By Jack Williams
ATLANTA (April 19) – Matt Kuchar and Bryce Molder are Georgia Tech’s marquee players, standing tall in the spotlight of collegiate golf. But here comes revitalized Carlton Forrester, giving the top-ranked Jackets a mighty lift with championship hopes on the line.
Forrester’s improved play has caused quite a buzz in the camp of the Jackets as they prepare for defense of their Atlantic Coast Conference Championship at Old North State Club at Uwharrie Point, N.C., this weekend, April 21-23.
“There is no question Carlton Forrester is playing his best golf as a senior,” Coach Bruce Heppler said this week. “His stroke average (72.75) proves that. He’s a key player in our lineup as we head for the ACC Tournament.”
Those high expectations do not seem to faze Forrester. “I feel I play better under pressure,” he said. “That’s something you learn from competition. I’m in my fifth year after being red-shirted and I’ve learned to deal with pressure. It gets easier as you go along.”
In fact, Forrester feels the entire Tech team relishes the kind of pressure that comes with being the top-rated team in the country. “I don’t think any of us are so worried about being No. 1,” he said. “We’re just concerned with playing the golf course and doing the best we can.”
The Jackets’ best has been good enough to win four tournaments this school year, the Carpet Capital Classic at Rocky Face, Ga.; the Waikoloa Intercollegiate in Hawaii, the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Collegiate Championships in Mexico.
It was in the tournament at Mexico that Forrester, a native of Gainesville, Ga., had his best individual finish of the school year. He shot a 68 in the final round and wound up tied for 10th with teammate Molder at 212.
“I experimented with my swing in the fall and was disappointed in my performance,” Forrester said. “This spring I have bounced back and I’m peaking at the right time. My ball-striking right now is as good as it’s been since I came to Georgia Tech. I also have become a lot stronger mentally. I’m a better golfer now than I was in the spring.”
Forrester has seen Tech come a long way in golf in the five years he has been with the program. “My first year here at Tech was the first year for Coach Heppler,” he said. “We finished dead last at the ACC Tournament. The next year, we were next-to-last. Finally last year, we won the championship. It’s a situation similar to our basketball program right now. It takes time for a new coach. We can’t expect the basketball team to go to the Final Four next season.”
Joining the veterans Forrester, Kuchar and Molder in competition at the ACC Tournament will be red-shirt freshman Troy Matteson and sophomore Matt Weibring. It’s a solid lineup for the Jackets. Matteson, in fact, shot a 64 in the Tech’s 14-stroke victory in Mexico.
“Troy has as much talent as anybody on the team,” Forrester said. “He strikes the ball as well as any player I’ve seen. You will hear a lot from him at Georgia Tech in the future.”
Forrester says he believes Kuchar is back to his form of two years ago after slumping last school year. “In golf, there are always peaks and valleys,” he said. “You can’t stay on a peak forever. I think Matt went into a valley as a junior last year. Now, he’s back higher than ever.
“Bryce, on the other hand, is the epitome of consistency. You can always count on him for a good performance.”
Although Forrester considers every ACC team dangerous, he says Tech’s toughest competition at the tournament may come from Clemson. The Jackets have finished ahead of the Tigers in five of the six tournaments in which they both have competed this school year, but it’s been close almost every time.
“Clemson is a veteran team just as we are” Forrester said. “The players on both teams have been around so long, Matt, Bryce and I have become friends with the players on the Clemson team. But we also have developed quite a rivalry with them.”
After the ACC Tournament, Tech will shoot for its third straight NCAA East Regional title at Scranton, Pa., May 18-20. Then comes the big one, the NCAA Tournament at Opelika, Ala., May 31-June 3.
But first things first. The Jackets-No. 1 in the country-want to start their biggest push by being No. 1 in their own conference.