April 3, 2009
ATLANTA – Facing what may be the best field outside of the NCAA Championship, Georgia Tech’s golf team, ranked 8th in the nation, hosts the fourth annual United States Collegiate Championship, which begins Sunday at the Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta.
Among the 15 teams are the nation’s current top nine – No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 3 Southern California, No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 Florida, No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Indiana and No. 9 Washington. Also competing in the 54-hole event are No. 11 South Carolina, No. 13 Alabama, No. 18 Florida State, No. 24 Texas A&M, No. 27 UCLA and No. 29 East Tennessee State.
Tee times begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, with groups starting off No. 1 and No. 10 at the 7,017-yard, par-72 Riverside Course. Tickets, which are free of charge, can be obtained at the main desk of the clubhouse.
“It’s the best tournament of the year,” said Tech head coach Bruce Heppler. “It’s based on seven months of play, so this is as good at we’ve faced all year. The idea for this tournament is that if you win, it really means a lot. We haven’t arranged a field that makes us look good. If we can win this tournament, it will be one of the best the program has ever had.”
Tech’s best finishes this spring in three events have been a fifth-place showing at the Puerto Rico Classic and a tie for sixth at the Southern Highlands Collegiate, and its top finish in the fall was a second-place showing at the Brickyard Collegiate. But each tournament in which the Jackets have played has featured seven or more teams from the nation’s top 25, and as many as 11 or 12.
Heppler’s team has faced the nation’s third-toughest schedule according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, and has a 64-39-2 head-to-head record against all comers. All 15 teams in the USCC field are ranked 29th or higher.
“We’ve gotten better every week,” said Heppler, in his 14th season with the Yellow Jackets. “When all of your head-to-heads are against teams ranked in the top 15, sometimes it doesn’t look like you’re doing all that well. But if we had played well enough to win these, we’re playing well enough to win the national championship. It’s easy to schedule wins, but we’ve made an effort to play against the best teams every week.”
Rising above the competition most successfully has been Cameron Tringale, a three-time All-American currently ranked No. 3 in the nation among individuals. The senior from Laguna Niguel, Calif., won his fourth collegiate tournament last time out at the Southern Highlands Collegiate, beating the elite field by five shots with an 11-under-par score of 205.
Tringale has finished in the top 10 in five of seven events this year, winning twice, with a tie for 13th and a toe for 21st in the other two. He ranks second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 71.05 stroke average, including a 70.44 mark in nine spring rounds.
Also competing for Tech at the USCC are senior David Dragoo, junior Chesson Hadley, sophomore John-Tyler Griffin and freshman Minghao Wang. Dragoo, from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Griffin, from Wilson, N.C., are the only other Tech players to have played in every event this year, combining for four top-20 finishes. Dragoo, ranked 83rd in the nation, averages 73.76 strokes over 21 rounds, while Griffin averages 74.62.
Hadley, from Raleigh, N.C., and averaging 75.25 strokes over 15 rounds, is playing in his second event of the spring and sixth overall. Wang, a true freshman from Reunion, Fla., averaging 75.67 strokes over 15 rounds, is looking to regain the form he showed at the end of the fall when he posted his only top-20 finish (Isleworth-UCF Collegiate).