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Golfers Out to Earn a Championship

May 27, 2002

By Simit Shah – For the Georgia Tech golf team, not many days go by without someone asking The Question: given the star-studded roster of golfers that has come through the Tech program, why hasn’t the school won a national championship?

As the NCAA Championship commences this week in Columbus, Ohio, the team believes The Answer lies in a pair of senior aces – All-Americans Kris Mikkelsen and Matt Weibring.

The duo has paced the Ramblin’ Wreck to its best season in school history with a record-setting five regular season tournament victories, plus a second straight ACC title. The squad is the nation’s top-ranked team and has held that distinction for most of the season. Last week, Tech finished in a tie for first at the NCAA East Regional.

Mikkelsen has placed in the top 10 in six tournaments this season, while Weibring has done so five times, including second place at the ACC Championship and fifth at the East Regional.

Mikkelsen and Weibring, along with junior Troy Matteson, form one of the most formidable trios in college golf. Their sights are now set on that elusive national championship.

“We know if we go to Ohio and take care of our business like we have all year long, we’ve got a really good chance of winning,” said Mikkelsen. “Whether or not we win, that’s not where the pressure is. You can’t control the other 29 teams in the field.”

“That’s just one tournament, but it’s the one that we want,” added Weibring, whose father D.A. is a 25-year PGA Tour veteran. “We realize that a lot can happen in just one tournament. It’s hard to judge a program or career on just one. You’ve got to get some breaks to win it.”

So what’s different about this season? Most notably, there’s the absence of a superstar. No Matt Kuchar. No Bryce Molder.

“That’s definitely different,” explained Mikkelsen. “I don’t necessarily think it makes things easier or tougher. Certainly all the attention on Bryce and Matt took a little pressure off the rest of us.

“The difference this year is that, top to bottom, we’ve got a better team. We’re much stronger in our three, four and five positions. That’s really the key to winning college tournaments.”

Another factor in the team’s success has been the emergence of the freshmen Nick Thompson and Chan Wongluekiet, the ACC’s Rookie of the Year. Coach Bruce Heppler believes much of the credit for their development goes to Mikkelsen and Weibring.

“You take the freshman year that these two kids have had and it’ll match up with anybody,” said Heppler. “A lot of that is because these older guys showed them how to go to school at Georgia Tech and be a student-athlete.

“There are a lot of choices to make at a school this difficult, and guys like Kris and Matt have made the right ones. They’ve set the tone for the young guys coming into the program.”

Heppler alludes to Mikkelsen and Weibring’s work in the classroom, as both received their management degrees on May 4.

While they don’t possess the household name status like Kuchar, Molder, Duval and Cink, their presence will be missed possibly more than their superstar predecessors, according to Heppler.

“It’s just hard to believe how fast the time goes,” he said. “It’s a just a wealth of experience. They’ve won 19 tournaments (in four years). How do you replace that? They graduated and did what they were supposed to do. They’ve set a good example on and off the course.”

As the squad prepares for its final and most important tournament of the season, they have a definitive edge in two categories – momentum and experience.

“There’s more pressure, but you can’t put a value on the confidence we have knowing that we’ve won seven out of 10 times,” said Mikkelsen. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

“Our experience is worth a lot,” Heppler said. “That’s experience in conference and regional championships. What the older guys understand is you to just keep playing. Sometimes the younger guys get discouraged when they get a bad break.

“[Mikkelsen and Weibring] have to help the younger guys understand that this tournament is four days, close to 20 hours. The older guys don’t get discouraged as easily, and they need to pass that along to the younger guys.”

All indications certainly point to the Jackets finally putting The Question to rest this week.

“The pressure comes from within,” said Weibring. “We have very high goals and expectations for ourselves. We expect to win every time. We’ve really tried to instill that in the freshmen. We don’t go to play – we go to win.”

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