By METTE PEDERSEN
CUMMING, Ga. — As part of national signing day, 17-year-old Hannah Walker committed to a full-ride scholarship to Young Harris College, a Division II school in North Georgia.
The national signing day, Nov. 11, is where the class of 2016 student-athletes officially can commit to a college team.
The early signing period for basketball, golf and other sports besides football and soccer runs Nov. 11-18. The recruiting process can be stressful and intense, and a lot happens before an official commitment is made.
Walker attends Forsyth Central High School. Walker is an exceptional student, with a GPA of 4.25 out of 5.0, and plans on majoring in environmental science with a double minor in Spanish and business.
Walker, senior high school student, committed to the Young Harris Women’s golf team. (Photo by Mette Pedersen)
She is also an aspiring golf talent. She picked up golf her sophomore year, after she tore her ACL playing basketball in her freshman year. After just two months of playing golf, she shot a round of 74 in a tournament.
She’s got talent
Georgia Golf Hall of Fame member Spencer Sappington, 72, had no doubt about Walker’s potential. He met her for the first time in July 2013 at Crystal Falls Golf Club in Dawsonville, Ga.
“I remember I heard a crack (the force of the iron on the ball) on the range,” Sappington said. “You don’t hear cracks. They are very uncommon.”
Since then, the two have worked together on improving Walker’s golf game. Before Walker, Sappington had never coached anyone in golf before.
“I told her parents, ‘I don’t do this,’” Sappington said. “But I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ I told her dad, ‘she is good enough, she can play’ and I had just played one round with her.”
Spencer Sappington, Georgia golf hall of fame member since 2008, has coached Walker since 2013. (Photo by Mette Pedersen)
During Sappington and Walker’s first encounter, he learned that she had only been playing since February, already shot a round of 74, and had strong academics in high school. Knowing all this, he had no doubt about her potential.
“’You are going to go to college for free,’ I said. I had never worked with her on anything yet,” Sappington said. “But I saw the talent because she could do something in golf, and I knew what the academics can do for her, and she got it.”
Hundreds of women’s golf scholarships are unused each year. Therefore, Walker said she decided to try to get one, knowing that only 9.2 percent of female high school golfers get to compete in college.
There are a total of 868 schools that offers women’s golf. Each division has a different number of limited scholarships available per team. In 2014, the average scholarship for women was $6,319.
The NCAA rules
Walker and her parents learned about the golf recruiting process through college coaches and an academic advisor at an event at a local PGA Super store.
The NCAA governs all college sports in the U.S., and there are several rules that the institutions, coaches and players must follow.
The rules are designed to protect the student-athlete. Some rules regulate how to and how much contact a coach can have with a recruit during the recruiting process. They also set the criteria for the GPA requirements for the student-athletes to be eligible to compete.
Walker emailed between 15 and 20 college coaches with contact information, completed questionnaires about her golf game and statistics, swing videos, tournament results, and a motivational letter.
“It was hard because when I started contacting, I hadn’t been playing for over a year yet,” Walker said. “It was hard to convince people that I had the potential to do stuff.”
Georgia State University head coach Cathy Mant showed initial interest in Walker. The Georgia State women’s golf team is ranked 166th in the nation according to Golfweek.
“Specifically right now, I’m looking for someone who can average 75 or better on a course that is between 6000 and 6300 yards, who can hit a 7-iron 145 yards, and someone with heart,” Mant said. “I need someone who can get in and play. I really don’t have the opportunity to spend a lot of time to develop somebody.”
What are coaches looking for?
Mant said she receives about 20 emails a week from high school students seeking scholarships. She said she also does a lot of research through the American Junior Golf Association, World Ranking, a junior golf scoreboard, and by watching tournaments to see what potential recruits are out there.
“Sometimes I go to the U.S. Girls Amateur, British Girl, or another big tournament,” Mant said. “I will sit at the first tee the first day and take notes on every single kid that plays. I will sit there for seven hours and make notes, and I’m not the only coach who does that.”
She said that in addition to their golf skills and ability to shoot low rounds, she also looks at their academics and personality.
“It’s hard to keep up with all the travel, so I’m looking for someone with a 3.0 or higher,” Mant said.
Mant also considers how that person will fit into the team dynamic by looking at their attitude. She pays close attention how they treat their fellow competitors and their parents on and off the golf course.
“They don’t know that you are looking for that, but that is some small things,” Mant said. “If you see someone who has a lot of temper or treating people with disrespect, I don’t want them on my team because that is just going to cause trouble.”
A coach can invite a potential recruit on a 48-hour paid official visit during their senior year in high school to get to know them better. A senior can officially visit up to five potential schools. According to NCAA rules, a player can take as many unofficial visits as they want on their own expense, whenever.
Walker visited five schools before she committed to Young Harris College. Her first visit was to Georgia State. She said Mant helped her understand what to look for in a school and what questions to ask, and helped gave her a better understanding of what scores she needed for a Division I or II level.
“Most Division I teams have their season picked out for the next year, so you kind of have to be a good junior,” Walker said. “So, at that point, I wasn’t really on the radar for a Division I team, but a good Division II team, yes.”
Showing off the best side
The official visit has multiple purposes. The recruits get to check out the school, the coaches and the team to see if that fits with what they are looking for.
“One question many coaches ask is, ‘Do you see yourself going to this school, if you weren’t playing golf?’” Mant said. “Because this is a really important time in your life and special years of your life, or at least it should be.”
The visit is also for the coaches to see if the player will fit into their team. Mant said she observes them and sees how they interact with the other team members.
“I had a recruit in town one time, and we went to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner and we had a long wait, and she was irritated as heck,” Mant said. “And I thought if this is how she is expressing herself on an official visit when you would think that she was on her best behavior, what is it going to be like later on when things are going to be crazy?”
Once the player and coach agree to commit to each other, they make a verbal commitment. However, nothing is official before the national letter of intent is signed. The national letter of intent is a legal agreement between the coach and player.
Heath Senour, associate athletic director for compliance at Kennesaw State Athletics, said the national letter of Intent is binding for both parties. Only under certain circumstances can the athlete or the institution pull back from the agreement.
The coach and the compliance department watch the new signee and the NCAA eligibility center closely during the spring and summer to make sure that the recruit follows the process and passes high school and SAT test to be eligible for competing, Senour said.