Consider how your “why” will help your teammates and others in your circle.
Ask as many questions as possible: Why do I do x? Why is “x” important to me? Why do I value “this” over “that”?
2. Understand what college coaches value after stats and rankings
Your rookie rankings and stats will always be a priority, but there are many other factors that college coaches take into account when recruiting players. In my personal experience, I wasn’t the best ranked junior player. Actually, I’ve been late to the nightlife.
But instead of focusing on the fact that I lacked experience and time compared to my competition, I used it as fuel for everything I did. If I wanted to play golf in college and be successful, I had no other choice. This mindset allowed me to win one of the first AJGA tournaments I entered, giving me relief from high-quality events and invitations across the country. My mindset set me apart from the way I carried myself on and off the course, along with my leadership skills. This kind of cultural fit is what Vanderbilt was looking for.
Coaches want to find someone they can nurture and shape. I have several friends who played D1 golf who weren’t top juniors but excelled once they started competing at collegiate level. why? These were the most common themes found after studying these players:
– Mental calmness and attitude in high pressure situations
Ability to quickly adapt/adjust when something isn’t working
-A high degree
Fortunately, these three behaviors are all within your control. Although golf is an individual sport in which you are responsible for your own score, I cannot stress enough the importance of being a team player and being able to receive constructive feedback. Knowing which qualities your target schools value most is essential, because each college has different expectations, commitments, and time goals.
I cannot stress enough the importance of being a team player.
3. Do your homework and embody what it means to be a college golfer
What kind of athlete would you like to become? What scores are the players at your target school shooting at, and from what yardage? How do they practice? How do they eat and exercise? How do they conduct their analyzes after the tour?
You will be at an advantage if you configure your outdoor environment now to embody the habits of a successful college golfer. Researching and understanding what is expected of college athletes will allow you to be more assertive in your own training. Scientists have found that our environments are largely what shapes human behavior, regardless of motivations or talent levels.
What can often be misjudged as a lack of motivation or discipline is actually just the result of a bad environment. It is important to remember the adage “Winners often because their environment makes winning easier” because you aim to differentiate yourself early on.
Even though I entered the recruiting process late, I was able to shave years off my learning curve because I took notes on how college golfers behaved, practiced, practiced, and even ate. Reach out to any current college golfers you know or AJGA employees, and do your homework. Our environments can drive both good and bad behaviour. Athletes who have the discipline to stick to productive habits often let their environment work for them rather than against them.
Some helpful resources for tracking and following your college golf scores include:
-Golfstat (college golf scores and stats)
– College Golf Guide (free membership when you register with AJGA)
4. Understand recruiting schedules and prepare for tournament schedules ahead of time
As you work to formulate the junior course schedule, it is important to know how the instructors classify the different categories of tour organizations. In general, this list is in ascending order of importance and caliber:
– Local / state / regional tours for the little ones
State Golf Associations (open to all amateurs)
– National Junior Tours (AJGA, IGJT, etc.)
– National invitations (USGA Championship, Junior World, etc.)
Each category has its advantages and disadvantages. Smaller tournaments at the local level are a great way to help you build confidence and create momentum through victories, while national tournaments show coaches how to compete against the best players in the country. National events also tend to hold tougher courses with longer settings. It is important to find the right balance of tournaments that matches your ability, budget, and goals. Many tours, particularly the AJGA, offer financial aid and scholarships.
I was 13 years old when I started playing competitively. My first tournaments were local tours all over Orlando and wherever I was allowed to. After two years of playing in Central Florida, I knew I needed to sign up for the state tournaments if I wanted to take my game to the next level.
Time wasn’t on my side when, at 16, I started the Florida Junior Tour hosted by the Florida State Golf Association, but I can’t say enough positive things about my experience. From the tournament hosts to the volunteers, the tour has been very supportive and has provided a wealth of resources for beginning golfers. I played basically all over Florida for a year, and had stars that gave me exemptions from AJGA events around the country. Although I was usually the least experienced player in the competition, my years of dealing with FJT and interest in what the best rookies were doing enabled me to win the third AJGA Tournament I have ever played in. It happened in Florida and a pivotal moment in my career because it gave me exemptions to the Rolex Junior Girls and many other national invitations.
I also started playing the USGA Qualifiers and made my way up to the US Junior Girls in both years as well as the US Women’s Amateur. I owe these pivotal moments to the many junior golfers who work tirelessly to support young golfers. This is a great link to get started with AJGA – it’s always better to start early!
Looking back at my career on paper, I wasn’t supposed to be successful. There have been other girls who started golf at an early age with advanced training and resources. A major component of my success has been knowing myself, my game, my limits, learning from the best players and adapting quickly when something just isn’t working. No two players are the same, so spend some time understanding how to make the process work for you.
No two players are the same. Focus on how to make the process work for you.
5. Prioritize systems and fall in love with the process
When you fall in love with the process rather than the end result, each day becomes a new opportunity to strengthen the systems you put in place to help you achieve your goals. As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, asked: If you completely ignore your goals and focus only on your system, will you still succeed? For example, if you were a basketball coach and set aside your goal of winning a championship and just focused on what your team does in practice each day, would you still get results?
The goal in golf is to score the best possible score, but it wouldn’t make sense to spend the entire round strategizing around the 18th hole. You have to play each shot as it comes. The same goes for improving your ride: aim to get 1% better each day and the end result – your score – will take care of itself.
When you dare to dream big and establish strong systems and foundations to achieve your goals, a powerful transformation occurs. You will enjoy greater direction and purpose in your life and gain the confidence that will push you to succeed even more once you achieve your goals. I promise you, regardless of your college and golf employment outcomes, you will develop a stronger relationship with yourself throughout this journey.