While there isn’t a single men’s or women’s college golf tournament scheduled to begin Nov. 8, the biggest day of the fall season for most every Division I team in the country is now less than a week away. Nothing, you see, affects the health of a program—and, in turn, the well-being of its coach—more than recruiting, a sometimes arduous, occasionally ugly, often exhilarating process that comes to a head next Wednesday when high school seniors can begin signing National Letters of Intent and officially announce where they’ll play their college golf.
As recently as five years ago, this first day of the week-long early signing period (a second signing period begins in April) required coaches keep a bottle of Pepto-Bismol at the ready seeing as it came with an accompanying anxiety somewhere between standing over a 15-foot birdie to win a tournament and getting a root canal. Talk to coaches at major programs, however, and they’ll tell you that while the signing day is no less important, today any tension or stress has already come and gone.
“Almost all the [top players] have made their decisions months ago, so there aren’t many real surprises,” contends Clemson men’s coach Larry Penley. “The biggest thing is making sure all the paper work is done and that all the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed. It’s a paper pushing week.”
Rather than nervously sitting by her office phone, Virginia women’s coach Jan Mann was actually getting in a little R&R with her family this past week on the Atlantic shore, taking her grandchildren out on Halloween.
That’s not to say there isn’t any last-minute grinding going on. Texas men’s coach John Fields anticipates three recruits coming for their official campus visits this weekend, where they’ll attend the Longhorns’ home football game against Oklahoma State, among other activities. Even Fields, though, says this week isn’t more harried than any other.
What’s changed coaches attitudes toward this time on the recruiting calendar has been the change in attitude of high schoolers toward making early verbal commitments to schools. It’s not unusual to hear of kids two or even three years away from stepping on a college campus already having pledged to attend a specific institute of higher learning. To wit: Philip Francis and__Esther Choe, the recently named American Junior Golf Association players of the year__, both made verbal commitments to UCLA and Arizona, respectively, this past summer, removing any of the suspense that often accompanies signing day in college football or basketball.
Other top junior golfers also made it known long ago where they’ll tee it up next fall, Rickie Fowler (Oklahoma State), Arnond Vongvanij (Florida), Kevin Tway (Oklahoma State) and Shiwan Kim (Stanford) on the men’s side, Taylore Karle (Pepperdine), Megan Grehan (Vanderbilt) and Maria Jose Uribe (UCLA) on the women’s considered some of the prize catches of the Class of 2007. (For a listing of where players have signed, go next week to ajga.org).
“What we’re working on right now is recruiting in the class of 2008,” admits Tennessee women’s coach Judi Pavon. Fields concurs, saying that during the fall 50 percent of recruiting time is devoted to high school seniors and 50 percent to the next year’s class and younger.
With the fall tournament schedule winding down, college coaches will be on the recruiting trail in the next few months, attending the AJGA Polo Golf Junior Classic at Sea Island GC and Junior Orange Bowl in Miami, a prominent tournament that attracts many international players. “Recruiting is as critical as it every was,” Penley says. “It’s just much more of a year-round process.”
Bottom line: College golf coaches will be waiting with anticipation for those National Letters of Intent to come over their fax machines on Nov. 8. Only a few who don’t know whose names will be on them, however, will be reaching for the Pepto.