March 10, 2005
ATLANTA – Fresh off its first tournament victory of the season, Georgia Tech’s No. 2-ranked golf team gets back to work against a field of 15 top-25 teams this week at the Southern Highlands Collegiate in Las Vegas, Nev.
The 54-hole event gets underway Friday at the 7,510-yard, par 72 Southern Highlands Golf Club. Joining the Yellow Jackets in the field are top-ranked Oklahoma State, No. 3 Georgia, No. 4 New Mexico, No. 5 Wake Forest, No. 6 Auburn, No. 9 Florida, No. 11 TCU, No. 12 UCLA, No. 13 Texas, No. 14 Arizona State, No. 18 UNLV, No. 19 Clemson, No. 20 South Carolina and No. 24 Washington.
“It’s like you just going, ‘well, let’s have a men’s basketball tournament, and we’ll have Duke and Illinois and Wake and North Carolina and Arizona and Oklahoma State and Texas and Kentucky in it, and we’ll see how we do every week,'” said Tech head coach Bruce Heppler. “So it’s a great field, and I think the guys feel like they’re moving in the right direction, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.
Tech, which won the Puerto Rico Classic last week by four shots over Florida, leaped over Georgia for the No. 2 position in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, and are within two-hundredths of a percentage point of Oklahoma State for the top spot. The Yellow Jackets also have four second-place finishes and two third-place showings this year, including fall events.
Heppler’s team boasts the No. 5 and No. 6-ranked individuals – sophomore Roberto Castro and senior Nicholas Thompson – in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, as well as the No. 16 (senior Chan Song) and No. 43 (junior Mike Barbosa) players. Those four along with sophomore Kevin Larsen will test themselves on a course that has hosted the PGA Tour’s Invensys Classic.
“It’s neat because it hosts a tour event, so guys get excited about playing somewhere where the pros play and seeing how they stack up,” said Heppler. “It’s usually very fast, the greens are fast, which we like because that’s the way we have things here. So it sets up well for us and the conditions should be good for us. It’s different, it’s desert golf, the looks are different. You kind of have to get adjusted to playing out into the horizon without a lot of definition, so they have to focus a little more on target and things. But it’s a great tournament. They do a nice job putting it on, and obviously, Las Vegas is a fun place to go.”
Song led Tech at the Puerto Rico Classic, tying for fourth place with three subpar rounds (68-71-71 – 210). Thompson tied for sixth place at five-under-par 211 (70-71-70), while Barbosa tied for 15th at 214 (71-69-74). Castro, Tech’s stroke average leader going in, tied for 21st at one-over-par 217.
Song rode the momentum of having beaten Thompson by seven strokes in the team’s qualifying tournament for Puerto Rico.
“A lot of times they’ll ask me why are we qualifying?” said Heppler. “To give somebody a chance to win, to gain some momentum, some confidence. He had a chance to go out whip his senior teammate in the qualifying, and all of a sudden you go, ‘why can’t I do this in tournaments?’ Sometimes they hate having to play to go, and sometimes they don’t understand why, but what we do every time here at home is give somebody a chance to win something.”
Thompson leads Tech in stroke average at 70.38, followed closely by Castro at 70.44. Both have four top-10 finishes this year. Song, with three top-10 showings, has a 71.14 average; Barbosa is at 72.06, Larsen at 72.78.