USGA launches U.S. National Development Program
24 Feb 2023
by Jim Young of AmateurGolf.com

Photo courtesy of the USGA
Photo courtesy of the USGA

The USGA admits it has some catching up to do in comparison to other countries when it comes to developing and nurturing the potential of America’s top players.

To close the gap, the USGA formally announced on Friday the creation of its U.S. National Development Program to catch up with the Joneses, or Sweden, Canada and South Korea along with other countries who have developed generations of golfers through the success of their national programs.

Starting in competitive junior golf and progressing to the highest levels of the game, the U.S. National Development Program aims to "identify, train, develop, fund and support the nation’s most promising junior players – regardless of cultural, geographical or financial background – to ensure that American golf is the global leader in the game."

The concept has been around for years and has paid great dividends in cultivating some of the world's top international players, both male and female.

“Today, nearly every other competitive golf country in the world offers a national development program to foster and develop its elite junior talent. The United States is at a huge competitive disadvantage in this regard, as we simply ask our athletes, parents and coaches to forge their own path, without any unified national guidance or financial support,” said USGA CEO Mike Whan via a press release.

“Golf is the only major sport in the U.S. without a national development program. Today, that ends. Today, we start building a junior development program that will ensure a stronger American pipeline of diverse, high-potential talent.”

Through a sustainable grant program, USGA also pledged there will be "a demonstrated commitment to reach players from underrepresented communities and ensure they have the resources to progress within the sport’s strongest competitive and developmental opportunities."

At the core of its mission, the U.S. National Development Program hopes to create a pathway for young players and their families to better navigate through the sport's ecosystem while at the same time providing participating players all of the resources to maximize their talents. The program will create a sustainable grant program to financially assist identified talent and their families with entry fees, travel, coaching costs, golf course access, equipment and more.

“The journey from junior golf to elite competition has become complicated and cost-prohibitive for many families,” said Heather Daly-Donofrio, a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour who serves as the USGA's managing director of Player Relations and Development. “It is our duty to unify and simplify the process by removing any barriers that prevent the most promising juniors from reaching their full potential. The success of this program will not only support and elevate the talent of today's top players, but also diversify and strengthen the next generation of great American golfers.”

What are some of the program's immediate action items?

Under the guidance of Daly-Donofrio, the USGA is in the process of hiring a grant administrator and director of player development, formalizing a player development philosophy and grant program, implementing a data strategy for talent identification and formalizing a state-level strategy that aligns with the national roadmap.

The grant program will initially fund 50 juniors this year and that number will grow each year and by 2027 the program aims to fund 1,000 juniors across the country and impact thousands more.

With assistance from the USGA’s Allied Golf Associations (AGA) and other national and international golf-related organizations, the USGA hopes to launch a junior national team consisting of 30 junior girls and 30 junior boys in 2024, amateur national team and regional championships the following year and a young professional team and regional camps in 2026.

The program will utilize existing American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events as part of a pathway for players to progress from state- and regional-level competition to USGA championships, including the introduction of more automatic exemptions into AJGA events at appropriate levels.

Conrad Ray, men's head coach at Stanford, thinks the U.S. National Development Program is an excellent opportunity for the USGA to celebrate and elevate the amateur game beyond hosting championships.

"It's an ambitious endeavor but I think recent performances in some international events led the USGA to believe more can be done to develop the talents of elite amateur golfers, along with those players who might not have the opportunity otherwise to take their games to the next level.

"It will take some time to get total buy-in from top juniors and their families because in a way this program is trying to change the culture and the mindset that has existed for years. It's not a small lift by any means but the USGA is trying to establish a program for young players to make 50-year choices as opposed to four-year decisions."

So what's the end goal?

"We want to add that America remains the leader, the global -- in golf in the world," said Daly-Donofrio. "We want to strengthen and broaden that junior pipeline. It's time that we give our American athletes the same level of resources and support that other countries give their athletes. I mean, I think we feel like that's our duty. That's our job is to ensure that these young boys and girls have the resources that they need to achieve their dreams."

• • • • •

Six Pillars of the U.S. National Development Program

Talent Identification
Create a process and pipeline to identify the country’s most promising juniors by developing a data-driven procedure that goes beyond scoring averages to recognize, track and measure talent. The program will conduct regular in-person evaluations and camps around the country as well as engage grassroots partners, junior tours, Allied Golf Associations and PGA of America Sections to assist in identifying the nation's top talent.

Access to Competition
Partner with Allied Golf Associations, PGA of America Sections and the AJGA to develop a unified pathway for players to progress from state-level competition to appropriate level AJGA events and into USGA championships, including the introduction of more automatic exemptions.

National Teams
For the game’s elite, the program will create and fund junior, amateur and young professional national teams. Members of the teams will receive access to year-round support, participate at bi-annual camps and compete internationally.

Athlete Resources
Members of the national teams will receive world-class coaching and analysis, sports psychology, nutritional guidance and resources necessary to develop the physical, mental and life skills to reach their full potential. To help junior golfers navigate the competitive landscape and track their progress, the program will offer a range of resources, including statistical platforms and partnerships as well as creating its own ranking system.

Player Development and Relations
In partnership with the PGA of America and LPGA Professionals and under the framework of the American Development Model philosophy, develop a programming structure and culture for the national teams that includes training with world-class coaches and specialists to apply an elevated and standardized approach to player development. Members of the national teams will receive mentoring from USGA champions and other athletes.

Athlete Financial Support
Build a robust and sustainable grant program to assist identified talent from a financial perspective, including entry fees, travel, coaching fees, golf course access, equipment and more.

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