May 29, 2006
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s golf program has been judged the best in the nation by two publications in the last year, but the Yellow Jackets head into this week’s NCAA Division I Golf Championship without much fanfare.
In the last eight years, head coach Bruce Heppler has guided the Jackets to six top-five finishes, including runner-up efforts in 2000, 2002 and last year, as good an overall performance as any team in the nation. But the favorites to win this year are Tech’s arch-rivals from Athens and Heppler’s former employer, Oklahoma State.
“Georgia won it last year, lost one player and signed Brian Harman, who is one of the best two or three players I’ve seen in the last 10 years,” the Tech head coach said Friday. “They were preseason No. 1 and have played like that. OSU returned everybody from a team that won seven or eight tournaments last year.
“We lost two All-Americans, and people thought we’d be 16th, 17th 18th in the country. I think that’s motivated them. It’s a positive if they know what to do with it. The only expectations we have are ours. We’ve shown we can play with them.”
Georgia, Oklahoma State and Florida rank 1-2-3 ahead of Tech, which has won three times this year, including a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Georgia won the SEC title and has been ranked No. 1 all year, while the Cowboys have been No. 2 all year. Florida, ranked third, tied for first at the NCAA West Regional.
But as they have consistently for the past eight years, and despite playing two freshmen consistently all year long, the Yellow Jackets are in position to contend for the national championship.
“We’ve got to go play right from the start,” said Heppler, whose team advanced to the national tournament by tying for third at the Central Regional a week ago in Chardon, Ohio. “We have a chance. The key is to be consistent all four days.”
The NCAA Championship is a 72-hole event played over four days beginning Wednesday at Crosswater Golf Club at Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Ore., about three hours Southeast of Portland. The low four scores out of five each day count toward the team total for each of the 30 competing schools. There will be no television coverage, but live scoring can be followed each day at Golfstat Results.
The Yellow Jackets are pair for the first two rounds Wednesday and Thursday with 12th-ranked North Carolina and 13th-ranked Texas Tech. They will tee off at 4:29 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday and 11:17 a.m. Eastern time Thursday. Tee times for Friday’s third round are based on 36-hole standing, and the field will be cut to the top 15 teams after 54 holes.
Freshman Cameron Tringale (Laguna Niguel, Calif.) has been Tech’s top finisher in each of the last two events, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference championship and tying for fourth at the NCAA Central Regional. He is a collective seven-under-par with an even-70 stroke average in those six rounds. In seven spring events, the ACC Freshman of the Year has won twice, finished in the top 10 four times and posted a stroke average of 71.71, best on the team.
Junior Kevin Larsen (Santa Barbara, Calif.) has regained the solid presence he enjoyed in the fall, finishing in the top 15 in the ACC Championship and the NCAA Central Regional. Tech’s overall stroke average leader for the year (72.27), Larsen is one-under-par over his last six rounds for an average of 71.33.
Tringale, Larsen and junior Roberto Castro (Alpharetta, Ga.) all made the all-ACC team this year. Castro, who finished third at last year’s NCAA Championship, has seven top-20 finishes in 11 events this year and a 72.48 stroke average. Also competing for Tech are senior Mike Barbosa (St. Petersburg, Fla.), who has enjoyed a solid spring with four top-20 finishes and a 73.38 stroke average, and freshman Taylor Hall (LaGrange, Ga.), who tied for ninth at the ACC Championship and has a stroke average of 73.75.
The Crosswater Golf Club, designed by Bob Cupp and John Fought, measures 7,630 yards and plays to a par of 72. Most of the teams contending this week played the course last September during the Ping/Golfweek Preview Classic, which Georgia won with a 19-under-par team score while Tech finished second at four-under-par.
Weather conditions were excellent during that event, with sunny skies, little wind and hard fairways. This week’s forecast is not as favorable, with cloudy skies, a variable chance of showers and temperatures in the low 60s Wednesday through Friday.
“If the weather is cold and they don’t alter the tees, you could see some really high scores, because you have to drive it straight in the wind,” said Heppler, whose team has practice rounds on the course Monday and Tuesday. “It’s a good golf course for us because we drive the ball well. We have five fairly strong drivers, distance-wise.
“The team that wins will drive the ball. It’s a good test even if it’s nice. If it gets wet, and it’s all carry, then it gets really long, but I don’t think that hurts us. It’s a fair golf course. It’ll have to be a good team that wins the tournament.”