Maggie Will is trying to make sense of the sometimes creaky bridge that connects present-day prep golfer to potential college player
Maggie Will is trying to make sense of the sometimes creaky bridge that connects present-day prep golfer to potential college player.
The numbers are so dizzying, the questions so complex that the resolute Will is determined to find answers. The jumping-off point entailed a deep dive for Will, a former collegiate standout at golf powerhouse Furman University who won three times on the LPGA.
According to Will’s extensive research that she is comfortable enough with to cite on her website, Will2Golf.com, there are over 600 golf tours and associations hosting more than 13,000 events. And there are 2,147 college golf teams across the country spanning all divisions of college golf.
Those mind-numbing numbers can cause parents and junior golfers to hopscotch the planet, sometimes without a plan of where and when to play and how to get recruited. The dynamic causes many parents to overspend. In the case of coaches, part of the puzzle, quite like a Rubik’s Cube, amounts to mapping a budget-conscious travel schedule to see players who may be the future of their program.
Will has made inroads on the winding maze of junior golf and recruiting through her website. Launched in May 2016, it’s an à la carte site with an expansive database that sets juniors, parents and coaches on a sensible path in gathering information and making smart decisions. The goal is to aid developing golfers in selecting and playing events that fit their skill level, including tournaments at the junior, amateur and Open levels.
Events on the site are disseminated by age, gender, skill level and geographic location, among other factors. There are also tips about completing a college application; advice on how to approach and speak with a coach; guidance about how to best use the site; and information about schools’ academic standards.
Perhaps most importantly, juniors can input their playing schedule and coaches have access to provide information about what tournament they are attending at any given time. The aim is for player and coach to connect.
Juniors and coaches have their own portal where they manage their respective profiles and information. The site is cleverly built so juniors can find data about colleges and universities, but not other juniors. Using the same principle, coaches can learn more about juniors, but can’t collect intel about other colleges and universities or who a particular coach may be recruiting.
Tournaments are assigned a rating through the eyes and ability of a junior; in other words, a nine-hole junior event receives a different value than a U.S. Open qualifier.
A former assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth, North Carolina State and UNC Wilmington and a past head women’s coach at the University of Richmond, Will understands the challenges players face in making the right college choice and believes that one size does not fit all. That’s why she’s made the website fully customizable and nearly all-encompassing.
She’s also sensitive to collegiate compliance requirements. Coaches cannot chat with players directly via the site.
“There is no contact inside of the system — absolutely no contact capabilities,” Will said. “I know that is illegal. What they do on their own time and phone is their business, not mine.”
Her site has improved lines of communication all around for players looking to get noticed and coaches have an opportunity to watch a junior they may want to recruit.
“We have a way of identifying juniors’ skill levels so they can pick their events and it gives college coaches a more complete look at a player’s game,” Will said. For juniors, the cost is $75 to join and there is a $10 per month usage fee, a virtual pittance when compared to the cost of some tournament entry fees.
A native of Whiteville, N.C., Will ended up on the Furman women’s golf team somewhat randomly because “a friend of a friend” knew her and the quality of Will’s game. One of Will's teammates at Furman was Dottie Pepper, who won 17 times on the LPGA, including two majors. Will then enjoyed a nice career on the LPGA from 1990 to 1994.
Will emphasizes that her road to success isn’t the route everyone should take and that career paths, especially in golf, often aren’t customizable. And while Will made the right choice when she chose Furman, there weren’t nearly the abundance of resources to perform research about other opportunities as there are today.
“The site would’ve been extremely helpful for me,” admits Will, who estimates she spends 15-plus hours a day populating and managing Will2Golf.
While word-of-mouth holds some value, recruiting has grown so complex that meetings of chance cannot be relied upon solely. The site allows juniors and their families to be more efficient and economical. Without saying as much, Will views the dynamic intelligently — both from the perspective of parents and juniors — and her keen thought process is manifested on the site. Why spend the time, effort and frankly, the money, to travel to the far corners of the globe to play in an event where you’re not going to get noticed?
