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Golf: Ohio State leans on international recruiting with climate posing challenges

Ohio State junior golfer Jaclyn Lee tees off during a round of golf in 2017. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics

Nearly every student at Ohio State complains about the ever-changing weather. In Columbus, learning to deal with the wind, rain, cold and overall fickle forecast is seemingly a rite of passage.

Perhaps no member of the Ohio State community has more cause to complain about the weather than women’s golf head coach Therese Hession.

Ohio State has less reputation and notoriety in golf than it does in many other sports, giving Hession a more difficult time recruiting than top programs. This is in large part due to Mother Nature. Top recruits want to go somewhere they can golf consistently year-round. Thanks to weather that gets cold early and stays chilled late, that’s just not possible in central Ohio.

Since the mid-2000s, Ohio State has looked to untapped markets outside the United States to attract talent and remain competitive nationally as a way to circumvent the obstacle that Ohio’s climate presents.

“A lot of times, the top players in some countries are really good players,” Hession said. “They might be equivalent to the top 10 or 15 percent of the players in America. A lot of the [top players] in the United States don’t give me a look up here in Ohio.”

Plenty of international players want to come to the U.S. and compete in the NCAA. Hession said this is mostly due to the professional opportunities in North America — particularly the LPGA Tour — that are more lucrative than other international women’s tours.

In countries with colder climates, players who want to compete as much as possible are drawn to the U.S., where they can play in tournaments around the country throughout the year.

“I wanted the opportunity to get better at my golf game,” said Jaclyn Lee, a junior from Calgary, Alberta. “It’s hard to do that when the seasons turn in Canada, which is why I chose to come down [to the United States].”

Though the Ohio State women’s golf team spent only $19,207 on recruiting in the fiscal year 2017, according to Ohio State Athletics’ NCAA financial statements, international travel is expensive. Hession said the coaching staff typically travels overseas to watch specific tournaments and monitor the players they want to pursue and have not seen before, rather than approach players they have already pinpointed as targets.

Yet the team still needs to build a relationship with its recruits in order to establish a supportive environment vital to performance.

“[Players] want to feel like they can trust me and that I will be there to take care of them,” Hession said.

Having limited face-to-face interaction with international players, Ohio State has leaned heavily on technology to build relationships with recruits. This includes emailing, Skype conversations and FaceTime tours of the team’s indoor golf facility.

The team also strives to build relationships with players’ coaches in their home countries. Due to NCAA regulations, coaches are not allowed to directly contact recruits until their junior year of high school. Communication with coaches provides a middle ground for Ohio State to closely monitor a player early in the process without committing any violations.

Many high-school coaches continue to work with their players after they leave for college. Technology allows Hession to collaborate with these coaches and help players improve their game.

“You can sit there with your phone and take a video and send it off to the teacher and they can respond in five minutes with their synopsis of what they think is going on,” Hession said. “I like to talk to those coaches, too, and tell them what I’m seeing. Video shows one thing of a swing or a putt or a chip, but I get to see a lot of how they manage themselves on the golf course, how they’re handling pressure.”

Ohio State hopes its targeting of international players can help the team garner a reputation and attract talent from different countries.

Katja Pogacar, a native of Slovenia who golfed for the Buckeyes from 2013 to 2017, now plays on the Ladies European Tour. Hession said she believes Pogacar’s success at Ohio State leading to a professional career has made young players in Slovenia more aware of the team.

“When [recruits] know that [former players] have had a good experience and they’ve improved and they’ve gotten better and been on some great championship teams, that’s the best sales pitch that anyone could ask for,” Hession said.

In the past decade, Ohio State has seen golfers from five different continents on its roster. The weather has provided Hession with a challenge to find the talent. But she has shown that she and the rest of the team will go anywhere to improve the team.

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