Most high school students are extremely excited about heading off to college. They have all heard stories about how much fun they will have and all the interesting new opportunities that college life presents. For those of you that are lucky enough to be going to college to play golf, I can attest you are probably feeling a mix of excitement, curiosity, and nerves. You are excited about the unique opportunity to test your game at the next level. You are probably curious about all the things that being a college golfer will entail. And you can’t deny that you are feeling a bit nervous about what it will take to succeed on the golf course while you take this major step forward in your life.
I went through all those emotions about 17 years ago as I prepared to head off to Davidson College to play golf in the fall of 2001. There are many things I wish I took more time to consider and plan before I headed off to pursue that unique, rare, and extremely short-lived opportunity and that is the main goal of this post. I wanted to share some of the mistakes I made and some of the important lessons I learned. Hopefully, this will help you be better prepared to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.
College Golf and Time Management
For most young athletes, the college will be the first time in their life they are able to set their own schedule. This gives you an incredible sense of freedom but also presents plenty of challenges that you want to prepare for mentally. In high school, you have your parents and school setting much of your schedule for you. You need to wake up at this time, head to school at this time, go to set classes, head to practice after school, and the day wraps up with curfew (usually strictly enforced by your parents). College will be a completely different experience.
If you’re a college golfer, you will have a set schedule for workouts and practice. You will have a lot of freedom to set up the rest of your schedule. Your school will have some required classes, but you’ll have some flexibility regarding which classes you take and when. College golfers will have less flexibility because you will have to set your schedule around required practice time and, hopefully, travel for tournaments. You will also be playing a sport that goes year-round. Take this challenge seriously and work with a school counselor or advisor to plan out your potential classroom and major requirements as early as possible. Being proactive about this step from your first day on campus will give you a lot more freedom in future years. It will also help you avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety that will distract you from playing your best golf.
College will also present more temptations with a never-ending string of fun things to do. You will have lots of friends that don’t have to schedule around their golf practice, workout, and tournament schedule. There’s no reason you can’t have an active social life, but you must make some important choices early to create solid habits. If your goal is to be the best golfer you can be, you need to set clear and concise priorities and learn to say no early. It might seem like you are missing out on all the fun things your friends are doing, but you need to frame it in your own mind as the only path to achieving your most important goals.
I look back and realize I didn’t say no anywhere near enough throughout my college career. I felt like I had unlimited energy and could do it all. The truth was that I did not always keep my focus on improving my golf game and staying on top of my other obligations. This frequently left me feeling like I didn’t have enough time for anything. When I look back, I did not make the hard choices to set priorities early and was not always focused on my top priorities. Spend some time before you head off to college to set your goals and priorities. Create a list of priorities and goals that you can pull out and review when things start to get hectic. And they will get hectic in a hurry. From day one at college, life will come at you faster than ever before.
Davidson College and Stephen Curry
Davidson was an amazing place to go to college. The campus is beautiful. The school is challenging. The people are smart, energetic, and engaging. For all the things it is known for, producing professional athletes was not one of them when I arrived at Davidson. There were many smart and talented collegiate athletes in all sports, but most Davidson athletes would have told you they did not expect to play professional sports after college. Some certainly had dreams of joining the professional ranks, but it was certainly not why they chose Davidson.
Stephen Curry never got that message. He took the opportunity he was given at Davidson College and made the absolute most of it every day. I graduated the year before he arrived at Davidson and I don’t know him personally, but many of my friends that were still there at the same time as Curry relay stories of his determination from his first day on campus. I’ve never once heard a story of him being arrogant, but there was a quiet confidence that he would play basketball at the highest levels. His work ethic while in college is legendary and he had long-term plans and priorities that clearly kept him focused on his goals. His magic in March Madness and rise to one of the greatest players of all time let the rest of the world know what he believed long before he arrived at Davidson.
The most important lesson for any golfer out there is that it really doesn’t matter where you play golf in college. You might look at those golfers with incredible junior records going to the top-tier major colleges and wonder how you’ll be able to catch up. Take a simple lesson from Stephen Curry. Playing your favorite sport in college is an amazing opportunity. Use that opportunity to chase your dream and let everyone else do their thing. Playing college golf is something that only a few people will get to experience. Treat it as such every single day. Invest the time in your plan to get better every day and set priorities that will help you stay focused on your goals when college life tries to get in the way.