April 15, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
It has not quite gone the way of the Dodo bird, yet the dual match is scarce enough in college golf that to see No. 11 Georgia Tech playing them back-to-back is akin to making a pair of unexpected archaeological finds.
The format is rarely deployed outside of the NCAA Championships. Even there, it is only deployed once three days of stroke play have distilled a field of 30 teams to eight.
Tech fell 3 ½ to 2 ½ Saturday to No. 33 South Carolina in duel play at the East Lake Golf Club, and on Friday will square off against No. 7 Texas Christian at the Capital City Club-Crabapple Course – site of the NCAAs in late May.
You can probably figure out one incentive for Tech golf coach Bruce Heppler by that last sentence; the TCU match will be a chance to work over the same course where the Yellow Jackets will – hopefully – chase a national title.
But why dual matches? Why so close to home? Why two of them? Why, when tournaments are usually spaced at least two weeks apart, did the Jackets compete again Saturday just four day after finishing second in the Gary Koch Invitational last Monday-Tuesday in Tampa?
This is a merger of motives, opportunities and relationships.
Pretext I: South Carolina coach Bill McDonald played at Georgia Tech from 1985-’88, when he was a two-time All-America and NCAA runner-up in ’88. Also, Heppler has been pals with TCU coach Bill Montigel for a good while.
Pretext II: the ACC Championship, which the Jackets have won four years running, is later this spring than usual, from April 26-28 in New London, N.C.
“We went to the tournament in Tampa last year and I really liked it as a warmup for the ACCs,” Heppler said. “They moved the conference tournament back a week. We were going to be sitting from the 9th to the 26th.
“One, to get some match-play experience … which hopefully if you get to the match play at NCAAs it’s an advantage. Two, to get competition where they’re sleeping in the dorms and not traveling.”
Tech last competed at Crabapple when the Jackets tied No. 1 Cal for the PING/Golfweek Preview title last October. That fall classic is always held at the same site where the NCAAs will be played the following spring. The Preview field is built based on rankings that by now are largely changed.
“I’ve known [TCU] coach Montigel for a long time. TCU wasn’t good enough to get into the Preview. Coach actually called me, and he’s got a pretty good team,” Heppler said. “They wanted to see Crabapple before they get here, hopefully, for the NCAAs.”
Although now ranked higher than No. 11 Tech, No. 7 TCU is 14-18 against Top 25 teams, where the Jackets are 32-21-4. Tech has played, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings, the nation’s third-strongest schedule.
The duel match on the pending NCAA Championship course is not a new concept. The Jackets went to Los Angeles last year on spring break, and beat No. 4 UCLA in a duel match at the Riviera Country Club – site of the 2012 NCAAs – in Tech’s only duel of the fall or spring seasons.
Then, after a tournament near San Diego, the Jackets competed in the Gary Koch April 7-8 before winning the ACCs April 20-22.
Duals may not be the same as stroke play, but, “It’s not like we’re going to take it lightly,” Heppler said. “Nobody likes to get beat. It’s a little bit different.
“It’s a great format, and whether it’s practice for NCAAs or the U.S. Amateur later this summer, that’s good. There’s a putt on the first hole to win, lose or halve the hole. Usually in stroke play, not til 16th, 17th or 18th hole on the last day is there that much riding.”