Good qualifiers vs. tournament players: What's a coach to do?
12 Sep 2019
by Brendan Ryan of Golf Placement Services

What’s the difference between playing your home golf course and competing in tournaments? This week we sought to answer this question with the help of coaching friends and data from the Rice University Men’s Golf Team (Thank you coaches Justin Email and Clay Bounds!!!).

In a recent survey we asked coaches: "Do your players typically perform better in qualifying or tournament play?" Of the 35 responses we received from coaches at the NCAA D1, NCAA D2 and NAIA levels, 54% (19/35) suggested that players performed better in qualifying.

This number honestly shocked me; my perspective has always been that it is much easier to play your home golf course. Why? Because of the confidence and experience of having success at the course, as well as accruing knowledge of the shots required.

The results of the survey led to a conversation with the coaches at Rice University, who were gracious enough to share their data which demonstrates that on their team: three players perform about the same in qualifying as they do in tournaments (within approximately .5 shots), three players are better in tournaments than in qualifying, and one player is better in qualifying than tournaments.

Please note that Rice Golf does their best to simulate course conditions in preparation for their upcoming events. This includes playing similar golf courses from similar lengths, which should help make the data comparable. According to Coach Emil, “It’s our job as coaches to help our players learn to compete every single day with the same mentality at home in qualifying as they do in tournaments. It’s a big challenge in our sport, but the best players always seem to elevate their game under tournament conditions.”

So what is a coach to do? Fundamentally, qualifying has democratized college golf, allowing players each week to compete in a mini “qualifying school” to test their games. However, if half of your team is not going to play as well in qualifying as they will in tournaments, how should the coach approach qualifying?

In my own seven-year coaching career, I had a couple individual national champions, an Olympian and a couple Major Championship participants. However, each year the make up of the team was different and so each year, based on this make up, I had a different qualifying system that ranged from the point system (if I pointed to you, you are going to the tournament), to having all five players earn spots through qualifying.

Rice University Golf
The Rice University Golf Team
According to the Rice coaches, “we are blessed to have the option to play at least 10 different venues. This means that, unlike some schools, we get to qualify on many different layouts and get many different looks. For the players this means that there can be no complacency; you must play well at several different places if you want to travel. This often means also playing in a lot of different conditions, including in the winter when courses can play longer due to softer conditions and wind.”

Coach Bounds added, “I would say that the data shows that there is definitely a difference between a 'tournament player' and a 'good qualifier'. Looking at the scores, we only have 3 players whose tournament scoring average was lower than their qualifying scores, and one of those players was not in the top 5. I think that as coaches we have a lot more to determine in the picking the lineup than qualifying scores. Every coach has a different philosophy, but the main goal is to put the best 5 in a tournament week in and week out. Looking at data like this may help make that a little easier.”

For junior golfers and their families in the college recruitment process, understanding the process of qualifying is an extremely important part of the recruitment process. Junior golfers should take time to have frank conversations with potential schools about their qualifying policies. They should also take time, during the visit to play the universities home golf course to help them better understand how they may stack up against players, as well as how it suits their own game.

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