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Come East, Young Man

May 23, 2006

By Simit Shah

When Bruce Heppler sees something special, he knows it.

For the past 11 years, the head coach of Georgia Tech’s golf program has been the grand marshal of a parade of top-notch golfers, but even he was surprised when freshman Cameron Tringale arrived on campus this past fall.

“He came in here and played about as well in our first qualifying as anyone ever has, so I remember thinking that we may have something pretty good on our hands here,” Heppler recalled.

The California native has delivered handsomely on that prediction, as he has helped lead the Jackets to a share of the ACC title and a number four ranking in the nation. The squad tied for third last weekend at the NCAA Central Regional and are preparing for the school’s 21st NCAA Championship appearance next week.

Tringale’s stellar play has been key to the team’s strong performance this spring. The pinnacle came in late April at the ACC Championship, where the sensational rookie captured a first place finish. While Tringale became the fifth golfer in school history to win the individual title, he’s the only one to accomplish the feat as a freshman.

His victorious weekend was anchored by a course-record 65 in the second round at the Old North State Club in North Carolina. He then clinched the conference title with a clutch birdie putt on the 18th hole of the final round, besting Wake Forest’s Kyle Reifers by a single stroke.

“I knew I had as good a chance as anyone before it started, and I knew (the score) on the 18th tee,” he said. “I like to know where I stand while I’m playing, so I always look at the leaderboards if there are any.”

The victory, which helped the team win a share of the conference title, was just his latest strong outing this spring. Tringale admittedly struggled during the fall portion of the schedule, but his fortunes turned at the UH-Hilo Intercollegiate tournament in Hawaii in February.

“I was playing the worst golf of the year in qualifying for Hawaii,” he recalled. “I barely squeaked into that lineup, but when I got off the plane in Hawaii I was a new person. My game just clicked together.

“In the fall I hit the ball great, but my short game was embarrassing, so I sought help for my short game. (Teammate) Roberto (Castro) recommended that I try a lesson or two, so I started working on it in the fall before going home for Christmas break,” he continued. “All that short game work started paying dividends in Hawaii.”

The culmination of the extra effort resulted in an individual victory in just his sixth collegiate tournament, and it came against some of the best competition in the nation.

“Getting that win was huge for my confidence,” he stated. “I had won after going head to head with the best player in college golf, so I felt like I could handle anything thrown at me. It felt pretty good.”

Tringale was feeling pretty good in most of the team’s tournaments this spring, finishing among the top 30 in the five spring events since Hawaii. His victory at the ACC Championship made him the only conference golfer to win two tournaments this year. He followed that with a tie for fourth at the NCAA regional last weekend.

The accolades have included the ACC Freshman of the Year, awarded by the league’s coaches. Tringale became the fifth Tech golfer to receive the award and the first since Bryce Molder in 1998. He was also selected to the all-ACC team, along with teammates Kevin Larsen and Castro.

Catapulting into that elite territory is exactly what Heppler envisioned while recruiting Tringale, who hails from Laguna Niguel, Calif. Historically, the West coast hasn’t been a hotbed for Tech golf prospects, but Heppler decided to pursue Tringale after receiving a tip from a friend.

“He had wonderful fundamentals and appeared to have a lot of passion for what he was doing,” recalled Heppler. “He was serious and focused about golf, and that’s not something you always see in a 16 or 17-year-old. I thought we had something special from the basics to the way he goes about things.”

The West coast boasts a number of strong collegiate programs, but Heppler feels that Georgia Tech’s high profile has helped make inroads into areas outside the southeast.

“The school sells so well nationally that you have to ability to do that,” he explained. “Without the reputation of the institute and its academic programs, I don’t think you can go out there.”

Recruited by the likes of USC, UCLA and Oklahoma State, Tringale was convinced the Georgia Tech was a perfect fit after visiting Atlanta.

“I came and saw the Golf Club of Georgia, and I was hooked,” he remembered. “There’s nothing like it in southern Cal. I love the tree-lined fairways and the Georgia pines.

“Going away from home wasn’t a big deal for me,” he said. “On my recruiting visit, (former) assistant coach Brandon Goethals and coach Heppler convinced me that I would grow up faster and mature quicker away from home. I also wanted to experience another part of the country. I love southern California, but no doubt it was refreshing to come to the south.”

While he’s found the south hospitable, the next goal for Tringale and his teammates is to compete for Tech’s first national championship next week.

“I hope everyone is playing well on our team and that we have a good time playing golf and doing what we love,” he said. “All anyone can do is there best so as long as we take care of our business, we’ll be in good shape.”

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