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Sixth-ranked Golfers Tee Off at NCAA Championship Tuesday

May 30, 2004

Hot Springs, Va. –

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Paced by three All-Atlantic Coast Conference performers in Nick Thompson, Chan Wongluekiet and Roberto Castro, Georgia Tech’s sixth-ranked golf team begins participation in its 19th NCAA Men’s Golf Championship Tuesday afternoon.

The 72-hole championship is being contested at The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., on the Cascades course, a par-70 layout measuring 6,679 yards. Tech reached the championship by finishing in a tie for third in the NCAA East Regional in New Haven, Conn., 10 days ago.

Tech has made it to the NCAA Championship 18 times in the last 20 years and every year since 1998. The seedings for the championship are based on regional finish, and the Yellow Jackets are the No. 10 seed this week. Tech will be paired with Texas A&M and Arizona State, fourth-place finishers in the Central and West Regionals, respectively, for the first two rounds. They will tee off at 1:03 p.m. Tuesday at the No. 1 tee, and at 8:03 a.m. Wednesday at the No. 10 tee.

Third-round tee times for Thursday will be based on 36-hole scores, and a cut will be made after 54 holes to the top 15 teams for Friday’s final round. In each round, the leaders will have the early tee times. Live scoring all four days will be presented on www.golfstatresults.com.

This will be Tech’s second visit to the The Homestead this year. At the Ping/Golfweek Preview Invitational last September, on the same Cascades course, the Yellow Jackets finished second by one stroke out of 15 teams in the rain-shortened event. Castro, a freshman and the ACC Rookie of the Year, tied for ninth individually at 2-over-par 142, and Thompson, a junior, tied for 12th at 3-over-143.

“We played well there in the fall, and the guys played well there in the Southern Amateur in the summer,” said head coach Bruce Heppler, who has taken Tech to the NCAA Championship seven straight years. “We specifically set up a plan for them all to go play up there ahead of time. Roberto has played the gold course seven times. Nick finished second in the Southern Amateur. In golf sometimes it’s funny. There are some places where you just feel good. They’re excited to go there.

“It’s another golf course where you have to think your way around it. You don’t just run over it. We’ve spent a lot of time on that kind of stuff. We hopefully have a mind-set of being extremely patient. The fairways slope severely, where a ball can land right in the middle of the fairway and end up in the rough. It’s not a golf course where you hit drivers and get in front of the green. You may only hit four or five drivers a day. You need thinking, patience and perseverance, which are what we’ve tried to found our program on since I’ve been here.”

The championship features the nation’s top three teams, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index — Florida (No. 1), Clemson (No.2) and Georgia (No. 3) — and includes 19 of the nation’s top 30 teams.

Eleven teams among the nation’s top 30 did not make it out of their regional tournament, the highest-ranked team being No. 12 South Carolina. The lowest ranked team to make the championship field is No. 108 Rhode Island, which finished eighth in the East Regional.

The representatives from the East Regional are (in order of finish) Clemson, Penn State, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Georgia State, Rhode Island, Vanderbilt and North Carolina.

The teams advancing from the Central Regional are Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas, TCU, Purdue, Wichita State, SMU and Kent State.

The teams from the West Regional are UCLA, New Mexico, Arizona, Arizona State, Brigham Young, Southern California, Toledo, California, Pepperdine and Washington.

Tech is 45-29-3 head-to-head against teams in the championship field. In head-to-head competition against the teams seeded ahead of it, Tech is 3-4 vs. Florida, 1-8 vs. Clemson, 1-5-2 vs. Georgia, 1-0 vs. Kentucky, 1-2 vs. Oklahoma State, 2-2 vs. Oklahoma, 1-1-1 vs. UCLA, 1-0 vs. New Mexico and 2-1 vs. Arizona.

A QUICK LOOK AT THE YELLOW JACKETS

Georgia Tech is coming off a tie for third place in last week’s NCAA East Regional in New Haven, Conn. The Yellow Jackets tied with third-ranked Georgia, eight shots behind No. 2-ranked Clemson, the champion, and two behind runner-up Penn State. Tech also posted a third-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship in mid-April.

