Golf Q&A: Dean Frischknecht of Ping American College Golf Guide
Dean Frischknecht is the founder, owner and operator of the Ping American College Golf Guide, a service to help high school golfers and college coaches get connected during the recruitment process. Frischknecht first published the Guide in 1989 after attempting to help a few high school golfers with their recruitment, only to realize how little information there was to help these potential student athletes find the right schools for them.
Now almost 30 years later, the Guide is fully online and in partnership with Ping, Golfstat, the GCAA and others Frischknecht is able to keep players up to date on how programs large and small from around the country are faring.
A former scholarship golfer at Oregon State University, Frischknecht has been involved in multiple other facets of the game, including writing for Golfweek and serving as college editor for Golf Digest Magazine. We talked with Dean this week about the origins of the Guide and what he wants to see in the future.
1. Dean, it has been almost 30 years since you first published the Ping Golf Guide, arguably the most important single source of information on college golf programs in the United States. What served as the catalyst for starting the guide? What, if any, connection did you have to college golf or college athletics in general prior to starting the guide?
I was fortunate to receive a golf scholarship to Oregon State University out of high school. It didn't take long competing in college events to understand that there were many players better than me, and I needed to make sure I earned my degree.
My major was pharmacy, and my last two years of college did not include the golf team after the Dean of the School of Pharmacy selected me for the No. 1 internship position working in a clinic part-time six days a week. Missing two years of competitive golf made me hungry to play after graduation, and I also kept an eye on professional, amateur, college and high school golf events.
I became involved in running junior golf events in Oregon and saw several good high school players struggle with college golf information and decisions. I asked one particular player to send me his resume so I could contact some college coaches, and I was shocked when I could not decipher what he had written.
In the spring of 1988, I went to Eugene, Oregon, to attend the University of Oregon Duck Invitational to watch the competition and talk with coach friends. One of the coaches I walked with was the late Carl Tucker, Hall of Fame coach of the BYU Cougars, who had helped several of his players advance to the PGA Tour. Coach Tucker told me he had just thrown out more than 200 letters from players who were not good enough to play at BYU.
There was no internet in the 1980s, and I quickly understood there was a lack of good college golf information. In the news and magazines we could see the top 50 songs, the top 30 college football teams or the top 20 college golf teams, and that is who high school golfers were writing to, the visible top 20, including BYU.
In June 1988, I wrote to the Library of Congress to copyright my idea and set out to write a book showing young players how to go about the recruiting process and give them contact information for every college golf coach and team at every school, large to small, north to south and east to west. I spent the summer of 1988 writing my book, including tips like how to compile and present a good resume.
2. The Ping Golf Company has been involved from year one. How did the relationship start? What was the primary reason they got involved? Was Karsten Solheim, the founder of the Karsten Manufacturing Company (Ping), directly involved?
In the 1980s and '90s, Ping sponsored the LPGA Tour Portland Open each September, and I went to the 1988 event hoping to show my manuscript to Ping's founder, the late Karsten Solheim, who played in the pro-am each year.
I met Karsten and told him that I wanted to put advertising from all of the golf manufacturers in my book so I could afford to publish it. Karsten looked at my manuscript and asked who else had seen it? When I told him he was the first person to see it, he said when he saw something he liked, he preferred to do it all himself. That started our 29-year working relationship, and the first edition, the "1989-90 Ping American College Golf Guide," came off the press in August 1989.
3. The original guide (1989-2003) was published as a hardcopy book. Obviously, there have been many changes to it over the years. What are a few of the major few changes or additions over the years and what led to them?
When I first wrote the Ping Guide, I knew I had to include tournament scores so prospective student-athletes (PSAs) could see which teams were shooting what. I decided to include the conference tournament scores along with regional and national championship scores.
Tracking down those scores in the 1980s and '90s was a problem with no internet and only the major conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10, etc.) having fax machines to send scores, on top of the fact that I was looking for men's and women's scores from 75 conferences. I burned the phone lines each spring contacting sports information departments (SIDs), who would then send the scores in the mail.
In the very small conferences, there was no SID, thus no scores. I finally learned where I could find scores from smaller venues. The winning coach always had them, and sometimes the scores arrived handwritten.
Getting the scores was only part of the solution. The hard part was hand-typing each score, and two very helpful assistants who typed tournament golf scores for the Guide for about 10 years were happy when that chore ended. The typing stopped when the late Mark Laesch and his Golfstat program began providing me with tournament scores on disc to help get the books ready for print.
