Oct. 9, 2014
By Adam Van Brimmer
– Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the August, 2014 issue of BUZZ magazine. Tech’s golfers on the PGA Tour won the Rivals Cup in 2013 with more than $11 million in combined earnings. Tech exceeded that total in 2014 with $12,160,822 in combined earnings, but finished behind third behind Georgia and Oklahoma State. The race begins again this weekend when the 2014-15 PGA Tour season opens at the Frys.com Open in Napa, Calif. Six former Jackets, including former Frys.com Open champs Troy Matteson and Bryce Molder, are in the field.
Golf is the rare college sport that struggles to stir rivalry passions.
With few mano a mano showdowns between schools, a scoring system that often delays gratification, and the overall gentlemanly nature of the game, ill will for the rival is difficult to muster on the links, at least in the moment. Calculating superiority is even harder.
School pride is on the rise, though, especially among the college game’s powers. A handful of schools are producing an inordinate number of successful players in the professional ranks, led by bitter rivals Georgia Tech and Georgia. Between them, the two schools had 17 alums with PGA Tour earnings of $375,000 or more in 2014. Eight of those players won events, led by the Yellow Jackets’ Matt Kuchar, the RBC Heritage champ, and Georgia’s Bubba Watson, winner of the Masters and Northern Trust Open.
“To hell with …” is being heard more and more often around the clubhouse and along the fairways.
— Charlie Rymer (@CharlieRymerGC) April 20, 2014
“Our guys take pride in it,” Georgia Tech’s longtime golf coach Bruce Heppler said. “The rivalry on the golf course is not the same as it is on the football field or in basketball, but it still exists. They move onto the pro ranks and they still feel a part of that college connection, and this is an outlet.”
Feeding the frenzy in recent years is a fledgling website that tracks the top performing college programs by professional success. RivalsCup.net keeps a running tally of links supremacy, using cumulative money earnings as the defining statistic. Georgia Tech is the reigning Rivals Cup champ and has finished no worse than fifth in the four years since the site’s inception.
Yellow Jacket alums are on pace for a runner-up finish this season behind what Heppler calls the “evil empire” — the Bulldogs, a group that surpassed $25 million in earnings on the PGA Tour om 2013-14.
Clean, old-fashioned hate is sure to grow on the PGA Tour. Three of Georgia Tech’s eight standouts are under the age of 30, and veterans like Kuchar and Bryce Molder are in their competitive primes. Most of Georgia’s top performers are 20-somethings, led by Brendon Todd, Chris Kirk, Harris English, Brian Harman and Russell Henley.
“Competitiveness is bred into the fiber of our beings, and we want to beat the UGA guys,” wrote sixth-year pro Cameron Tringale in an email. “UGA has done so incredibly well lately on the PGA Tour, especially with guys under 30, and we need to pick up the pace.”
Such passion is what spurred Nicholas Mazzella to start the Rival Cup site in 2011. A college football fan, Mazzella was watching the Masters that April and was struck by CBS Sports broadcaster Jim Nantz’s tendency to mention where green jacket contenders had played their college golf. The Charlotte resident and Penn State grad started the site soon thereafter, playing on the notion “tradition never graduates.”
The PGA Tour pros embraced the Rivals Cup, referencing the site’s rankings in social media posts, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. Tringale and fellow Yellow Jacket alums Roberto Castro and David Duval have tweeted about the Rivals Cup rankings.
Georgia Tech’s Heppler often mentions the Rivals Cup as well. He leverages the professional successes of his proteges as a recruiting tool. College golf coaches identify potential recruits early in those players’ high school careers, often before the NCAA allows coaches to contact those up-and-comers.
With the limited media coverage of college golf, coaches look for “any and every way to tell the story.” Social media is an effective tool, and the Rivals Cup rankings helps quantify success.
“A lot of recruits are like, ‘I had no idea you had eight or nine guys out there until I saw it on your tweet,'” Heppler said. “Our players’ success as professionals conveys the message that if you play your college golf at Georgia Tech, the PGA Tour is a place you can go. And that’s where all these kids want to go.”
Georgia Tech’s reputation for producing pros is what attracted Tringale. The Californian grew up watching David Duval, Stewart Cink, Kuchar and Molder excel on the PGA Tour. Tringale reasoned the Yellow Jackets “must be doing something better and different that gives a player the best chance to success” and moved across the country to be a part of the program. He was a three-time All-American and is currently a leaderboard regular on the PGA Tour, putting him in the thick of the “mostly friendly” rivalry trash talk around the driving range and practice green.
“Obviously, there are other factors that contribute to being a successful golf professional, but the combination of coach Heppler and Georgia Tech is just about unmatched in college golf,” Tringale said.
Rivals Cup 2013-14
Ranking #3 – $12,160,822
Matt Kuchar – $4,695,516
Cameron Tringale – $2,169,723
Chesson Hadley – $1,703,316
Stewart Cink – $929,166
Bryce Molder – $828,605
Nicholas Thompson – $713,377
Roberto Castro – $615,933
Troy Matteson – $387,797
David Duval – $94,709
Larry Mize – $22,680