In “Credit Hours,” we tell the stories of college golf teams whose seasons were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we consider a question currently facing many collegiate golfers across the country: should I stay or should I go?
In one way or another, everyone has felt the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. While student-athletes may not be high on anyone’s worry list, many are going through anxious times right now.
Golfers at all levels have few options for competition at the moment. Most professional tours have shut down, their futures murky at best. The PGA Tour has announced that all current players will keep their status through the next season, meaning that members of the Korn Ferry Tour, Mackenzie Tour, and PGA Tour Latinoamérica will have to wait at least another year for the usual opportunities to move to the next level.
This backup in the professional ranks makes things tough for collegiate players looking to turn pro.
At Georgia State University, the men’s golf team was prepared to lose two seniors and two graduate students this spring. Now, per the NCAA’s recent decision, all four have the option of returning to school this fall. “We’ve gone from carrying nine or 10 guys next year to maybe carrying 13 or 14,” said assistant coach Nick Mackay, a recent guest on The Fried Egg podcast. “The longer the [lockdown] has gone, the more our [veterans] think their best option is to come back. Particularly our one senior who was ready to turn pro—because they’re cancelling Korn Ferry Q-School, they’re cancelling Monday qualifiers—he’s like, ‘I really don’t have the option to play.’”
Georgia State’s two seniors and two graduate students are all big-time contributors. Grad student Ashton Poole led the team in scoring average and played all six events in the 2019-20 season. Seniors Josh Edgar and Egill Gunnarsson were second and third in scoring average and also appeared in every event. And Severin Soller, a German grad student, rounded out the top four, playing in five of GSU’s six tournaments.
From left, Georgia State's veteran leaders: Ashton Poole, Egill Gunnarsson, Josh Edgar, and Severin Soller. Photo credit: Georgia State Athletics
So if Georgia State’s top four leave, the team would have to regroup and rebuild next season. But if they stay…
“Some teams are going to bring back one senior, maybe two,” said Mackay. “[We] have the potential to bring back four and have some veteran leadership from guys who have played a ton. That could be very advantageous going forward.”
Aside from the veterans at the top, Georgia State has a strong group of incoming freshmen, who Mackay believes can make an instant impact. “I think historically it’ll be one of the best recruiting classes we’ve ever put together,” he said. “I think we’re going to improve a lot very quickly.”
Which isn’t to say that GSU was bad last season. The team just didn’t play its best, registering only one top-10 finish during the 2019-20 season. But this coming year, the Panthers may have a mature group of graduate students guiding a talented crew of freshmen. It would be an exciting mixture of leadership and depth.
Looming over all of this, however, is the ever-present question of funding. “A big part of this situation is figuring out the money,” explained Mackay. “With those four guys coming back, it’s about figuring out if they can make it work financially and if we can help money-wise.”
While the NCAA has granted all players an extra year of eligibility, scholarship limits are still in place. If a team has all of its scholarships locked up for next year, players will have to pay their own way or transfer to a school that has money available. Luckily for GSU, the men’s golf team had a scholarship set aside for a player that ended up going elsewhere. “Our thinking was that if he turned us down, we would use it to pick up a good player from the transfer portal,” Mackay said. “Now we have the option to use that scholarship to help out the guys that are coming back.”
But generally speaking, golf scholarships are likely to be hard to come by in the near future. “The classes a few years down, where there aren’t as many offers out yet, might be the classes that suffer,” Mackay said.
For now, though, Georgia State remains hopeful. Their four would-be graduates have yet to declare their decisions, but Coach Mackay expects strong years ahead. With their depth and veteran leadership, the Panthers have a shot at their first NCAA Championship berth since 2014.
The 2019-20 Georgia State team. Photo credit: Georgia State Athletics
8th – Marquette Intercollegiate
8th – Autotrader Collegiate Classic
Ashton Poole – T-7 – Marquette Intercollegiate (69-69-75)
Josh Edgar – T-12 – Marquette Intercollegiate (74-73-68)
Josh Edgar – T-14 – Tiger Invitational (74-73-69)
Ashton Poole – T-17 – Autotrader Collegiate Classic (66-76-74)