Golf Team Begins NCAA Title Chase Wednesday

May 30, 2005

ATLANTA –

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Third-ranked Georgia Tech begins its quest for a national championship in golf Wednesday morning in the 108th NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship, teeing off on the 10th hole at 7:18 a.m. in the first round at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md.

The 72-hole event includes 30 teams competing for the title, each having finished among the top 10 teams in one of three regional tournaments May 19-21. Wake Forest is the No. 1 seed based on its first-place finish in the East Regional, while No. 2 seed Augusta State won the Central Regional and No. 3 UNLV won the West.

The Yellow Jackets, the No. 19 seed after tying for sixth place in the East Regional, are paired with Missouri and San Diego State for the first two rounds, and they will begin Thursday’s second round at the No. 1 tee at 12:18 p.m. Friday’s third-round pairings will be based on 36-hole standings, and the field will be trimmed to the top 15 teams after 54 holes for Saturday’s final round.

Live scoring for the championship will be provided each day on Golfstatresults.com. The Golf Channel will televise live action and highlights Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 3-5 p.m. Eastern time, and also will replay each day’s broadcast from 1-3 a.m.

Caves Valley Golf Club, a Tom Fazio-designed course that opened in 1991, has hosted a U.S. Senior Open and a U.S. Mid-Amateur championship. It is 7,124 yards in length and plays to a par of 71. It has zoysia grass fairways, Bermuda rough and bentgrass greens.

Tech needed a last-round push at the NCAA East Regional to assure itself of a spot this week, the eighth straight year it has made the field and its 19th appearance in the championship since 1985. The Yellow Jackets posted scores of 285, 283 and 279 (5-under-par) at the Golf Club of Tennessee, finished 12 shots behind Wake Forest and three strokes above the 10th place team, Georgia Southern. Sophomore Roberto Castro carded a six-under-par 65 in the final round, and senior Chan Song put together three subpar rounds of 68, 69 and 70 to lead the Jackets, each tying for 10th place individually at 6-under-par 207.

ALL BACK FOR ANOTHER TRY

Georgia Tech brings two seniors, one junior and two sophomores to this year’s NCAA Championship, and all five players who played for the Yellow Jackets in last year’s fifth-place finish in the NCAA Championship are back for another run. Nicholas Thompson tied for 17th place in last year’s championship, playing 72 holes in 4-over-par 284, 17 shots off the pace of UNLV’s Ryan Moore. Chan Song tied for 24th place (7-over-287), Mike Barbosa tied for 36th (11-over-291), Roberto Castro tied for 44th (14-over 294), and Kevin Larsen tied for 76th (28-over-308).

In three previous NCAA Championships, this group has played on teams that finished second (2002 in Columbus, Ohio), 11th (2003 in Stillwater, Okla., and fifth (last year in Hot Springs, Va.). Thompson has a pair of top-20 finishes to his credit — his tie for 17th last year and a tie for 12th in 2003. Chan Song’s best effort in three tries was his tie for 24th last year in Hot Springs. Thompson and Song were freshmen on the Tech team that finished second in 2002, and Troy Matteson captured the individual crown.

Following are Tech’s individuals with NCAA Championship stroke average: Nicholas Thompson (72.42 in 12 rounds), Chan Song (74.50 in 12 rounds), Mike Barbosa (72.75 in four rounds), Roberto Castro (73.50 in four rounds), Kevin Larsen (77.00 in four rounds).

TECH’S LINEUP

Georgia Tech has used the same lineup for each of its last eight events, including all seven played in the spring, with seniors Nicholas Thompson and Chan Song, junior Mike Barbosa, and sophomores Roberto Castro and Kevin Larsen. This same quintent played Tech’s final six events of last spring, and carried the Yellow Jackets to a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championship at Hot Springs, Va.

Three of those players — Castro, Thompson and Song — rank among the top 25 players in the nation according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Index. Castro is ranked No. 7 following his tie for 10th place at the NCAA East Regional and is the highest-ranked ACC player in the Index. Song, with top-10 finishes in each of Tech’s last three events, has risen to No. 16 in the Index, while Thompson, who was in the top 10 for most of the year, is currently No. 21.

