There are many factors that go into becoming a top-performing athlete. For junior golfers, does it matter where you live? Is where you grow up and go to high school a factor in determining whether you will have a chance at competing at the very top levels? In his excellent book Outliers: The Stories of Success, Malcolm Gladwell investigates if a child's birthdate affects their chance of success in certain sports. Similarly, here we look at if where you live affects a junior's chance of golfing at the highest levels.
For the young, competitive athlete, the Pro Tour / NBA / MLB / NFL etc. are far-off dreams. Playing their chosen sport at the Collegiate level should be the more immediate goal, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself. The percentage of high school players that make a successful transition to collegiate sport is very, very small.
Probability of Competing in Collegiate Sports
In 2020 the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) published this self-explanatory but eye-opening research chart, detailing the probability of a high school athlete competing in college athletics for D1, D11 and D111.
From a golfing point of view, the most up to date numbers (2021) have recently been published by the NHSGA (National High School Golf Association) as follows:
- There are about 223,000 golfers playing high school golf. Of those about 19,100 will play golf at college and approx. 3% of those will play NCAA Division 1 golf.
Is Where You Live a Factor?
There are many factors that need to come together for the young athlete to accomplish dreams of playing sport past high school. The one factor we look at in this article is: does it matter where you live?
Is the particular State you live in helpful in providing the right environment and guiding your player towards a successful collegiate sports scholarship or team experience?
Youth Football Players
The best high school football players, based on data computations by MaxPreps, are concentrated primarily in Florida, Texas, Georgia, and Alabama. Heisman trophy winners for the past 11 years (2010-2021) have come from high schools in Texas (4), Florida (2), Georgia (1), Alabama (1), Louisiana (1). Hawaii (1) and Ohio (1).
Youth Tennis Players
From a tennis point of view, from research done by Ricky Becker, Director of Tennis at Pine Hollow CC and coach of high-performance tennis players: the top 10 States that consistently produce the country’s top young tennis talent are: California, Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, South Carolina, Georgia, Ohio and North Carolina.
Youth Baseball Players
The top high schools for baseball as of 2021, per Perfect Game, are overwhelmingly based in Florida, California and Texas and Georgia.
The same states that crop up consistently above are also true for top junior golfing talent. Based on Junior Golf Scoreboard Rankings (see our article to learn more about these: Junior Golf Rankings) – the Top 10 states with the concentration of the country’s top junior boys’ golf talent are: Texas, California, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Alabama.
For junior girls’ golf talent: California, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Nevada and Tennessee.
Certainly living in a climate where you can play golf year round is a great advantage. Juniors are more likely to go out and practice if it is warm and sunny. In addition, the availability of numerous high level tournaments and local or regional junior golf tours means that juniors get exposure to competing against other talented juniors and generally have the opportunity to develop more friendships with kids that golf, thus hanging out at the range or playing a round instead of resorting to indoor activities and other distractions.
Golf Course Community Living
The South-East region of the country has embraced golf course community living. More and more kids grow up in golf course communities that have thriving junior golf academies. Of course economics plays a big role here. Golf is certainly not an inexpensive pursuit. Junior players whose parents can afford lessons, equipment and country club dues have an easier ride on the face of it. But money cannot buy grit and determination and if a young, talented player in a more underserved community really wants to commit to a golfing future there are opportunities provided in communities, for example The First Tee organization which has branches in many cities and urban settings around the country.
D1 College Golf Teams
Here are the June 2021 GolfStat rankings of the top 20 D1 golf schools with a general breakdown of where they recruited their players from for their 20-21 roster.
- Oklahoma State - mostly international players with one locally recruited player
- Oklahoma - large amount of TX players, 4 local recruits
- Pepperdine - mostly local CA recruits
- Florida State - mostly local FL and international players
- Arizona State - players from all over the country and international
- University of Illinois - largely international and local IL recruits
- Vanderbilt - largely TN locals and international recruits
- University of North Carolina - 1/3 of the team are local NC players
- Wake Forest - 1/3 NC locals and 1/3 international recruits
- Clemson - half the team is recruited from the Carolinas
- Texas - overwhelming majority are in-state players
- Texas Tech - largely in-state and international players
- Texas A&M - overwhelming majority recruited in-state
- University of Georgia - team all recruited from the south-east
- University of Arkansas - majority of the team are from AK, OK and international
- Sam Houston State - all TX and international players
- Auburn - over half the team is from the South
- SMU - half the team are in-state TX recruits
- University of Arizona - all in-state, CA and international players
- North Carolina State - largely local and international recruits
A random look at other D1 schools further down the list showed the same trends – recruits drawn very much from in-state and neighboring state players as well as international players. Two interesting exceptions are the University of Miami which had no in-state players on their roster as of July 2021, and Long Island University which, with the exception of one Texas player, has a team comprised entirely of international players.
Reasons for Recruiting Close to Home
One of the reasons that college coaches like to recruit in-state players is that often that player might be eligible for state-based merit scholarship money like the Hope Scholarship in GA that is available to in-state residents who have demonstrated academic achievement. The scholarship provides money to assist students with a significant portion of the tuition cost of a Hope eligible college or university. Many other States have similar scholarship options.
This frees up athletic scholarship money in the team (a D1 men's golf program is permitted 4.5 scholarships and a D2 men's program is permitted 3.6 scholarships which generally has to be shared among a roster of 8 to 12 students)., as well as gives the coach some confidence that the recruited player will be able to maintain a required GPA in order to remain on the team.
Coaches also have more opportunity to watch in-state and neighboring state players and may be more familiar with high school coaches as well have relationships with other coaches in the area that coach high-performance players.
The largest concentration of top junior golf talent is based in Texas, the South-East and the South-West of the USA. The top D1 golf schools are largely based in these regions too and retain most of the junior golfing talent along with heavily recruiting top international junior players.
The answer to – does it matter where you live for junior golfers aspiring to play at the highest level? – appears to be a resounding yes. Of course, prodigious golfing talent is found all over the country and a junior living in a Northern State that is exceptionally good will be picked up by a strong college team regardless. There are over 300 D1 golf schools and therefore plenty of opportunity for kids in all States, but for kids wanting to play at the highest levels, with the many factors that help to encourage golfing talent and success from a young age including: weather, lifestyle, competition, high-level coaching and connection to college coaches, it helps to live in the Southern half of the States.