Feb. 19, 2011
ATLANTA – Heading off the mainland of the United States again, Georgia Tech’s fifth-ranked golf team faces another top-notch field when it opens play Sunday in the Puerto Rico Classic in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
The Yellow Jackets are participating in this 54-hole event for the 17th consecutive year, the middle stop in Tech’s annual spring opening sequence that includes Hawai’i (two weeks ago) and Las Vegas (March 11-13). The 15-team field includes nine teams ranked 31st or higher in the current Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, including No. 1 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Alabama and No. 6 Texas.
“People always ask why you want to go to Hawai’i and Puerto Rico, and I always tell them that there are not that many places in this country where you’d want to go to play golf in February,” said head coach Bruce Heppler. “Part of it is just to get outside, and part of it is to reward the guys for the work that they do and the grade that they make. It’s a good test. We’ve had some success there, and it goes along with our premise that we want to find where the best teams are and go play them.”
Head coach Bruce Heppler has watched his team win this event four times, most recently in 2002, and the Yellow Jackets have finished fifth each of the past two years. Tech’s individual winners in this event include Robert Castro (2007), Troy Matteson (2002) and Matt Kuchar (1998), Stewart Cink (1995) and Mikko Rantanen (1994).
Senior John-Tyler Griffin, ranked 11th in the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings, leads a Tech starting five includes three players ranked among the nation’s top 50 players. The Wilson, N.C., native has four top-10 finishes in six tournaments this year, and ranks second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring average at 71.0. Griffin tied for 14th (6-under 210) in the Yellow Jackets’ first spring outing at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawai’i.
James White, a junior from Acworth, Ga., ranked 22nd nationally, is on a streak of three straight top-10 finishes after he tied for 10th (7-under 209) at the Amer Ari. White, who averages 71.5 strokes over 15 rounds, finished the fall by winning the United States Collegiate and tying for eighth at the Brickyard Collegiate.
Also ranked highly is senior Kyle Scott, a senior from Johannesburg, South Africa, who is No. 41 in the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings. Scott, a former Division II national champion, tied for 28th at the Amer Ari and finished the fall with two top-10s. He is third on Tech’s scoring average chart at 72.0 in 15 rounds.
Rounding out Tech’s travel team are senior Paul Haley of Dallas, Texas, and freshman Richard Werenski of South Hadley, Mass. Haley has three top-10 finishes in six tournaments and averages 72.9 strokes, while Werenski has one top-10 in five events and averages 73.5 in 15 rounds. They both tied for 51st in the 114-player field at the Amer Ari.
“We lost the ACC Champion and an All-American in Chesson Hadley, but four of those guys were coming back (from a team that made the NCAA match play championship),” said Heppler. “You assume that they all would progress and play better, and they have, and Richy (Werenski) has done a nice job of filling the open spot. I think we’re back to where we were last June, and where if everyone plays like they’re capable, we can win any tournament.”
Indicative of the quality of Tech’s depth is that the Yellow Jackets ranked second in the nation in lowest average dropped score (75.46) – that is, the average of non-counting scores in each round the Yellow Jackets have played this year. Florida is first at 75.29.