Golfers Face Tough Field in NCAA East Regional

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May 19, 2004

ATLANTA – Georgia Tech, ranked No. 6 in the nation in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, opens play in the NCAA East Regional golf tournament on Thursday. The fourth-seeded Yellow Jackets will be paired with No. 5 seed South Carolina and No. 6 seed Augusta State in the first two rounds.

The East Regional, one of three NCAA regional tournaments held around the country this weekend is being held at The Course at Yale, a par-70 layout measuring 6,749 yards from the back tees.

Each regional tournament is a 54-hole event with a field of 27 teams. The top 10 teams, plus two individuals not on those teams, after 54 holes will advance to the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship, June 1-4, at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. The Central regional is being played at the Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex in West Lafayette, Ind., and the West regional is at the Crosswater Club in Sunriver, Ore.

Tech, South Carolina and Augusta State have tee times beginning at 11:33 a.m. Thursday, May 20 (No. 10 tee) and 7:30 a.m. Friday (No. 1 tee). Final round tee times for Saturday, May 22, will be determined by the leaderboard after 36 holes, using both the No. 1 and No. 10 tees. The top three teams will be the first off beginning at 7:12 a.m., and the bottom six teams last off beginning at 12:36 p.m.

Live scoring for the regional can be viewed at www.golfstatlive.com, and a link to the site will be provided on Tech’s official athletics site, www.ramblinwreck.com.

Georgia Tech has been a part of strong fields in each of its 11 tournaments to date in 2003-04, and the NCAA East Regional will be no different. The tourney will feature the nation’s top three teams, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index — Florida (No. 1), Clemson (No.2) and Georgia (No. 3). The event also includes eight of the nation’s top 20 teams and 11 of the top 30. Oklahoma State (No. 8) is the highest ranked and top-seeded team in the Central regional, and UCLA (No. 5) holds that distinction in the West regional.

“It’s been the hardest regional to win since I’ve been here, and that hasn’t changed,” said Heppler. “Florida, Clemson and Georgia are ranked No. 1, 2 and 3 in the nation. The seedings at nationals are now based solely on these three days, so under no circumstances can those three teams play together in the national championship in the first two rounds. The three regional champions will be paired together in the first two rounds, and one of those teams will be the eighth or ninth-ranked team in the country.

“Right now, before we play the event, there will be two teams from the top 30 that don’t play in the national championship (the East has 11 top 30 teams, the Central has eight, and the West has 11).”

TECH VS. THE REGIONAL FIELD

The complete field for the East regional, in order of seed (national ranking in parentheses): Florida (1), Clemson (2), Georgia (3), Georgia Tech (6), South Carolina (12), Augusta State (14), Wake Forest (16), Duke (18), Tennessee (28), North Carolina (29), LSU (27), Georgia State (34), Jacksonville State (43), NC State (42), Alabama-Birmingham, Auburn, Vanderbilt (49), Georgia Southern (48), Penn State, Georgetown, Towson, Rhode Island, Maryland, Binghamton, Yale, Army and Long Island.

Tech is 37-24-1 head-to-head against teams in the East Regional Field, 21-6-1 against teams in the Central, and 20-6-1 against teams in the West. In head-to-head competition against the teams seeded ahead of it, Tech is 2-4 vs. Florida, 1-7 vs. Clemson and 1-5-1 vs. Georgia.

“If you win the national championship, you’re going to have to beat Florida, Clemson and Georgia,” said Heppler. “So why not start at the regional? A week ahead, you’re going to know how high the bar is and how high you’re going to have to jump. I like the idea of playing those teams another time. If you do well and beat them, maybe we’ll see ourselves in a different light. If we don’t, then we come back and know we have to do better next week.”

TECH BUILDS MOMENTUM FOR POST-SEASON

The Jackets have played better golf over their last three events, which include a third-place finish at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship and the Western Intercollegiate and a tie for fifth at the Atlanta Intercollegiate in March. In that span, Tech has averaged a team score of 285.

Tech has a pair of victories this year, including its first spring event at the Taylor Made/Waikoloa Intercollegiate and its final fall tournament at the Gary Koch/Cleveland Golf Intercollegiate, and the Jackets have finished no lower than eighth in any spring tournament.