The site has been an immediate hit among juniors and their parents. One of its biggest fans is Charlie Hanson, of Richmond, Va., who is one of the state's top junior golfers. He uses the site to both refine his competitive schedule and guide his college search.
“The website and her advice really helps with finding the tournaments for your skill level,” Hanson said. “Being able to search within a certain distance that you can get to for tournaments is really nice. It really makes finding tournaments a lot easier. I play a ton of events on different tours. It’s really nice to see all the programs and coaches in the database, too. Maggie really helps out about who to talk to and getting in contact with coaches, which is the toughest part for me.”
For Will, juniors who bounce from tournament to tournament because of the event’s or tour’s name recognition amounts to the equivalent of a curious explorer venturing a course to potential treasure without the benefit of a compass.
She appreciates that while playing ability is important, sometimes it isn’t the ultimate determiner for coaches. For Will, what matters is matching the right player to the most appropriate program — no need to wear a shoe that doesn’t fit or isn’t comfortable, she appreciates. Will notes that the site is particularly useful for the "tweener junior" — one capable of playing college golf under the right circumstances and at the most ideal program based on the golfer's ability and background.
“I thought about the junior trying to play college golf and asked the question: ‘Where are you going to be and how are you going to be seen?’" Will said. “Where do I start and how do I progress? I hear it every day from a junior parent: ‘My child is ranked 250th in the world. Why did the coach recruit No. 730?'"
“Because they built a relationship. Because they saw them. Because they got to know them.’It’s see and be seen,'” she said.
Will realizes the "seeing" part for coaches can be difficult, especially for those who are trying to squeeze every dollar out of their recruiting budget. That said, the site has been useful and important for coaches who have somewhat limited resources.
“We’re not a power-five school. I don’t have the budget to go to every (American Junior Golf Association) event,” explained a head women’s golf coach at a Division I mid-major school that doesn’t have a football program. “The site allows me to look at players who are signed up for an event that I can drive to. I’m finding tournaments that I didn’t know existed and can focus on watching one or two players if I need to.
“There are always going to be the players who are going to go to a top-10 ranked school. You know that. But I’m able to see a lot of kids, some of whom might be under the radar. It’s a win-win for coaches and players trying to get recruited. It’s a great resource. Maggie has a passion for the game and has carved out a niche with the site.”
Another impetus for the site came when Will started developing questions that coaches and parents would need to address that she didn’t necessarily have the answers to. All she could do is shake her head initially, before undertaking an ambitious learning and growing process prior to launching Will2Golf.
“College coaches feel pain because they can’t find that junior golfer," she said. "That junior golfer feels pain because they can’t find that college coach. It’s very easy in every other sport, but golf is not organized. I took a leap of faith, spent a year doing research and decided that I could help a lot of folks. I made it so everyone can find opportunity. We’re getting there.”
Ultracompetitive as she is innovative, Will culled from her past experiences, both the joys and frustrations, in organizing the site. Her reason for undertaking the initiative?
“To help folks,” she said. “My mother was a helper and that’s just who I am. I am a helper. I feel the pain of others. I just always wanted to help folks. While I enjoy one-on-one interaction, I wanted to do more than that. It’s a very scary proposition to guide your child to something that you don’t know anything about. Knowledge is powerful.”
Will is constantly improving the website, but a sound structure is in place. In less than a year after the site was live, she estimated that Will2Golf.com helped place more than two dozen juniors in college golf programs.
Will says the positive feedback about her site and its impact in helping young people and their families has been inspiring.
“I get chills every time a player calls to say, ‘I did this. I did that,’ thanks to the site," Will said. “I may have met them at a tournament for two seconds and now they’re calling me to say 'Thank you. Here is where I am going.’ There are lots of opportunities out there.”
Author Andrew Blair is a writer from Glen Allen, Va.