May 29, 2001
By Jack Williams
Golf star Bryce Molder went through Georgia Tech like another Tiger on the loose, winning almost everything in sight, including golf tournaments, academic honors and enough friends and admirers to last a lifetime.
In fact, if they measured class in the same way they measure the number of strokes on a golf course, this guy would be so far ahead, they’d just call off the competition and go home.
Take my word for it! Bryce Molder is very special, in more ways than one.
Molder and his Georgia Tech teammates, ranked second nationally, shoot for their most coveted title this week in the NCAA Championship at the Duke University Course in Durham, N.C. Competition in the 72-hole event begins Wednesday and continues through Saturday.
Joining the veteran Molder on the firing line for the Jackets will be senior Wes Latimer, juniors Matt Weibring and Kris Mikkelsen, and sophomore Troy Matteson.
It’s almost the same cast that came heart-breakingly close to sweeping the title a year ago. Tech tied Oklahoma State for first place over the regulation 72 holes only to lose on the first hole of a sudden death playoff.
In an interview with this writer a year before that 2000 NCAA showdown, Molder eerily had spelled out a fate that could (and actually did) await the Jackets. He said in that interview:
“If we do our best and fall short in the NCAA, if we are right there, but finish second, for example, then I will not consider that failure. If someone just plays better, I will be satisfied we gave it our best shot.”
In a new interview for this column, Molder was asked if he still felt the same way?
“I’m satisfied we gave it our best shot,” he said. “I’m not angry at myself or anyone else. But it’s a two-way street. It was a big disappointment we did not win, something I had a hard time getting over.”
That’s history now. Molder and his teammates have their eyes at another shot and he’s confident. “It all depends upon what kind of start we get off to,” he said. “If we can start with a good, solid round, then I think our chances are great.”
One thing for sure. Molder surely knows his way around the Duke course. In the Ping/Golfweek Invitational there last September, Molder won the individual championship in a star-studded field by shooting 68-72-140. The Tech team finished 11th, its lowest finish of an entire 2000-2001 season in which the Jackets swept five team titles.
Molder says the feels the Duke course is well-suited to his game. “You have to drive the ball into the fairway,” he said. “The greens are not that severe, but you have to hit good iron shots into them. You can’t fake your way around the Duke course. You have to step up and hit good golf shots.”
Molder made a habit of winning big almost every time he teed it up this season. He led the nation in scoring average, 69.23, the lowest recorded by any collegiate player in history (Tiger Woods, included, by golly). Molder earned Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honors for the third straight season, the only player ever to accomplish that feat. He led the Jackets to the team championship in the annual ACC Tournament. He won three individual tournament titles.
And that’s not all Molder won! The young man from Conway, Arkansas recently received his degree from Georgia Tech with a 3.38 grade point average in management.
Molder takes special pride in all three honors–the record-breaking stroke average, the three ACC Player of the Year awards and the degree.
“To fully appreciate the golf honors, I need to remember who I was up against,” he said. “There was another Georgia Tech golfer, a great player, David Duval, and Phil Mickelson. When you see those names, it sorta puts everything into perspective.” (He didn’t mention Tiger Woods. He didn’t have to).
Did Molder feel he hit his peak this season?
“Overall, it was the best I’ve played for any extended period of time,” he said. “But you never use the word ‘peak’ because you always hope you can do better.”
Molder says he will become a professional golfer in late August. “First, I will try to qualify as an amateur for the U.S. Open,” he said. “Then I have a few other summer tournaments lined up as an amateur, After that I will try to make it as a pro.”
He has another goal, too, to someday become a designer of golf courses. That is something he has practiced continually since he was very young.
“Somewhere down the line, I will find out what I am supposed to be,” he said. “I hope it is a golfer. I look forward to facing some obstacles and trying to get past them. I think there is a very good chance that I will be involved in golf course design at some point in time.”
What does the Georgia Tech degree mean to him?
“It means that I was able to finish something I started, something that was very difficult,” he said. “I set a 3.2 grade-point average as my goal because that’s what it takes to make Academic All-America. Then I actually bettered that. Maybe it all shows that I am able to set goals and then do a little bit more. I hope so.”
Molder, incidentally, already has made District Academic All-America and is a good bet for the national honor.
Molder says he chose Tech in the first place because he wanted to go to a school that had a chance to win the NCAA Golf Championship.
He got off to a big start on the Duke course Monday by helping the East team score a decisive 6 1/2 to 2 1/2 victory in the annual East-West Challenge. Molder teamed with Duke’s Leif Olson to post a 5 and 4 win over Anders Hultman of Oklahoma State and Philip Rowe of Stanford.
That was just a warm-up. The big show begins Wednesday. And after that, comes a lifetime of challenges for Bryce Molder.
“I have confidence I will be successful in life,” Molder said. “Whether that means I will be the leading money winner on the PGA Tour or wind up losing my card after a year, I don’t know. I have a long way to go. I have to grow as a player and a person. But I have confidence I will be successful because I enjoy what I am doing.”
This writer is confident he will be a success, too. Whether he’s playing golf or just the game of life, Molder’s name is sure to wind up on the leader board – with a lot of red numbers beside it.