Oct. 26, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland 0 was resurrected Tuesday, albeit on a golf course and with the Yellow Jackets putting a legendary whipping on multiple opponents rather than one.
Golf coach Bruce Heppler’s squad put on one of the most dominating athletic performances in school history, running away from a strong 15-team field that included top-ranked UCLA (according to Golfweek magazine) to win its first United States Collegiate Championship by a staggering school- and tournament-record 27 strokes with junior James White taking medalist honors.
Individually and as a team the No. 17-ranked Jackets crushed everybody, and the field represented far more competition than did Cumberland when Tech’s football team in 1916 set a national record for margin of victory that still stands in NCAA annals. Eleven of the 15 teams were ranked in the top 40.
White paced the field from start to finish, following his course- and school-record 62 in Sunday’s first round with a 70 Monday and a 72 Tuesday for a total of a tournament-record 204 strokes (12 under par and the USCC record by four strokes). He was five strokes better than anybody else at the 7,017-yard Lakeside Course at the Golf Club of Georgia near Alpharetta.
“I don’t know if I ever played the way I did the past three days, scoring like that,” White said after his first win as a collegian. “The putts were going in, my stroke felt good and I kept giving myself wedges [to approach greens] which coach makes us hit a zillion of in practice.
“At 14 and 15, where I made birdies Sunday when both were really not makeable putts, I knew it was just one of those days where I couldn’t miss.”
White had plenty of familiar company near the top.
Tech senior Kyle Scott and freshman Richy Werenski tied for fourth place with three-day scores of 212 (-4), and seniors J.T. Griffin and Paul Haley tied for seventh at 215 (-1) to round out scorers who counted in the team competition (top four count, so one of those dropped out).
Thirteen of 79 golfers finished the tournament under par, including the Jackets’ top five.
Tech fired a team score of 836, or 28-under par. Runner-up UCLA was the only other squad to finish under par with an 863 (-1).
The stout field never threatened Tech. The Jackets led by 13 strokes after shooting a 17-under par 271 in the first round, led 11 after the second, and blew away the field Tuesday with a 280 that was matched only by Wake Forest as the Demon Deacons finished in sixth place with an 871, or 35 shots behind Tech.
Heppler felt like he was in a dream Tuesday night after his team hummed through its final event of the fall.
“It’s our largest margin of victory ever [in any tournament] and we’ve had some pretty special teams,” the coach said. “We’d been close this fall, but it hadn’t gone our way. We got off to a fast start with James shooting a 62. They know the golf course, which is to our advantage, obviously, but there’s also extra pressure with that.
“This is not going to happen every week, but hopefully this will give them confidence and maybe inspire them to believe in themselves.”
T.J. Vogel of Southern Cal fired a 66 Tuesday to finish in second place with 209 overall.
Playing separate from the team and not eligible to score, Tech junior William Miller tied for 53rd at 227 (+11) and freshman Seth Reeves tied for 67th at 233 (+17). With four of its top five golfers back from last season, the two-time defending ACC champions finished 34 shots ahead of conference foe Virginia as the Cavaliers were in fifth place (870), 35 ahead of sixth-place Wake (871), 36 ahead of eighth-place Duke (872), 53 ahead of ninth-place Florida State (889), and 69 ahead of 12th-place Clemson (905).
Georgia State finished 14th (909), 73 shots behind the Jackets.
The alleged “pressure” of being expected to perform on one of Tech’s home courses was never a factor. The Jackets’ comfort zone was unmistakable. Heppler would like to think that the winning the way they did in their fall finale will trigger a successful campaign in the spring, when the Jackets will play several tournaments before the ACCs, regionals and hopefully the NCAAs for the 13th straight year. Tech has been NCAA runner-up three times, reaching the final eight eight times, but the Jackets are still looking for their first national title.
With three seniors, a junior, and wunderkind Werenski as a newcomer – not to mention more talent in the wings — maybe this will be the year.
The fifth USCC was moved from spring to fall for the first time this year, and the Jackets blew away Clemson’s tournament record by 28 strokes while winning the event they host for the first time.
Heppler thanked the many Golf Club of Georgia members who were gathered in corporate skyboxes during near the 18th green during the award ceremony, considered a first for college golf.
“This club is the lifeblood of our program,” he said. “They took us in as members (in 1996) and we love being here. It was a total team win. Once you get out there with a group of five, and they trust each other they know they don’t each have to play really well . . . everybody can relax and compete.
“Sometimes winning together for the first time as a group is a big deal. We’ll see if it catapults us into the spring. It’s time to get away from it. They can take five or six weeks off and just be students.”
White confirmed his coach’s theory, and didn’t deny that it’s time to dive back into books on The Flats.
“I don’t feel like I have pressure to carry the team . . . because I know that Richy can play really well. He shot 67 today. We have three seniors who have been around the block longer than I have, and I know they can play really well,” he said. “Even the guys sitting at home who didn’t get to play can play really good. “This will make studying a lot more enjoyable [Tuesday night]. I have a group project in communications, and tests Thursday and Friday in marketing and accounting.”
Seriously, if you can think of a situation where the Jackets have put on a more impressive show against bonafide competition, send at note to firstname.lastname@example.org.