NLI signing day is an exciting day for athletes and their encompassing friends and family. As an underclassman you will likely watch some of your peers and maybe even family members sign their offer letter to compete for the school of their choice. If you are a student athlete that wants to get recruited you undoubtedly have numerous thoughts running through your mind pertaining to this day. Whether you’re a freshman or a junior in high school, there are steps that you should be taking to ensure that you get recruited and sign your NLI in early November of your senior year.
As a freshman you are likely just getting into the swing of things through playing a few statewide events. You may also have one or two AJGA junior all star (13-15 age group) appearances under your belt. Many people neglect the early years of high school in regards to the recruitment process. However, this is an important year to lay the foundation of your recruitment process. It is a year where you will get the most attention from college coaches if you overachieve. This is because many of your competitors will be older, more experienced and have already matured. However, for most people this isn’t going to be their blowout year that gets them the most attention from the college coaches. I would strongly urge every freshman that desires to play college golf to lay the foundation for their recruitment journey by taking this time to look into schools and familiarize yourself with the subjects that actually matter when making your decision to spend your 4 years of eligibility. For starters, things to focus on should be the schools climate, the coaches personality, the teams performance, and academics.
Climate is something that a lot of people strangely overlook, yet it is the one thing you cannot change. It is such an important aspect to the recruitment process for a plethora of reasons, and I have personally witnessed it hinder some of my friends in college for varying reasons. For example, if you are a good old Florida boy like myself, you really need to think about what 4 years of a Michigan winter will do to your mental and physical performance. Most of us have lived in a regional bubble as I like to call it. Growing up mine was the South-East of America. Extensive time in your bubble will get you acclimated/conditioned to your areas challenges. If all I know my entire life up to 18 years of age is Florida sunshine and I sign an NLI to a northern school, I’m going to have a rude awakening when we play tournaments in March and it’s snowing on a 36 hole day. Likewise, for a Northern kid coming down to Florida to play in the heat. You just really need to consider these things when you are younger and do the legwork to decide which schools and areas you want to be spending 4 years of your life at.
Sophomore year is when the recruiting process starts to crank into a higher gear. College coaches will likely start to follow you at tournaments, which makes for some very exciting times. One thing that I need to touch on in this section is how college coaches scout you out and what they’re looking for. I had a very close relationship with my college coach who is in the NCAA coaches hall of fame. He won 6 national championships at Florida Southern, and I won one of those 6 championships as a sophomore. So I spent a lot of time with him and watched him go through the recruiting process with many kids who didn’t pan out even though the player had a solid game. I would say that an overwhelming majority of the time that a coach is watching you, he’s looking at the whole package, but specifically looking at your demeanor and how you take care of yourself physically. This is just as important as playing ability at this point because if a college coach is watching you at a tournament and following you, they already know that you have a solid game. The coaches are looking for things that will either be an asset or a liability to the school and the coaches program which he gets judged off of. Two important things to focus on are your posture and body language. This was a big key for my coach because it showed him which players were mentlaly strong and resilient. He didn’t want mentally weak people quitting out on the course because college events are not easy to say the least. He also looked for people who took care of their personal appearance. This was because you represent not only him as the coach, but the school as a whole. So definitely take pride in your appearance and make sure you look like a professional, which I’m sure most of you already do a good job at. I also think it is important to note that your parents should be acting as though they are respectful spectators. College coaches look at your parents to see what they are getting themselves into. If they choose to recruit you, they will form a relationship with your parents through official visits and scholarship offers. The last thing any college coach wants to see is a spastic parent that is overactive in their childs performance on the course. Your parents should stay on the cart path and clap like a normal well mannered spectator when at events. The only time you should talk to your parents is if you are in an official rain delay, or are simply walking over to get a quick bottle of water or snack. Parents should NEVER impose themselves onto the playing competitors as a rules official. Parents are there to watch and that is it. Enjoy watching your kids compete and leave the rest to the players and organization running the tournament. Being totally self-sufficient on the course and having parents that are well behaved does wonders for your chances of being recruited by the school that you desire. I’m sure everyone reading this can think of an instance where you have been playing with someone whose parents are oblivious to their obnoxious behavior. Don’t be that person! Ultimately college coaches don’t want to invest in people like this because they don’t want to deal with that baggage for 4 years. They won’t invest any more time into you because there is talent everywhere. So don’t let something as trivial as your parents behavior taint your chances of being recruited by your dream school.
Junior year is likely going to be the year that you commit to a school. During this year you are going to want to play a healthy schedule of tournaments. You will want to remain visible for coaches to see throughout the year. You are going to want to play events such as AJGA opens, maybe an invitational if you are eligible to do so. You are also going to want to play your state open, along with a few out of state events if you can manage. Another great event that you should 100% play in is the US junior amateur qualifier. Each of these events serves a purpose in your recruitment journey. The AJGA events are filled with the best talent you can find week after week. Getting into an AJGA open, whether it’s through qualifying or performance based, will ensure that you get the exposure that you are looking for. Your junior state amateur tournament, and your state amateur will also demand exposure from the schools in your state through solid play and a good showing. The reason why I say that you should make strides to play tournaments out of your state or region is due to the fact that college coaches look for players whose game can travel with them because it is a sign of maturity. So if you live in Florida, can you go play 2 weeks up in the north east and put up a good showing? Can your game translate to good scores and finishes on different grasses and under different conditions? That is a true sign of a potentially great player, and one that will do well in college due to the constant traveling. The US junior amateur is also a very important event to play in because it’s a one day, 36 hole qualifier in most states. It gives college coaches an insight of how you might handle walking and competing 36 holes in one day, which proves to be a learning curve for a lot of people in college. I remember when I was a junior in high school I was mentally checking all of these off of my list of things I needed to do to “up my stock” for college coaches. I had flown to Michigan and competed in two AJGA opens and finished very high up in both. I then competed in the junior state amateur and finished in the top 8 with 2 very solid rounds in the mid to high 60’s. I also advanced to the semifinals of our state amateur match play, which provided me a chance to play 36 hole days and prove myself capable of maintaining a high level of play. During these tournaments there were a lot of things that could have distracted me and will also be distracting to you, but you just have to go out and play and let all your preparation take care of itself. If you are successful in all of these categories along with the necessary grades and test scores to get into a school, you will be offered by a college. I was offered in late June of my junior year going into my senior fall semester. You can anticipate around the same thing, maybe even drawn out to early fall. There are some cases where people get recruited in the late fall or early spring because a team is trying to fill up their roster for various reasons. I would urge you to try to check off each of the things I covered in this article in the order that have listed them.
To recap, you should be laying the foundation of your college journey as a freshman in high school. Focus on your grades, compete as much as you can, and research the schools and regions you would like to be in. Work on the little things that people like to neglect such as body language and personality on the course. Prove to coaches that you aren’t a liability for them to carry over the course of 4 years. Then your last push should be to get very specific with your tournaments and have success in events that resemble the ones I described. The faster you get all of this accomplished, the faster you will distinguish yourself as a recruit that coaches are going to want on their team.