April 15, 2004
ATLANTA – With three Atlantic Coast Conference titles in the last five years, Georgia Tech’s No. 6-ranked golf team will compete for another this weekend in the 51st annual ACC Championship in New London, N.C.
The conference, arguably the best in the nation the last several years, currently boasts five of the nation’s top 28 teams in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index – Clemson at No. 2, Tech at No. 6, Wake Forest at No. 19, Duke at No. 23 and North Carolina at No. 28. NC State is ranked No. 48.
The 54-hole event, which begins Friday and concludes Sunday, is being played for the eighth time at the Old North State Club at Uwharrie Point, which plays to a par of 72 and is 7,100 yards in length. In the previous seven tournaments played there since 1995, Tech has won twice and finished second three times. The Yellow Jackets were fourth last year despite top-10 finishes from Nicholas Thompson and Thomas Jordan.
Live scoring for the tournament can be accessed each day at www.golfstat.com, and a link to the site will be provided on the official Tech athletics website, www.ramblinwreck.com.
“It’s a wonderful golf course that inspires good play. The tournament certainly does,” said head coach Bruce Heppler, who has coached the Yellow Jackets to three conference titles (1999, 2001, 2002) in his eight years at Tech. This is the first tournament we play that includes the word ‘championship.’ “It’s a prestigious championship. The last four or five years, the ACC has been the best golf conference in America. You don’t win it without playing well, and it’s extremely competitive.
Tech comes into the ACC Championship with one win in five spring events, that coming in the very first outing at the Taylor Made/Waikoloa Intercollegiate in mid-February. Since then, the Yellow Jackets have tied for eighth the Puerto Rico Classic, tied for sixth at the Southern Highlands Collegiate in Las Vegas, finished third at the Western Intercollegiate in Santa Cruz, Calif., and tied for fifth in the Atlanta Intercollegiate (two weeks ago).
While only two of the five Yellow Jackets playing this week have seen the Old North State Club before (Thompson and Chan Wongliekiet), Heppler feels the course set up is similar to courses Tech has played and is conducive to good performance for the Jackets.
“It’s a lot like the Golf Club of Georgia setup and condition,” Heppler said. “The speed of the greens to the difficulty of the golf course suits us just fine. I’ve always felt like that is a place where we can play well. We’ll have three new guys as far as the course is concerned, and hopefully we can do a good job Thursday with our preparation.”
Tech is this spring led by Thompson, who tied for second in the ACC Championship on this course as a freshman and tied for 23rd last year. The junior from Coral Springs, Fla., has finished in the top 10 in each of Tech’s last two events, averaging 70.17 strokes in six rounds. The nation’s 19th-ranked player, Thompson has recovered nicely from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee following the fall schedule, and has averaged 71.33 during the spring.
“Nick was behind the freshmen early in the year,” said Heppler, “but he has gotten his consistency to the point where he now has the lowest stroke average on the team, which is what you would expect him to do since he’s the best player returning from last year’s team.
“You just try and get as many pieces put together as you can as you approach the national championship. Hopefully that’s one that we have behind us.”
At 71,85, Castro has Tech’s second-best stroke average for the year, has a recent top-10 finish at the Western Intercollegiate and has averaged 71.83 in Tech’s last two events. Barbosa, who red-shirted one year and played in only three events as a freshman, has a 73.19 average in seven events this year, including a 70.66 norm in Tech’s last two events, in which he finished tied for fourth and tied for 15th.
“Mike’s accomplishments have been tremendous this year,” said Heppler. “Here’s a guy who was a non-factor last year, and if you take away his first tournament of the year (86th place), he’s averaging around par. There’s been a lot of hard work and perseverance on his part to get him through some real discouraging times. The good news about Mike is that there is still another two years.”
Chan Wongluekiet is the only other Tech player besides Thompson playing in his third ACC Championship. He tied for 29th last year and tied for 20th in 2002, both at the Old North State Club. The junior from Bradenton, Fla., tied for fifth at Waikoloa and tied for 11th in Las Vegas, but has not finished above a tie for 41st in any of the other three events. His scores have fluctuated wildly even within the same tournament, and he averages 72.83 for the year.
“Chan has struggled with being consistent, where it’s consistent all year or consistent within a tournament,” Heppler said. “He can play as well as anybody, and his challenge is to be able to manage his game and everything else to where he is more consistent. That’s his last hurdle in getting to where he can win a tournament.”
Tech’s fifth player will be freshman Kevin Larsen (Santa Barbara, Calif.), who has a 73.23 stroke average in nine events. This spring, he has a tie for 14th at Waikoloa as his best finish, but has struggled to regain his form since making swing adjustments.
“We made a decision a month or so ago that Kevin really needed to do some things with his golf swing and his fundamentals,” Heppler said. “He can get around okay, but for his long-term success and the success of the program, he really needed to change some things. So he’s had to take a step back, really almost before Puerto Rico. He’s made some dramatic changes, and I think they’re for the best. He played well in the last round in Atlanta (71, his best round since the first round at Puerto Rico), and I think he’s in a position with his mechanics where he can play well now.”