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Division III Golf: A Misunderstood Gem

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

It's a rare occasion for dedicated golf fans to come across Division III content in mainstream golf media. However, back in May, golf writer Shane Ryan did just that in Golf Digest. His piece, "The Grinders Who Saved a College Golf Team," chronicles the journey of two women who joined the Meredith College Women's Golf Team as a last-ditch effort to keep their team and their conference afloat.

In the article, Ryan sheds light on the challenging situation faced by Meredith College Women's Golf Coach Jimmy Hamilton. Injuries and departures had depleted the team, leaving Coach Hamilton with no choice but to turn to the student body for substitute players. Two Meredith College students stepped up, not only contributing their time but also their pride, to help rescue the team.

However, this wasn't just about preserving the Meredith College Women's Golf Team. The elimination of the Avenging Angels from the conference championship would have left the USA South conference without the minimum number of teams required by NCAA standards. This would have been a significant setback for an otherwise competitive conference.

Ryan describes how Meredith College fielded a team of four players at the conference championship, with two of them having never played golf before that season. While they faced some criticism from competitors, they were generally appreciated for their selfless act in keeping the team active. In the end, the Methodist Women's Golf team secured the USA South conference title and earned an automatic bid to the 2023 National Championship.

The efforts of these new Meredith College golfers did not go unnoticed. Inspired by Ryan's Golf Digest article, the director of communications for PGA Superstore reached out to Coach Hamilton. PGA Superstore generously donated $2,000 to the Meredith College Women's Golf Team as part of their "Girls Got Drive" initiative.

The exposure provided by Shane Ryan and Golf Digest undeniably benefited the Meredith Women's Golf Team, demonstrating the impact of a little attention on a Division III program. These players deserved recognition for their selflessness, and Ryan delivered just that, highlighting one of the most admirable aspects of Division III golf: the camaraderie among its teams and conferences.

However, it's important to note that Ryan's article doesn't provide a comprehensive view of Division III golf. As Ryan asserts,

"Hamilton knew that Division III golf bears a lot more similarity to high school golf than it does to Division I—academics are paramount, and team practices are rare—and roster fluctuations happen."

While this may hold true for some Division III programs, it's not a universal generalization. Recent examples, such as Alex Price's success as a DIII transfer to LSU and Rylee Suttor's success as a transfer to Louisville, prove that many Division III golfers possess the talent to compete at the highest level. According to the Golfstat rankings for the 2022-2023 season, the difference in team scoring between the top DI and DIII programs is smaller than one might assume. Methodist, the top Division III scorer from the previous year, averaged only 2.5 strokes per player (or 10 strokes per tournament) more than Illinois, the top DI scorer. While there's undoubtedly a larger pool of top talent at the DI level, it doesn't diminish the competitiveness of Division III golf.

Division III programs do have team practices, albeit with some scheduling challenges due to the emphasis on academics. These interruptions do not equate to disorganization or individualistic approaches to practice. The opportunity to practice with equally talented peers remains a key selling point of college golf, even at the Division III level.

In our recent podcast interview with Bryan Hearn, head coach of Randolph-Macon College Women’s team, he talks about the elimination of the “DI or bust mentality.” He states,

“It should be about what's the best fit. There are so many coaches at the DI, DII, and DIII levels that can help a player get to the next level of their game, it just depends on finding the right fit.”

Golf Digest's coverage of the Meredith College Golf Program was undoubtedly positive for Division III golf, and there's no reason to diminish the achievements of the Meredith College golf team. However, supporters of Division III golf can't help but feel frustrated by the misrepresentation of talent at this level. Using the examples from the article as the sole representation of Division III competition does a disservice to the competitive players of Division III golf and their supporters.

Division III golf deserves more attention than it currently receives. It offers a unique experience where tournaments are filled with fierce competition, noteworthy players, and compelling stories. It's time for Division III golf to receive the recognition it truly deserves.


References:

Golfstat Team Ranking 2022 - 2023. Golfstat. (n.d.). http://golfstat.com/index.cfm?event=public.teamRanking

Ryan, S. (2023, May 26). The grinders who saved a college golf team. GolfDigest.com. https://www.golfdigest.com/story/meredith-college-saving-golf-team-sarah-marshall-maycee-kay-aycock-shooting-434-combined



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