Those three also rank No. 1-2-4 in the ACC in stroke average (Duke’s Ryan Blaum, the ACC champion, is third). Castro is Tech’s stroke average leader at 71.00, including a 71.00 norm in spring events. Song’s recent strong performances have lowered his average to 71.39, second on the team, and he has Tech’s best stroke average in spring events at 70.90. Thompson has a 71.56 average to rank third on the team and fourth in the ACC.

That trio has combined for 18 of the team’s 21 top-10 individual finishes, and 26 of the team’s 32 top-20 showings. They have combined to count toward the team score in 95 of 99 rounds played (96 percent), have 46 of the team’s 61 subpar rounds and 32 of its 38 rounds in the 60s. They are a collective 29 shots under par for the year (fall and spring combined).

Barbosa, ranked No. 81 among collegiate players and No. 44 among amateurs, has been solid all year with a 72.88 overall stroke average and a 72.90 norm for the spring. He has five top-20 finishes and two in the top 10, including a tie for 10th at the ACC Championship. Larsen, playing No. 5, has a tie for sixth at the Carpet Capital Collegiate and a tie for 24th at the ACC Championship to his credit.

QUOTING HEAD COACH Bruce Heppler

[On getting through the NCAA regional] – “It’s been a good year. We haven’t won as many times as our kids would have liked to, but we’ve been very consistent and really had no poor events all year long. I think the best is ahead of us. It’s a very difficult tournament to play in, and the whole year rides on it. I’m looking forward to it, and I know they are.

[On the depth of Tech’s team] – “When we started the year, for almost the first time since I’ve been here, I thought any one of the five could win a tournament. That hasn’t happened, but I still feel that way. The best part about our team is one through five. We’ve probably had guys won more tournaments as individuals, Matt [Kuchar], Bryce [Molder], guys like that. But I think the end of our lineup can be better than it’s ever been. In this tournament, over four rounds, four long days, hopefully the depth hopefully will pay off for us.

[On how Tech’s five players are playing at this point] – “You wish you had all five guys (playing their best golf of the year). We have maybe three and a half of them that are really confident, and the other two are trying to find a little something here. But that’s team golf. No one is ever able to dial it in exactly when you want to. But I feel good about the way everybody’s playing. That’s the way team golf is, when you find out what one or two guys do when it’s not their week.

[On five teams from the state of Georgia going to the NCAA Championship] – “I need to remind our boosters that we could be the fifth-best team in our state and still be in the top 10 in the country. It’s a credit to the coaches, the administrators of those schools who allocate the money to the programs. It says a lot about the history of the state and the depth of junior golf. I don’t think anybody else has got that many, and it’s exciting to play against those guys.”

TECH PUTS TOGETHER SOLID YEAR

Georgia Tech is currently ranked third in the nation according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index and Golfstat.com, and has been No. 2 or 3 all spring in those rankings. Tech is No. 4 in Golf World magazine and No. 5 in the Golf Coaches Association of America rankings. The Yellow Jackets have put together one of the more solid campaigns, start to finish, in their history, winning one event, finishing second four times, third twice, fourth once and sixth three times in 11 tournaments. Tech began the fall by finishing second at the Preview Invitational and the Jerry Pate National Collegiate, then came in third at the Isleworth Collegiate and the Carpet Capital Collegiate.

After another runner-up finish at the Taylor Made/Waikoloa Invitational, the Yellow Jackets finally broke through with a four-shot victory over Florida at the Puerto Rico Classic in early March. That began a string of five events during the month that included a sixth place showing at the Southern Highlands Collegiate in Las Vegas, a pair of wins in “friendly” matches against Brigham Young and Oregon State at the Bandon Dunes Resort, a fourth-place finish at the Oregon Duck Invitational and a sixth-place finish at the Hootie at Bulls Bay in Charleston, S.C.

Most recently, Tech finished second by four shots to Duke at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship, placing four of its five players among the top 12 individuals, and tied for sixth at the NCAA East Regional, with Roberto Castro and Chan Song tying for 10th place individually..

