May 17, 2005
Georgia Tech, which has drawn the No. 2 seed in the East Regional based in its No. 1 ranking in the South district, tees off at 11:15 a.m. Thursday in the NCAA East Regional at the Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs, Tenn., outside of Nashville.
The field of 27 teams will play 18-hole rounds each on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and the top 10 teams after 54 holes will advance to the NCAA Division I Championship, June 1-4, at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., outside of Baltimore.
Being played concurrently with the East Regional are the NCAA Central and West Regionals in South Bend, Ind., and Stanford, Calif. The top 10 teams from each of those events also will advance to the NCAA Championship. Live scoring from all three regionals will be available on Golfstat.com.
Georgia, the top-ranked team in the Southeast district, has the No. 1 seed in the East. The Yellow Jackets, Bulldogs and third-seed Florida will be paired together for the first two rounds, with tee times from 11:15 a.m. through 12 noon on hole No. 1 on Thursday. The three teams will tee off Friday at the 10th hole between 7:12 and 7:48 a.m. Saturday’s tee times and pairings are based on 36-hole standings, with the top six teams teeing off first. There is no cut.
The Golf Club of Tennessee is a Tom Fazio-designed course that opened in 1991, is 6,844 yards in length and plays to a par of 71. It has zoysia grass fairways, Bermuda rough and bentgrass greens.
Since the NCAA began the current regional qualifying format in 1989, Tech has played in the NCAA East Regional every year except for 1996 and 1997, and has never failed to advance to the NCAA Championship. Tech has never finished below a tie for seventh in an NCAA regional, and has finished in the top three 11 out of 14 times.
The Jackets have been champion or co-champion four times (1991, 1998, 1999, 2002), most recently at Settindown Creek in Roswell, Ga., in 2002, and been the runner-up three times (1989, 1990, 2003).
Tech’s individual champions at NCAA regionals include Chan Reeves in 1991, Jimmy Johnson in 1992, Matt Kuchar in 1998 and Troy Matteson in 2003. Matteson, who also won the NCAA individual crown in 2002, fired a 15-under-par 201 to win the 2003 East Regional in Auburn, Ala.
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 twice in 10 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.
ALL BACK FOR ANOTHER TRY
All five players who carried the Yellow Jackets to a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championship at Hot Springs, Va., last spring are back for another run. Four of those players, seniors Nicholas Thompson and Chan Song, junior Mike Barbosa and sophomore Roberto Castro, made the All-Atlantic Coast Conference team this spring.
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. Song tied for 24th place (7-over-287), Barbosa tied for 36th (11-over-291), Castro tied for 44th (14-over 294), and Kevin Larsen tied for 76th (28-over-308).
In three previous NCAA regionals, this group has accumulated four top-10 finishes, the best of which was a tie for ninth last year by Castro (74-68-70 — 212) at The Course at Yale. Thompson tied for 17th (72-73-70 — 215). Song tied for 13th (76-70-74 — 220) at Settindown Creek in Roswell, Ga., as a freshman, and tied for 12th (70-71-70 — 211) at the Auburn University Club as a sophomore.
Tech has used that same lineup for each of its last seven events this year. Three of those players — Castro, Thompson and Song — rank among the top 25 players in the nation according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Index. Castro and Thompson, both among the top 10 for most of the year, enter the NCAA East Regional at No. 8 and 20, respectively. Song is No. 21 following his runner-up finish at the ACC Championship and has played the best golf of any of the Yellow Jackets’ players in the most recent two events.
Those three also ranked No. 1-2-3 in the ACC in stroke average before Duke’s Ryan Blaum captured the ACC medalist honors with a 10-under-par score of 206. Castro is Tech’s stroke average leader at 71.20, including a 71.33 norm in spring events, followed by Thompson and Song at 71.61 each. Song, on the strength of his last two tournaments (combined six under par), has the team’s best spring stroke average at 71.22.
That trio has combined for 16 of the team’s 19 top-10 individual finishes, and each has eight top-20 showings. They have combined to count toward the team score in 86 of 90 rounds (95.6 percent), have 40 of the team’s 55 subpar rounds and 27 of its 33 rounds in the 60s. They are a collective 17 shots under par for the year (fall and spring combined).
Barbosa, ranked No. 54 among collegiate players and No. 44 among amateurs, has been solid all year with a 72.67 overall stroke average and a 72.56 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
About winning the regional as opposed to just advancing – “You’re happy to play in the last one, but you want to win this one very badly. I think if you go there and just try to qualify, you might have a problem. But if you go there and try to win, you typically do not. It says ‘NCAA Championship’ on it, so you want to win it. I’ve always believed you try and go there and win that one.”
About The Golf Club of Tennessee – “It’s zoysia fairways, a Fazio golf course. There’ll be undulations on the greens. I think it’ll be a lot like what we play here – there’s zoysia grass on the Golf Club of Georgia, East Lake and at the Farm – so I think we should be very comfortable there.”
On the balance among the regional fields – “In the past, the East has probably been the most difficult to win, but not necessarily the most difficult to get out of. Now I think all three have about the same difficulty to get out of. That’s what we asked for, but I think the committee did a nice job.”
On the long layoff since the ACC Championship – “A lot of teams try to find something to go play in right before regionals. But our regional record has been very good since we’ve been here. We’ve just never really struggled with not having played in a while. For us, it’s a great time of year. There’s no school, and we have all day to practice and play. From a preparation standpoint, they have more time and more energy. This is the fun time, where you have just one thing to do, and that’s play. They’re competitive, and they know what’s at stake.”
On the recent play of Chan Song – “He made some changes last winter. If you look at his scoring averages from last winter, through this fall and spring, you can see significant changes. You also see a change in his consistency from day to day. He’s more confident. Here’s a guy who won a lot of junior tournaments who now feels like he can win a college tournament. He drives the ball a lot better now, and he’s always been good around the greens. He’s in every round.”
TECH VS. THE NATION AND THE EAST REGIONAL FIELD
Georgia Tech has an overall head-to-head record this year of 123-21-0, which is the fourth-best record by percentage in the nation, and has done so against the nation’s eighth most difficult schedule, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Against teams competing in the NCAA East Regional, the Yellow Jackets are 40-7, which includes a 3-4 slate against top-seeded Georgia.
Joining Tech and Georgia in the East Regional field, in order of seed (national rank in parentheses), are Florida (7), Duke (10), Wake Forest (16), Tennessee (13), Georgia Southern (15), Alabama (22), Clemson (28), Georgia State (26), Coastal Carolina (39), East Tennessee State (44), Indiana (50), Central Florida (46), North Carolina (42), Louisville (40), Virginia (48), Vanderbilt, Charlotte, Penn State, UNC Wilmington, Towson, Rhode Island, Rutgers, Maryland, Army and Boston College.
Tech’s record against teams in the East Regional field are as follows: Alabama (3-0), Central Florida (1-0), Clemson (8-0), Duke (2-1), East Tennessee State (2-0), Georgia (3-4), Florida (4-1), Maryland (1-0), North Carolina (4-0), Rhode Island (1-0), Tennessee (1-0), Vanderbilt (4-0), Virginia (1-0), Wake Forest (5-1).