“It was nice to be playing with [Clemson] again, because we had not been playing well enough to be paired with them in the last round,” said Heppler. “We played with the No. 2 and 3 ranked teams the last day, and that was good. We beat No. 1 Florida, tied No. 3 Georgia and lost to No. 2 Clemson. So our guys know where the bar is, and I thought they played well the last day. We had a chance to possibly win the tournament at the turn.”

The Jackets have improved steadily over their last four events, which also include a third-place finish at the Western Intercollegiate and a tie for fifth at the Atlanta Intercollegiate in March. In that span, Tech has averaged a team score of 285.8.

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

“We’re going to go there and try to win the tournament,” Heppler added. “That’s what these guys are capable of doing. They’ve worked hard enough. It’s that time of year. They’re relaxed, playing golf and having a good time. For a week, it’s them doing the best they can. If they can get off to a good start and make a few putts, then this team is physically good enough to do real well.”

THE LINEUP

Georgia Tech’s lineup for the NCAA East Regional will remain the same as it has been for each of the last five tournaments, with juniors Thompson and Wongluekiet, sophomore Mike Barbosa, and freshmen Castro and Kevin Larsen. 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. It also tied for third at the NCAA East Regional.

All five of Tech’s players rank among the top 16 of the ACC in stroke average, led by Thompson’s 71.19, which ranks third. Castro ranks sixth at 71.66, Wongluekiet 11th at 72.71, Barbosa 14th at 72.96 and Larsen 16th at 73.84.

Thompson, the nation’s No. 19-ranked player according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Index, ranks fourth in the league in stroke average (71.19). He has led Tech’s most recent charge by averaging 70.33 strokes over 12 rounds in Tech’s last four tournaments. Castro has played well in the last two tournaments, the ACC Championship and the NCAA East Regional, averaging 70.83 in six rounds with two top-11 finishes. Sophomore Mike Barbosa of St. Petersburg, Fla., also has come on strong recently with a 71.42 stroke average and three top-15 finishes in the last four events.

TECH HISTORY IN THE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP

Georgia Tech has had a great deal of success in the NCAA Championship in recent years, finishing in the top four in four of the last six years. Overall, the Yellow Jackets own nine top-10 finishes in the event, with seven of those coming in the last 12 years.

Tech has been the runner-up in the NCAA Championship three times (1993, 2000 and 2002). In 1993 and 2002, the Yellow Jackets owned the lead after 54 holes, but wound up finishing second by one shot to Florida in 1993, and by four shots to Minnesota in 2002.

In 2000, the Yellow Jackets rallied to tie Oklahoma State after 72 holes, but lost to the Cowboys in a playoff. Tech and OSU matched the lowest 72-hole team score in NCAA Championship history (36-under-par 1116) at the Grand National Lake Course in Opelika, Ala.

Since 1985, when Tech played in its first-ever NCAA Tournament as a team, the Yellow Jackets have made the 30-team field in 17 of 19 years, and made the 36-hole cut in 14 of 17 tournaments (there is no longer a 36-hole cut). Since Bruce Heppler became Tech’s coach, the Jackets have two second-place finishes, one third and one fourth in six opportunities.

Individually, three Tech players have won national collegiate championships. Troy Matteson did it most recently in 2002 at Ohio State. Watts Gunn (1927) and Charlie Yates (1934) won national titles under a match play format before the NCAA took sponsorship of the championship in 1939.

Other top-10 finishers for Tech include four-time All-American David Duval (runner-up in 1991 and 1993, T-8 in 1990); All-American Bill McDonald (T-2 in 1988); All-American Nacho Gervas (T-3 in 1986); Kris Mikkelsen (T-4 in 2001); All-American Stewart Cink (T-5 in 1994); and All-Americans Bryce Molder (6th in 1998) and Matt Weibring (6th in 2000).

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