April 11, 2005
ATLANTA – Bolstered by having the conference’s top three players in terms of scoring average, all ranked among the nation’s top 25 individuals, Georgia Tech’s No. 3-ranked golf team goes in search of its ninth Atlantic Coast Conference golf title when the ACC Men’s Golf Championship begins Friday in New London, N.C.
The 54-hole championship (18 holes each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday) is being played for the ninth time at the Old North State Club at Uwharrie Point, a 7,100-yard, par 72 course located about 50 miles north of Charlotte, N.C. Live scoring is being offered during all three rounds on Golfstat.com. The winner of the ACC Championship also receives an automatic berth in one of the three NCAA regional tournaments to be played in May.
Georgia Tech has won the ACC title three times under current head coach Bruce Heppler, in 1999, 2001 and 2002. Two of those victories have come at the Old North State Club (1999, 2002), and the Yellow Jackets have twice been a runner-up on that course. Tech finished third last year, fourth in 2003.
In last year’s ACC Championship, four Tech players scored under par for 54 holes and finished among the top 15 individuals, but the Yellow Jackets still finished 11 strokes off the pace. Nicholas Thompson tied for third last year with a nine-under-par 207, and also tied for second his freshman year (8-under 208). Chan Song tied for 11th last year (213) and tied for 20th as a freshman. Roberto Castro also tied for 11th last year (213) while Mike Barbosa tied for 15th (214), both playing in the event for the first time.
The Yellow Jackets have a 23-1 head-to-head record against ACC opposition this year in the nine events they have played. Only Wake Forest, which finished a spot ahead of Tech in the Carpet Capital Collegiate in the fall, has beaten Tech this year.
Tech and Wake are paired together for the first round Friday, and will tee off at 8:30 a.m. Tee times and pairings for Saturday and Sunday are based on team standings after 18 and 36 holes, respectively, and begin at 8:30 a.m.
With a relatively long rest since its last event (Hootie at Bulls Bay on March 27-29), Heppler expects his team to be refreshed after a March stretch that included five events within a month’s time and produced the Yellow Jackets’ least productive play of the spring. After earning at victory at the Puerto Rico Classic on Mar. 1, Tech finished in sixth place at the Southern Highlands Collegiate in Las Vegas, fourth at the Oregon Duck Invitational and sixth at Bulls Bay.
“Historically, we’ve started off our fall and spring seasons well, then sort of hit a wall somewhere in the middle,” said Heppler. “Hopefully we’re past that stage. Everyone looks rested, and I expect us to play well.”
Currently the highest-ranked ACC team in the nation (Duke is No. 12, Wake Forest is No. 19) in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, Tech also boasts three of the nation’s top 25 players in Castro, ranked seventh, Thompson, ranked 18th, and Song, ranked 23rd. That trio also ranks 1-2-3 in the conference in scoring average.
All three golfers have seven top-20 finishes this year, while Castro, a sophomore from Alpharetta, Ga., holds an edge in top-10 finishes (5) and stroke average (71.07). This spring, Castro has tied for fourth at the Taylor Made/Waikoloa Intercollegiate (17-under 199) and tied for third at the Oregon Duck Invitational (6-under 210).
Thompson, a senior from Coral Springs, Fla., had been ranked in the top 10 throughout the spring until Tech’s last event, the Hootie at Bulls Bay Intercollegiate in which he tied for 45th, his lowest finish since the spring of 2003. Nevertheless, he has finished 12th or higher three times this spring, including a tie for sixth in the Puerto Rico Classic, and has a 71.43 stroke average. He has a career 71.22 stroke average in ACC Championships (nine rounds, all at the Old North State Club).
Thompson still ranks No. 5 among amateur players in the United States, bolstered by his victory at the Jones Cup Invitational, a Walker Cup preview amateur event, in February at Sea Island, Ga.
Song, a senior from Orlando, Fla., is not far behind at 71.63, and earned the highest finish of his career at Bulls Bay, a tie for third place after posting a four-under-par 212. Song also tied for fourth at Puerto Rico (6-under 210) this spring and had two other top-10 finishes in the fall. He owns a 73.11 average in nine ACC Championship rounds.
While not currently ranked among the nation’s top 50, Mike Barbosa has put together a solid fall and spring, compiling a 72.59 stroke average for the year and a 72.40 norm this spring. The junior from St. Petersburg, Fla., tied for 15th place at Bulls Bay and at Puerto Rico this spring.
Heppler is hoping to get better scoring from sophomore Kevin Larsen, a sophomore from Santa Barbara, Calif., currently holding down the No. 5 position on the team. Larsen played well in his first outing with a tie for sixth at the Carpet Capital Collegiate in the fall, but has not been able to finish higher than a tie for 35th in any of Tech’s spring events. He has a stroke average of 74.67 and has counted for Tech in just 10 of 18 rounds.