CAVES VALLEY REVISITED

Ten of the 30 teams in the NCAA Championship field, including Georgia Tech, played in the Ping/Golfweek Preview tournament at Caves Valley Golf Club last September. Oklahoma State won the event with an 8-over-par score of 848, with Georgia Tech coming in second place at 12-over-par 852. Georgia finished third, Texas and Florida tied for fourth, Arizona State was sixth, Kentucky eighth, UNLV ninth, and Arizona and UCLA tied for 12th.

Tech sophomore Roberto Castro tied for seventh individually with a 1-over-par score of 211, five strokes behind Pablo Martin of Oklahoma State. Chan Song tied for 12th (214), Mike Barbosa tied for 16th (215) and Nicholas Thompson tied for 24th (218), Kevin Larsen, the fifth member of Tech’s team for the NCAA Championship, did not play in that event.

TECH VS. THE NATION AND THE NCAA FIELD

Georgia Tech has an overall head-to-head record this year of 143-26-0, which is the fifth-best record by percentage in the nation, and has done so against the nation’s 10th most difficult schedule, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Against teams competing in the NCAA Championship field, the Yellow Jackets are 51-23-1, which includes a 21-12-1 mark against teams that advanced from the East, 13-7 against teams that advanced from the Central, and 17-4 against teams that advanced from the West..

Following is Tech’s head-to-head record against teams in the NCAA Championship field, listed by order of finish in their respective regionals: East — Wake Forest (5-2), Tennessee (1-1), Georgia (3-5), Florida (4-2), Georgia State (0-1), Alabama (3-0-1), Coastal Carolina (1-0), Duke (3-1), Georgia Southern (1-0). Central — Augusta State (3-2), Oklahoma State (2-4), Texas A&M (0-0), Tulsa (0-0), Kentucky (2-1), Arkansas (1-0), Missouri (0-0), SMU (0-0), Texas (4-0), Purdue (1-0). West — UNLV (1-1), New Mexico (2-2), Washington (2-1), UCLA (3-0), Arizona State (3-1), BYU (0-0), San Diego State (0-1), Arizona (1-0), Stanford (2-0), Southern California (3-0).

TECH’S NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

Georgia Tech is playing in the NCAA Championship for the eighth consecutive year and for the 19th time since 1985. Overall, the Yellow Jackets own 10 top-10 finishes in the event, with eight of those coming in the last 13 years.

The Yellow Jackets posted their fourth top-five finish in five years last spring at The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., placing fifth behind California, UCLA, Arizona and Texas.

Tech has been the runner-up in the NCAA Championship three times (1993, 2000 and 2002). In 1993 and 2002, the Yellow Jackets owned the lead after 54 holes, but wound up finishing second by one shot to Florida in 1993, and by four shots to Minnesota in 2002.

In 2000, the Yellow Jackets rallied to tie Oklahoma State after 72 holes, but lost to the Cowboys in a playoff. Tech and OSU matched the lowest 72-hole team score in NCAA Championship history (36-under-par 1,116) at the Grand National Lake Course in Opelika, Ala.

Since 1985, when Tech played in its first-ever NCAA Tournament as a team, the Yellow Jackets have made the 30-team field in 18 of 20 years. Since Bruce Heppler became Tech’s coach, the Jackets have two second-place finishes, one third and one fourth in six opportunities.

Individually, three Tech players have won national collegiate championships. Troy Matteson did it most recently in 2002 at Ohio State. Watts Gunn (1927) and Charlie Yates (1934) won national titles under a match play format before the NCAA took sponsorship of the championship in 1939.

Other top-10 finishers for Tech include four-time All-American David Duval (runner-up in 1991 and 1993, T-8 in 1990); All-American Bill McDonald (T-2 in 1988); Bunky Henry (2nd in 1967), All-American Nacho Gervas (T-3 in 1986); Kris Mikkelsen (T-4 in 2001); All-American Stewart Cink (T-5 in 1994); and All-Americans Bryce Molder (6th in 1998) and Matt Weibring (6th in 2000).

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