How do I know when I should start playing in Qualifier Tournaments? And exactly what is an “Exemption”?
Junior Golfers generally have 4-Summer Golf Seasons in which they meet the Age Requirements for National Championship Tournaments. Which is usually between ages 14/15 through 17/18 years old. And most National-Level Junior Tournaments have just one Age Division, so 14-year old’s are competing against 17-year old’s.
When you Earn an Exemption, it means that you are allowed to Enter that particular National Junior Championship.
The Summer when you will be 14-years old is the first Summer Golf Season you would be eligible to compete in a National Junior Golf Championship.
You want to use this 1st Season to get use to playing in Qualifier Tournaments. I recommend playing in at least 3 to 4 Qualifiers. Why? Because Qualifier Tournaments have a “different feel” in that usually only the First Place Player in the Overall Boys and Overall Girls Divisions earn the Exemption. So whether you finish in 3rd Place or 7th Place in a Qualifier doesn’t make any difference, in terms of earning the Exemption. In normal tournament play, a Top-10 or a Top-5 is great, and this is why Qualifiers are different: you are typically aiming for the outright win.
Why do you even want to play in a National Junior Championship?
Because 1-Day State Tournaments and 2-Day Regional Tournaments can only take you “so far” in the National Junior Golf Rankings. I have spent years reviewing the National Junior Golf Rankings and the tournament schedules of the Ranked Players. What you typically find is a tournament schedule of Ranked Tournaments that is 60% National Tournaments and 40% Regional Tournaments.
To work your way to a Top-500 National Ranking, you have to play in some National-Level Tournaments. And just as importantly: College Coaches do the majority of their recruiting at National-Level Tournaments.
My son, Will, played in 5 to 6 Qualifiers each year from age 14 through 17 years old. Will has a lot of Top-10 and Top-5 finishes in Qualifiers, but it was in his 20th Qualifier Tournament that will earned The Exemption – and was able to enter the U.S.G.A. Junior Amateur and subsequently posted a 13th Place finish. Will’s 13th Place finish in the U.S.G.A. Junior Amateur earned him additional Exemptions to more National-Level Tournaments. Will had a streak of 4-National-Level Tournaments that saw his National Ranking at #17 in the Nation by the end of that Summer Golf Season. It was that first Exemption that Will earned – and then turning in some fantastic tournament play – that enabled him to reach #17 in the Nation.
So you never know when you are going to earn that exemption – and you never know how many Qualifier Tournaments it will take before you earn your first Exemption. The Take-Away is: start playing in Qualifier Tournaments as soon as you reach the minimum age and then keep entering Qualifiers – a minimum of 4 a year – until you reach age 18 and you are too old to play in most of the National Junior Golf Championships.