No Tech player has won a tournament this year, but freshman Roberto Castro (Alpharetta, Ga.) came the closest with a second-place finish at the Gary Koch/Cleveland Golf event in October. Castro lost by three shots. Nick Thompson (Coral Springs, Fla.) tied for third at the ACC Championship.

TECH USING SAME LINEUP FOR FIFTH STRAIGHT EVENT

Tech’s lineup for the NCAA East Regional will remain the same as it has been for each of the last four tournaments, with juniors Thompson and Chan Wongluekiet (Bradenton, Fla.), sophomore Mike Barbosa (St. Petersburg, Fla.), and freshmen Castro and Kevin Larsen (Santa Barbara, Calif.). Thompson, Wongluekiet and Castro all made the All-Atlantic Coast Conference team this spring, Thompson for the second time in his career, and Castro received the additional honor of ACC Rookie of the Year.

This lineup won the Taylor Made/Waikoloa Intercollegiate in early February, tied for sixth at the Southern Highlands Intercollegiate, finished third at the Western Intercollegiate, tied for fifth at the Atlanta Intercollegiate and finished third at the ACC Championship.

All five of Tech’s players rank among the top 17 of the ACC in stroke average, led by Thompson’s 71.14, which ranks fourth. Castro ranks sixth at 71.76, Wongluekiet 10th at 72.69, Barbosa 14th at 72.96 and Larsen 17th at 73.41.

Thompson, the nation’s No. 18-ranked player according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Index, ranks fourth in the league in stroke average. He has led Tech’s most recent charge by averaging 69.89 strokes over nine rounds in Tech’s last three tournaments. Sophomore Mike Barbosa of St. Petersburg, Fla., also has come on strong recently with a 70.89 stroke average and three top-15 finishes in the last three events.

Larsen has struggled in recent events (74.72 average in the spring) after he made changes to his swing early in the spring, but has played better of late, and Heppler believes the freshman may be ready to post better scores.

“It’s hard to make a change while you’re competing, going to class and traveling, so we anticipated some mediocre performances,” said Heppler. “He played better at the end of the ACC (72 in the third round) and shot two-under at his U.S. Open qualifying and missed a playoff by a shot. I think he’s re-focused back in scoring rather than practicing. He’s had two weeks to be at home and do nothing but work on it.

“My hope now is that we’ll have five guys going in the right direction. And we really haven’t had that since Hawaii and the end of the fall. When we had that, we had five guys who believed they could play well. They had the mindset to go out and score, and we won those two tournaments back-to-back. But we just haven’t had all of our card lined up for various reasons.

“Right now, Mike’s playing better than he’s ever played. We just need to get Kevin back to where he was in the fall, when he averaged under par. Those other three guys have been pretty solid all year long.”

TECH COMING OFF LONG BREAK

This will be Tech’s first competition in more than a month. All five Tech players, however, participated in U.S. Open local qualifying tournaments in the past week, providing them with opportunities to sharpen themselves in a competitive environment.

“We’ve never had this long a break, but we have had three weeks in between in years past, and we’ve always done well in regionals,” said Heppler. “They’ve all had to put a pencil to it in a USGA event, so that will help them get ready. The good news is, we’ve been out (of school) since April 30, and we don’t have school to deal with. As far as preparation, they should be better prepared than usual.”

Wongluekiet qualified Monday, May 17, by shooting a 67 and finishing second at Griffin Country Club in Griffin, Ga. Thompson shot 69 last Friday, May 14, and finished second in the local qualifying event in Boynton Beach, Fla., and Barbosa carded a 68 to finish third at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla. last Wednesday, May 12.

Sectional qualifying tournaments will take place the week of June 8.

TECH’S NCAA REGIONAL TOURNAMENT HISTORY

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 10 out of 13 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).

This will be Tech’s third appearance in an East Regional held at The Course at Yale. The Yellow Jackets won the 1991 East Regional by 12 shots and had the individual champion in Chan Reeves. Current PGA Tour veteran Stewart Cink led Tech to a tie for seventh in 1995.

Among Tech’s current players, only juniors Nick Thompson and Chan Wongluekiet have NCAA East Regional experience. Thompson tied for 23rd at Roswell, Ga., in 2002, and tied for 43rd last year in Auburn, Ala. Wonglukiet has had better success, tying for 13th in 2002 and 12th last year.

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