University of Georgia men’s golf coach Chris Haack doesn’t have time to do much kicking back after the college golf season ends in early June.
When the college season ends and after the school’s two-week camp, the junior golf circuit is already in full swing. In fact, the junior golf season in the sun belt hardly even ends, meaning Haack and assistant coach Jim Douglas have plenty of chances to see potential recruits.
“Right now you can probably find a junior tournament with some type of national significance just about every month,” said Haack, who was a junior golf tournament director before coming to Georgia. “Between the two of us, we probably hit 10-12 events during the summer, which isn’t that all that long.
“We’re lucky if we can get a week off in between to go to the beach.”
Welcome to the world of junior golf in 2012.
Habersham Central grad Lee McCoy, soon to be one of Haack’s incoming freshman, has been playing in the world of junior golf tournaments since the age of 5, when he played in his first tournament in his home state of Florida.
From there he worked his way up from local tournaments to regional tournaments and finally to the national level, where the best junior golfers in the world compete to win and catch the eye of college scouts.
McCoy, who was the Class AAAA state tournament’s low-medalist last season, broke into that top tier, the American Junior Golf Association, in his freshman year. Making the cut earned him an exemption into another of the association’s prestigious invitationals, and from there McCoy kept working his way up.
“The opportunities presented to us right now are absolutely ridiculous,” said McCoy, who was at one point the No. 6-ranked player in the AJGA. “The AJGA, they treat us like professionals. In summer tournaments we get brand new Pro-V’s for range balls, we get shirts, shoes, and most give players new golf bags.”
He added that most of the top players have sponsorships as well, and McCoy said he played with a number of golfers who have already played in tour events.
“The AJGA is the place to get recognized. There’s better players at the invitationals than the US Junior Am,” he added. “Everybody’s won something, everybody’s worked their butt off to get there.
“It’s unbelievable how much talent there is.”
Which is why Haack and other college golf coaches continue to travel all around the country to see these junior golfers, and why current high school golfers continue to work to reach the upper levels of a junior golf scene that has exploded in recent years.
Bryson Worley, coach of the defending state champion Gainesville boys golf team, has seen the growth of junior golf since his days as a player in the early 1980s.
“The growth of the game since Tiger came out in 1997, it’s consistently expanded,” said Worley, who added that Tiger Woods’ ascension was one of a number of factors. “In the last 10 years I’ve really seen it kick up a notch with recruiting.”
All of his golfers play during the summer months, and Worley said a number are being heavily recruited early on, including rising freshman Spencer Ralston, the top-ranked player in his age group.
At a cost of roughly $500-1,000 a tournament, including entry fee, travel expenses and lodging, Worley added that a college scholarship, and a possible chance at a pro tour down the road, is the reason for the hefty investment.
It’s also a large investment in time.
One of Worley’s players, rising senior Pep Brown, has already been to five tournaments this summer, most recently the prestigious, three-day North-South Junior Championship at Pinehurst, N.C., where Brown finished ninth in a field of 100 of the region’s top golfers.
“With traveling, it probably takes up about half (the summer), but the rest of the time I’m practicing,” said Brown, who, his coach said, was home just three days in the last two weeks.
“It’s a summerlong ordeal.”
Brown is part of a group of golfers Worley said is the most highly motivated group he’s ever coached. In addition to practicing, the golfers also do strength training.
“In summer, they’re either traveling to a tournament or at the course everyday, and they all do strength and conditioning,” Worley said, adding that Woods’ incredible success also led to strength training becoming popular among golfers. “Just like in football — bigger, faster, stronger — in golf you’ve got to be so much better than the next guy.
“It’s a full time job.”
That goes for boys and girls high school players.
Many of Gainesville coach Clay McDonald’s defending state champion Lady Red Elephants play in the summer.
“Three of mine play pretty much two or three times per week playing tournaments all around the state,” he said. “And most of the college coaches will hang around the bigger tour websites.
“It’s been like this for awhile, it’s pretty cutthroat, it’s early and more intense. People are just trying to find that edge.”
McDonald added that it’s also the only way for his golfers to keep from falling behind once the high school season rolls around.
“You have to; that’s the only way you’re going to maintain any sort of game and improve,” McDonald said. “We spend four hours practicing after school. But when you spend, six, seven hours every day out there on the course, that’s when you can really take our advice and make the changes you need to, and tweak some things.”
Last year’s Region 8-AAA runners-up, the White County Lady Warriors, have also benefited by golfers playing in the summer.
“Golf is a sport where you can’t just put it down and wait until the season and play good. You can really tell the players that put in the time to get better,” said Lady Warriors coach Beth Kimsey. “People are starting to realize that girls can get great scholarships at college for playing golf, and that’s a great incentive for getting girls involved.”
For McCoy, the incentive has already shown itself in a scholarship to play at Georgia.
And it’s another good result for Haack, who said that, even though he recruits players from all over the country, the Bulldogs always leave a couple of spots open each year for Georgia’s best.
And Haack, who joined the AJGA in 1981 as a tournament director before becoming director of operations in 1984 and director of development in 1985 prior to taking over as the Bulldogs coach in 1996, knows what he’s looking for.
“We look at a bunch of things, obviously scores are a big part, but we like to watch practice habits, their swing, and their habits on the golf course,” he said. “If they’re a whiner, or a club thrower, generally they’re not going to fit with our program.
“And I like to see how they treat their parents when they come off the course. If they’re rude to their parents, then they’ll probably be rude to me.”
And, even with golf becoming a 365-day-a-year sport, Haack likes a little balance from his golfers, noting how recent stars Harris English, Hudson Swofford and Brian Harman used to hunt together.
“We try to find the guys that have a balance, we like to find the guys that have other hobbies or play other sports, that find a way to get away from golf,” Haack said. “I like kids who have other outlets.”
And in the seemingly non-stop world of junior golf, a little break can’t hurt.