Feb. 1, 2011
Waikoloa, Hawai’i – Facing 11 of the nation’s top 50 teams in the Golfstat rankings, Georgia Tech’s 5th-ranked golf team opens its spring for the 13th straight year on the Big Island of Hawai’i in the Amer Ari Invitational.
Competition runs Wednesday through Friday on the 7,074-yard, par 72 Kings’ Course at the Waikoloa Beach Resort on the Kona Coast, with a 12:30 p.m. Eastern time shotgun start each day. The tournament is co-hosted by the Hawai’i-Manoa and Hawai’i-Hilo. For the first time, live scoring will be offered at www.golfstatresults.com.
In its 12 previous trips to the Kona coast, Tech has won this event five times, most recently in 2006. Head coach Bruce Heppler’s team has had to work around a lot of inclement weather in Atlanta to complete qualifying rounds and prepare for the event. He is happy to trade snow and cold for the trade winds of the Big Island and see if the confidence gained from a big 27-shot win in the Jackets’ last fall event carries over.
“The weather in Atlanta was tough, and they haven’t been able to spend as much time on the course as they’d like,” said Heppler Monday as the Jackets began their practice round. “From a confidence standpoint, we’ll have to wait and see if that has carried over.”
His starting five will be the same as the group that blew away a 15-team field, including top-ranked UCLA, in late October at the United States Collegiate Championship – seniors John-Tyler Griffin (Wilson, N.C.), Paul Haley (Dallas, Texas) and Kyle Scott (Johannesburg, South Africe), junior James White (Acworth, Ga.) and freshman Richard Werenski (South Hadley, Mass.). Junior William Miller (Venetia, Pa.) is tagging along to play as an individual.
All five golfers finished in the top 10 at the USCC. White won the event by seven strokes with a 12-under-par score of 204, a breakthrough event for the junior that included a first-round 62. Scott and Werenski tied for fourth at 4-under 212, while Griffin and Haley tied for seventh at 1-under 215.
Entering the spring, Griffin is the nation’s ninth-ranked player in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, White is 21st and Scott is 24th. Griffin finished no lower than 13th in any of the five events in which he played in the fall. Scott recorded two top-10 finishes and finished no lower than 21st. White finished the fall with two top-10s, and Haley posted three top-10s in five events.
“There’s a lot of experience and leadership in this group,” said Heppler of his group of seniors, which lifted the Jackets to the match play portion of last year’s NCAA Championship. “Kyle has won a national championship on the Division II level, and they’re all doing what they need to do. They’re six months away from trying to do this for a living. They all graduate in the spring and have lighter class schedules, and they’re taking advantage of the extra time to work on their games.”
The event itself has grown in stature over the last five years, attracting many of the top West Coast teams such as No. 2 UCLA, No. 9 Stanford, No. 24 Southern California, and a sprinkling of teams from the East and Midwest, including No. 4 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Texas, No. 22 Texas Tech and No. 34 Florida State. Other top-50 teams include Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State and Washington.
“The teams that are here have gotten a lot better over the last several years,” said Heppler, whose team annually follows this event with the Puerto Rico Classic and the Southern Highlands Collegiate in Las Vegas. “They have come to this event, but they haven’t been ranked as high as they are now. That’s the evolution of West Coast golf. I read an article where this is now rated as one of the top 10 events of the spring schedule. We’ve always tried to play against the best teams to see where we stack up, and this is a great event for that.”