The latest blog post features Aaron O Callaghan. Aaron is the assistant golf coach for the University of Louisville Golf Team.
This is a must read article for parents of anyone considering a scholarship to the USA.
Hi Aaron , Many thanks for taking the time to be a part of the Cannon Performance blog and I’m really looking forward to hearing your views and thoughts on the American college golf system. Its certainly been a big success for a lot of Irish golfers over the last twenty years.
Robbie, The American college system has been a tremendous success for young golfers in many different ways.
It is an incredible opportunity to develop talent at the highest level while continuing ones education. There are countless Irish golfers that have played college golf and have had very positive experiences. In many cases Irish golfers end up remaining in the States. America has been very good to me. I have enjoyed living in different cities and I have fortunate to be surround with amazing people.
RC First of all Aaron, Tell us about you and your story. We played amateur golf together about 15 years ago for a few seasons and you had a lot of success back then. Tell us about your journey and how you took up golf. Im sure people would love to hear why you went down the college coach route.
AC I began playing pitch and putt at the age of 8. I loved going to the pitch and putt club with my father Brendan. This laid the foundations of my love affair with golf. My eldest brother Wayne turned professional when I was just getting started. The conversations in my house were centered around sport, and mostly about golf. I decided at a very young age that I wanted to be a professional golfer. At the age of 12, I began to play golf. It was a thrill for me to go to the course with the aim to get better every day. By nature I am a very competitive person. Golf enabled me to constantly compete against myself. I was able to see improvement quickly in my game as my scores lowered. At the age of 15, I was very fortunate to be selected by the GUI for the Irish Boys panels. This placed me in an environment of excellent coaches and players on a regular basis. As my game progressed, I was able to play to a high level on a world stage. Playing in North America, Asia and across Europe gave me experience and a taste of a golf professional’s lifestyle. I wanted to play college golf in the states from aged 16. Having played for the Great Britain and Ireland Boys team, I was recruited by a number of college programs. I followed in the footsteps of a number of Irish players and committed to play at Southeastern Louisiana University.
I knew that the best players in amateur golf played in the states and I wanted to test my ability against them. I had a tremendous experience at Southeastern. My college career was up and down but during these years I continued to learn more about myself. As I matured, I began to focus more on my academics and began to plan ahead. College golf opened my eyes to the level of competition. The talent is so deep that after 4 years of competing, the reality was that I was not in a position to turn professional and play full time. Without any status and little financial backing, it was not in my best interest to play mini tours, nor did it appeal to me. At the time, my game was too inconsistent to be able to be successful at the level that I wanted.
The opportunity to come on as an Assistant Golf Professional at Baton Rouge Country Club in Louisiana meant that I was able to stay in the states and enter the PGA program. I immediately started my training and loved the instructional aspect of my job. I spent 5 years at the club where I was able to play in professional events and instruct golf. As I developed my knowledge as an instructor, the more I enjoyed teaching. Once the opportunity came to join the University of Louisville coaching staff, I couldn’t resist. It meant that I would have the opportunity to coach aspiring young athletes in the pursuit of their dream of playing golf professionally. For me, working with highly motivated people is a thrill. It drives me and I get a lot of satisfaction from helping others. I want to be the best I can be. The position of a college coach forces me to continue to learn and adapt with new players.
RC Having spent some time with you recently at the University of Louisville it was very evident to see the passion you have for coaching and for the game of golf. You clearly miss playing golf. When did you realise you were not going to make a living out of playing tournament golf? I feel some people out there struggle to realise how good you have to be to make a living out of tournament golf and the talent that Tour players possess. Was it a tough decision to go down the coaching route and did you always have such a passion for coaching?
AC There are many golfers that I grew up playing against that are struggling to make a living on the mini tours. I admire players that are persistent in chasing the dream of playing at the highest level. This lifestyle is not for me. I certainly miss competitive golf. I maintain my PGA membership here in the states and I hope to compete in some sectional events in 2017.
I get so much enjoyment from coaching and seeing improvement in others. Once I began instructing and coaching, it struck me how much I loved doing it! College sports in America are as good as it gets. I knew from my experience that I would be surrounded by highly motivated people that want to win. I jumped at the opportunity to be able to develop aspiring professionals golfers and be competitive at the highest level of amateur golf. My passion for coaching has really developed the more experience that I get. It is an incredible feeling to see development in players. I have tasted a little bit of success in coaching, reaching some new benchmarks University of Louisville in my first recruiting class. I am now in my 3rd year at Louisville and I love it more than ever. I get excited to see the progress in our players both on and off the course.
