THE FLATS – Georgia Tech’s golf team, ranked No. 4 in the nation after capturing its third tournament title of the 2018-19 academic year, travels to Las Vegas, Nev., this weekend for its third event of the spring schedule, the 44th Southern Highlands Collegiate, which begins Sunday at the Southern Highlands Golf Club.
TOURNAMENT INFORMATION – Georgia Tech is making its sixth appearance in the Valspar Collegiate Invitational, which began in 2014 and has become one of the spring’s premier events at one of Florida’s top golf venues. The 54-hole event will utilize a shotgun start each day (1:30 p.m. Sunday, 8:30 a.m. Monday and Tuesday). It is played at the 7,114-yard, par-71 Floridian National Golf Club, part of The Floridian Resort and Spa.
The 15-team field, the strongest the Yellow Jackets have faced this spring, includes 12 teams ranked among the nation’s top 50 according to Golfstat – #1 Oklahoma State, #2 Duke, #6 Wake Forest, #8 Texas, #9 Georgia Tech, #11 LSU, #18 Arkansas, #20 USF, #23 Baylor, #27 Texas A&M, #30 Florida State, #31 South Carolina, Houston (host school), Lamar and UT Arlington.
The Yellow Jackets won the inaugural event in 2014 and has finished second and fourth the last two years. Sophomore Tyler Strafaci won the individual title in 2017, while Ollie Schniederjans won medalist honors at the 2014 tournament. A sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship goes to the individual winner.
TEAM UPDATE – The Yellow Jackets stand No. 9 in the nation in the Golfstat, and No. 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings and the Bushnell Coaches Poll. Tech, favored to win the Atlantic Coast Conference once again, has won three stroke play events this year, sharing titles at the Carpet Capital Collegiate and the Puerto Rico Classic, and won the Maui Jim Intercollegiate outright. Last time out, Tech finished sixth at the Southern Highlands Collegiate after holding the 36-hole lead.
Tech is 22-11-1 against current top-25 teams this year, 37-14-2 vs. top-50 teams, and 58-14-3 vs. top-100 teams, and its schedule is rated the sixth-most difficult in the nation according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Index.
Statistically, Tech has played some impressive golf this year as evidenced by its ranking in some categories tracked by Golfstat, including fourth in the nation in average score (70.66). Broken down, Tech is first in the nation in first-round scoring average, seventh in par-3 scoring, first in par-4 scoring and 11th in par-5 scoring. The Yellow Jackets also are No. 3 with an average drop score of 74.77 (the average of scores that do not count toward the team score each day).
TECH LINEUP – Head coach Bruce Heppler is sending out the same starting five that competed in the Puerto Rico Classic and the Southern Highlands Collegiate – Schniederjans (Powder Springs, Ga.), Strafaci (Davie, Fla.), Ogletree (Little Rock, Miss.), Norton (Chico, Calif.) and freshman Connor Howe (Ogden, Utah).
Four Yellow Jackets playing this week are ranked among the top 55 in the national Golfstat rankings, led Schniederjans (No. 16), Strafaci (49), Norton (45), and Ogletree (No. 55). Those four have combined for 10 top-10 finishes (Schniederjans and Strafaci each have three, Ogletree and Norton each have two). They are separated by less than a stroke in stroke average, with Schniederjans leading the way at an even 70.00.
Freshman Connor Howe (Ogden, Utah), with a 72.53 stroke average in 15 rounds, is playing in his third straight event as a counting member of the travel team.
COACH BRUCE HEPPLER SAYS – “In six years, this has become one of the top five events in the country. The field this year is as good as it’s been, hard to believe it could be any better. It’s one of the elite events from the competition to the venue to how they treat everybody in the tournament. It’s a great test from the minute you tee off until you finish.”
ABOUT GEORGIA TECH GOLF
Georgia Tech’s golf team is in its 24th year under head coach Bruce Heppler, having won 53 tournaments in his tenure. The Yellow Jackets have won 17 Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, made 28 appearances in the NCAA Championship and been the national runner-up four times. Connect with Georgia Tech Golf on social media by liking their Facebook page, or following on Twitter (@GTGolf). For more information on Tech golf, visit Ramblinwreck.com.