July 30, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Not long after Tyler Strafaci punched his ticket to the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship by winning a qualifier at La Gorce Country Club in Miami Beach on Tuesday, he had a short, long-distance conversation with Georgia Tech golf head coach Bruce Heppler.
It was kind of like a family chat, and soon the Yellow Jackets will have a family gathering of sorts as six Tech players have qualified for the U.S. Amateur.
The Jackets will be very well represented at the Riviera Country Club in Palisades, Calif., beginning two weeks from Monday, as Strafaci will be joined by fellow sophomores Luke Schniederjans and Andy Ogletree, seniors Jacob Joiner and Chris Petefish and incoming freshman Noah Norton.
The U.S. Amateur is a very big deal, won five times by Tech legend Bobby Jones. Tiger Woods won three times, and Jack Nicklaus twice, not to mention Matt Kuchar, the 1997 champion.
No wonder Heppler was so happy. Half of Tech’s roster will be at Riviera Aug. 14-20.
“He was just pumped, like `Attaboy!’ “Strafaci said of his head coach after Tyler had won the two-day qualifier with 7-under par score of 133. “He’s excited that six players made it. That’s really cool. I don’t know how many other programs have six players qualified.”
School starts three weeks from Monday, on Aug. 21, and these guys all hope they walk into their first day of class not-so-fresh from a cross-country flight.
“If you make championship match, you’re going to come back the day that school starts,” said Schniederjans, who won his qualifier July 18-19 at the Capital City Club Crabapple course in Roswell with an eight-under par total of 132. “That’ll be a good problem to have.”
Heppler figures to have good problems this fall, as the Yellow Jackets go through qualifying for various tournaments. Tech looks to be loaded with its strongest roster in a few years. Consider all of this:
As a freshman, Schniederjans won two tournaments — the Carpet Capital Collegiate and the Puerto Rico Classic — and had three top-five finishes on the way to earning All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors.
Strafaci won the Valspar Collegiate to earn an exemption into the Valspar Championship on the PGA Tour. (http://golfweek.com/2017/03/21/georgia-techs-tyler-strafaci-wins-valspar-collegiate-earns-pga-tour-exemption/)
Ogletree became very solid in his second semester, and tied for third in the U.S. Amateur qualifier at Capital City Club, two strokes behind Schniederjans.
Joiner in 2016 won the Carpet Capital Collegiate and had five other top-20 finishes. After scuffling his junior season, he’s gone on an impressive summer run, capped when he won his U.S. Amateur qualifier July 17 with a three-under par 139 at the Burningtree Country Club in Decatur, Ala.
Petefish has four top 10 finishes for Tech, has four top-10 finishes in amateur events this summer and won his qualifier July 6 with a nine-under par 135 at the Windber Country Club in Salix, Pa.
Norton recently finished runner-up in the California Amateur Championship, and tied for second in his U.S. Amateur qualifier with a four-under par 138 Tuesday at the Bayonet and Black Horse Golf Club in Seaside, Calif.
Add senior James Clark, who’s made Tech’s travel team for all but three events in his three years and notched four top-10 finishes, fellow senior Michael Pisciotta, junior Tyler Joiner, redshirt freshman Anton Serafini and highly-rated freshmen Will Dickson and Ben Smith, and Heppler’s going to have some serious weaponry.
“Yeah, to be honest, even the people who didn’t qualify for the Amateur have had phenomenal summers,” Strafaci said. “Michael Pisciotta has been working really hard, and Tyler Joiner has been working his butt off. Everyone on the team is playing good.”
Scattered around the country most of the summer, everybody has been keeping tabs on each other.
“I follow [golf scores] closely, on-line,” Schniederjans said. “And we have a big group text.”
Strafaci said, “I knew that Luke and Andy had made it. We’re all close, and I saw on Instagram because Luke or Andy had posted something.”
When the Jackets convene for practice in a few weeks, they won’t be starting from scratch, like say the football team when practice begins next Friday. They’ve all been competing nearly non-stop. Petefish, for example, is in Glencoe, Ill., for the Western Amateur, which will run Monday through Saturday.
After the U.S. Amateur, which will feature two rounds of stroke play that will set a 64-man field for five rounds of match play, the Jackets will get back to working with and against each other.
They’re looking forward to that even as they anticipate hard work ahead.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Strafaci said. “Qualifying is going to be hard, which is the way it should be; it’s going to be really competitive.”
Tech finished runner-up in three tournaments and placed third once last spring, and the want to get back in the winner’s circle. “Oh, yeah,” Schniederjans said of returning to school. “I’m really looking forward to it and so is everyone else.”