RC I work with a lot of talented golfers in their late teens here in Ireland and the UK and there is always talk of the next step for them . There is a lot of interest from them to go to university in the states. I feel that some of the kids and parents don’t know enough about the system . Could you talk to us about the system. How it works. What grades you need. Scholarship opportunities etc.
AC The next step from high level of amateur golf to the college golf system is a great option. I believe that it is the best measuring stick for young players. The future tour players are in the college system now. If you can’t beat them in four years of college I feel that it is unlikely at the next level. There are many programs that prepare the players so well in college that they are ready once they leave to compete against the best.
It is always best for aspiring golfers to take the initiative in the process of looking at Universities in the States. All programs are unique. I find that many Europeans believe that the weather is the number one factor in where they would like to play. Although this can be an important factor, prioritizing the weather is very naive. The most important factor is the Coach of the program. He will make or break your experience. There are so many aspects to consider ahead of the weather – academic standards, tournament schedule, teammates, facilities, and golf courses available. Playing time is often overlooked by many players. In my opinion, playing tournaments is the fastest way to improve. As there are only 5 players that are in the travel squad, it is important to go to a program that is fitted to your ability level. I haven’t come across a player that is happy when they are outside of the starting line up. Scholarship is also very important for internationals since University can be expensive! All teams have 4.5 scholarships to divide up to their team. It is unrealistic to expect a full scholarship in most cases. That being said, it is vital that a budget is made out and planned over 4 years. Scholarship is typically improved with great performance.
Current and past team members can be a great source of information. I encourage golfers to reach out to team members to inquire about the program and what is like.
This link helps to explain some of the important recruiting rules- https://www.ajga.org/parents/collegegolf.asp
Golfers should create a resume. This should include their golfing achievements and videos with a personal statement and aspects of their game. Be proactive with calls to coaches and emailing for information. Take visits to the programs that are of interest. Players can request an unofficial (out of pocket) visit at any age. The University pays for an official visit. This consists of a maximum of 48 hours on campus. The SAT exam has to be taken, and the visit must take place after September 1st of the prospect’s final year of high school. Coaches are allowed to contact players after September 1st of their second to last year of secondary school.
There are many conferences in the States. The ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac 12 are part of the Power 5 Conferences. These conferences have the most resources available. The current PGA tour and European tour is filled with players from these conferences.
Academic standards differ in each University. The better high school grades, the more attractive a golfer is to a coach. A prospect must take the SAT exam early. This is vital to become eligible to play in the states. The exam can be taken multiple times. Create a profile at the NCAA eligibility center https://web3.ncaa.org/ecwr3/
RC Having been to the university of louisville last month I got to witness first hand what an amazing program with fantastic facilites you have over there. Tell us about what is happening over there with you guys and what both mens and womens teams get to experience when attending the university of louisville.
Louisville is one of the fastest growing athletic programs in the US. We have joined the ACC conference in 2014, and as a result all 23 sports have seen rapid improvements. The University has spent over 400 million on facilities in the last number of years and it will not stop there!
Being a Cardinal in Louisville is very special. The city has over a million people without a professional sports team, so the University of Louisville athletes are revered.
The athletes here are fortunate to have an extensive support system in place. For our golf team alone, we have two golf coaches, a director of operations, academic advisor, strength and conditioning coach, a nutritionist, and sports psychologist.
We purchased a golf course in 2014 and we have continued to make improvements to our facilities. The University of Louisville Golf Club is considered one of the premier practice facilities in the country. We are also fortunate to have a large number of different courses to play. Valhalla is the best course we play and is a true test for an aspiring professional. Coaches at Louisville have high expectations of their athletes, and players in the programs are pushed on a daily basis to improve. The programs at Louisville require high work ethic in every area of the being a student athlete.
If there is anyone that may have questions regarding our program-
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
My mobile number is (001)502 744 5352
RC Aaron, Its been a pleasure having you on the blog and thanks for all the great information about the college system
AC . Its been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.