Going to College Archive

Is a Walk-On Opportunity the “Best Fit” for Me?

Understanding the Realities of Being a Walk-On Will Help You Make the Right Choice.

As junior golfers approach the conclusion of their recruiting process, they may be presented with an opportunity to join a college golf team as a walk-on player—specifically, a walk-on player (i.e., nonscholarship) at a school that offers golf scholarships. Through my interactions with aspiring junior players, they often ask me if an invitation to be a walk-on is a good option to accept as a college recruit? The answer depends on the circumstances that have led to the walk-on offer, as well as a recruit’s goals and criteria for a best-fit school.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at how and why walk-on spots come about in the first place. Although college coaches tend to add very few, if any, walk-on players to their rosters during a given year, there are certain scenarios that result in walk-on openings. For instance:

  • A coach believes a recruit is a “late bloomer” and offers a walk-on spot knowing that his golf program is currently a competitive reach for the recruit, but it may become a fit in the near future.
  • A new coach decides to establish a new “team culture” by adding many recruits in a given year, but he has limited or no scholarships available.
  • A coach at a school with extremely high tuition/attendance costs may use all available athletic scholarship money for the top five to six team members and offer walk-on positions to several quality players who would be willing to pay a higher cost.
  • A golf program is not funded with the full allotment of scholarships allowed by the NCAA (due to budgetary limitations or other factors) and uses walk-ons to fill many of the roster positions.
  • A player really wants to pursue a “dream” school and is willing to accept a formal invitation to “walk on” the team (or even participate in a walk-on tryout tournament).

For those junior golfers considering any of the walk-on options mentioned above, the following key points might be worthy of consideration to help make the best decision:

  • Make a conservative assessment of your golf skills. If your junior golf scoring average (plus two to three strokes) in national tournament play is not in the range of the top four to five members of the college roster, you will likely face bigger competitive challenges to make the travel team.
  • Ask yourself if you can remain mentally and emotionally resilient if you do not make the travel team even though you are putting in the same amount of practice and playing time as other team members.
  • Discuss the details of the golf team’s qualifying system with the coach and team members. A system that provides ample opportunity for players to make the travel team based on qualifying scores is best.
  • Know that walk-on positions can be less secure than scholarship positions. Walk-on players can be invited to join a team and also uninvited at the coaches discretion.
  • Understand that coaching changes can occur, and walk-on players may encounter more challenges due to the new coach’s management system or opinion of walk-on players.
  • Attempt to obtain a written invitation from the coach offering the walk-on roster position. Although this document is not legally binding, it may encourage the athletic administration at the school to stand by the invitation if the coach leaves the golf program prior to your arrival.
  • Obtaining academic or merit scholarships can help make a walk-on opportunity more financially appealing.
  • Consider pursuing a “post-grad” or “gap” year instead of a current walk-on opportunity. Deciding to “extend” your recruiting timeline by using this strategy would allow you more time to develop skills, gain tournament experience, and potentially attract additional college golf offers at schools of interest.

Remember, college placement is all about finding a best-fit school. If a walk-on offer matches your criteria and affords a manageable and motivating competitive environment, it may be a reasonable college golf opportunity to consider. Use the keys I have provided to guide your due diligence; at the end of the day, you’ll make a well-informed college choice.

nicky goetze

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