A college degree may up your starting salary, but it won't take strokes off your score

A college degree may up your starting salary, but it won’t take strokes off your score

Rickie Fowler (who still wears his school colors) played for two years at Oklahoma State before turning pro in 2009.
Tim Hales/AP

The current thinking in America suggests that acquiring a college education is critical to success, but the truth is that the young superstars of golf are coming from everywhere in the world except the United States college golf programs.

There are two major problems with college golf: The NCAA restricts how much golf student-athletes can play, and with a few exceptions, college coaching is just not as good as the instruction that these players would get as touring pros. Look at some of the top golfers from around the world: Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Ryo Ishikawa, Matteo Manassero, Jason Day. What do they have in common? None of them played college golf. While their American counterparts are playing an NCAA-restricted schedule, these international players are focusing on their games 24/7/365.

Jordan Spieth, the 18-year-old who’s already made the cut twice at the Byron Nelson, is going to the University of Texas in the fall, but you can’t tell me he’ll be a better golfer in four years than if he turned pro now. Rickie Fowler left college after two years and his game is immeasurably better than it would have been if he had stayed in school. Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar have had excellent pro careers after college golf, but that era is over. The game is global now, and the competition is more intense than ever.

If we want Americans to stay at the elite level of the game, we need to look at how other countries produce championship-caliber golfers. Many have national programs to get kids started, but none of them has a college golf system that prevents their best players from playing as much as they need to become great players.

Professional sports are getting younger, and golf is no exception. The American college system creates players who join the Tour at age 22 and finally acquire the experience and know-how to win in their late 20s. At that point, they are 10 years behind the competition. The need to have a fallback plan B (a diploma) in case of failure is holding players back from developing a game based on the intense need to succeed. Instead, their game is based on hoping and wishing and trying to play well.