Starting with the first book in 1989, I knew I wanted to include photos of national championship teams for both the men and women in every NCAA division, plus NAIA and two-year schools. And I made sure every championship team had the same size photo no matter the level of competition.
Sometime in the 1990s, I was talking with Stephen Hamblin of the AJGA, and he told me someone had been in his office talking about a new program called "electronic mail" that could save the AJGA sending thousands of pages of AJGA tournament scores in the mail to college coaches. Years later when the coaches began getting email addresses, I included them in the Ping Guide.
4. The Interactive Score Conversion Program was not part of the original Guide. This part of the online service helps prospective student athletes (PSAs) project how their skill level would correlate to a particular college team. How does this feature work, and what goes into arriving at this type of information?
The Interactive Score Conversion (ISC) program was instituted in 2004 when the Ping Guide went online with Golfstat, and we used the same Golfstat scoring algorithms that produce scoring and rankings for the NCAA. In addition to the algorithms, ISC also factors in yardage differential to show prospective student-athletes (PSAs) where their scores fit into any college tournament.
A PSA must make a personal profile after logging into the Ping Guide. That can be done in 15 seconds as there are only two questions:
- What is your 18-hole scoring average?
- What is the average yardage played for those scores?
I will show an example with a male PSA setting his profile on the Ping Guide with a scoring average of 76 from 6,800 yards.
The Golfstat algorithms use the scores shot in each round of a college tournament to determine the difficulty of the course for that round, and I will use the 2017 Men's Big 12 Conference Championship played at Prairie Dunes Golf Course in Hutchinson, Kansas, at 6,940 yards. The first round was played in bitter cold and 40 mph winds that resulted in a suspension of play.
The PSA was not at that tournament and thinks he can shoot his average 76. However, consider that Texas Longhorn Ping All-Americans Doug Ghim and Scottie Scheffler shot 80 and 77, respectively, the first round on their way to tying for second. And Max McGreevy of the NCAA Champion Oklahoma Sooners carded an opening 79 while finishing fifth, so the ISC might show the PSA's score higher than his hoped-for 76. In fact, his ISC adjusted score for the first round is 85 as the Big 12 field shot many strokes shots higher than its season average.
Here are the scores (actual for the players, converted for the PSA):
- Doug Ghim 80-68-70-70=288
- Scottie Scheffler 77-70-68-73=288
- Max McGreevy 79-72-68-73=292
- PSA 85-78-79-82=324
Coaches love the ISC program because it uses math while putting reality in the scores. Coaches frequently hear from parents, "My son or daughter can beat that score." But the coaches know, "Not on that golf course on that day!"
ISC can also lower the PSA's converted score on a golf course that plays less difficult. For example, the 2017 Men's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championship (D-I) played on Disney's Magnolia Course in Orlando, Florida, at 6,690 yards. The PSA with the same profile of 76 average at 6,800 yards will show a top-10 finish in the MAAC with converted scores: 77-75-74=226.
5. Updating all the information annually from the different colleges and universities is no doubt a huge task. Who are the primary contacts when you and your staff start this process? Assuming that coaches are part of the process, what is it like to work with them?
The coaches have been fantastic to work with. I know I have created more paperwork for them coming from PSAs, but working together we have raised the visibility of college golf.
Updating information for the online Ping Guide program is more time-consuming than for the printed book, which was updated once a year. Everything online can be updated immediately, and we work at it.
Before the internet, we wrote to each coach each year for updated information. The coaches were great to help with their contact information, however there were always a few nonresponders. I quickly learned that the administrative assistants in the athletics departments had to keep tabs on many coaches, and they could help me with what we needed.
We don’t list coaches' cellphone numbers in the Ping Guide without their permission, but more coaches are using their cell as primary contact number. Back in the day of no internet, the Ping Guide was the official phone book for coaches to contact each other. Now everyone lives online via their phone and other favorite devices.
We utilize multiple sources to update the Expanded Ping Guide/Golfstat Report. We receive changes via Golfstat when coaches register their teams with Golfstat, and of course we receive scores from Golfstat daily — including live-scoring events on our home page.
Golfweek and the GCAA note coaching changes, and we scan conference and team websites to keep up-to-date with current information. US News & World Report provides tuition and room & board numbers, and we check school websites for academic information.
6. What is next for the Guide? Any major changes or new services being considered? Publishing such a niche product has obviously been a passion for you. What is next for you?
I have taken the Ping Guide from scratch to printed book to online and interactive, and greater minds will build from there. Sometime in the future, I hope to turn the project over to a new leader to take it to new heights. I don't know when it will happen, but I would like to stay involved in some capacity.