March 19, 2008
ATLANTA – Facing its toughest opposition of the college golf season, with nine of the nation’s top 11 teams in the field, 10th-ranked Georgia Tech will host the third United States Collegiate Championship beginning Monday at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta.
Fifteen of the nation’s best teams, including top-ranked Alabama and defending NCAA champion Stanford, tee off at 10 a.m. Monday on the 7,017-yard, par 72 Lakeside Course. Second-round play begins Tuesday at 10 a.m., and the final round begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Admission is free.
For two years the United States Collegiate Championship has strived to present the best experience in college golf, with caddies for every player and course conditions more typical of a PGA Tour event. This year, the tournament known as “the Masters of college golf” might also have the best field in regular-season college golf.
Other top teams participating are No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Charlotte, No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 Oklahoma State, No. 6 Southern California and No. 11 Florida State. Stanford is currently ranked seventh. The remainder of the field includes East Tennessee State, Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina and Texas, all of which are in the nation’s top 40, as well as Georgia State and Brigham Young.
Individually, the nation’s top 12 players will participate, including No. 1 Rickie Fowler of Oklahoma State, No. 2 Michael Thompson of Alabama, No. 3 Chesson Hadley of Georgia Tech and No. 5 Joel Sjoholm of Georgia State. Defending NCAA Champion Jamie Lovemark of Southern Cal is ranked No. 6, while Georgia’s Russell Henley and Harris English are Nos. 9 and 11, respectively.
“The vision was to create something that a lot of the top teams would come to,” said head coach Bruce Heppler. “If you look at the rankings, we’ve accomplished that, It’s a feather in the cap of the club because of the way they’ve treated the teams that have played here before.”
Georgia Tech, which has tied for fourth in each of the first two U.S. Collegiate events, is looking to improve upon a slow start to its spring schedule. The Yellow Jackets opened with a fourth-place finish at the UH Hilo Invitational in early February, finished seventh at the Puerto Rico Classic and tied for 10th at the Southern Highlands Collegiate.
“We knew the meat of the schedule would start in Puerto Rico,” said Heppler. “We’ve found out how high the bar is, and so far we’ve not done a good job of jumping over that. But this is a great opportunity for our guys to play at home and see how we do against some of the best teams in the United States.”
Hadley and Cameron Tringale, Tech’s best players, have played consistently well, finishing in the top 12 of all three events while alternating as low Jacket. Each player has averaged 70.33 strokes over nine spring rounds.
Hadley, a sophomore from Raleigh, N.C., paces the Jackets in stroke average for the year at 70.19, while Tringale, a junior from Laguna Niguel, Calif., who ranked No. 49 in the nation after a poor start in the fall, has a 71.86 average. Hadley has five top-10 finishes and two other top-20s, while Tringale has three top-10s and one other top-20.
Head coach Bruce Heppler has struggled to find consistency from the other three positions in the lineup, however, and is putting the rest of the Yellow Jackets through qualifying this week. Three players will make the lineup, and the other three will play in the USCC as individuals.
Taylor Hall, a junior from LaGrange, Ga., who currently ranks No. 127 nationally, put together a strong fall season, but has not matched that performance in the spring. He posted the Jackets’ second-best stroke average (72.89) in the fall while earning a pair of top-20 finishes and winning all four matches in the Callaway Match Play event in October. But he failed to qualify for the Hilo event and has not finished higher than a tie for 40th in the two most recent tournaments.
David Dragoo, a junior from Scottsdale, Ariz., has played in all three spring events but finished no higher than a tie for 39th (Hilo) and averaged 75.11. Sophomore Daniel Bowden (Easley, S.C.) and red-shirt freshmen Paul Haley (Dallas, Texas) and John Tyler Griffin (Wilson, N.C.) each have taken turns in the lineup without real success. Junior Adam Cohan (Wayne, Pa.), who has not yet played this spring, also is competing for a spot.