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Tech Seeking Redemption

Ray Glier
golf.com contributing writer

www.golf.com

ATLANTA (May 16) — Bryce Molder kept the newspaper clipping taped to a wall of his apartment all year. Whenever he thought the couch was more appealing than standing over another golf ball on the practice range, he took a glance at the clip.

It was all the motivation the Georgia Tech junior needed to go hit some more balls.

While Georgia Tech has depth, the Yellow Jackets’ ultimate success depends on stars Bryce Molder, pictured, rear, and Matt Kuchar, pictured, front.

The headline from the 1999 NCAA Golf Tournament blared: “Georgia Tech sent packing, 50-over-par.”

“I know some of our rivals thought it was pretty funny we didn’t even make the cut last year after we won the regional,” said Molder, Tech’s two-time first-team All-American. “I guess you could say we have something to play for this time.”

The Yellow Jackets, who have been No. 1 in the country for 11 consecutive weeks, don’t want to put too much pressure on themselves heading into this week’s NCAA East Regional in Moosic, Pa., But while head coach Bruce Heppler wants to keep 1999 and the 28th place finish a distant memory, Molder admits he and his teammates were embarrassed after last season’s tournament.

“Yeah, we want a little revenge and we’ll be disappointed with anything less than a championship,” he said. “But we’ve gotten away from judging our whole year on just one tournament. We won’t do that. There’s no reason to hang our heads if we don’t win it all.”

Indeed, it’s been a terrific spring for Tech so far. The Yellow Jackets won three big-time Tournaments — the Waikoloa Intercollegiate, the Puerto Rico Classic and the U.S. Collegiate Championship — while senior Matt Kuchar and Molder have risen to No. 2 and No. 3 in the country in the individual rankings.

Molder was named Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year last week for the second consecutive season.

But Heppler says the key to the team’s success in the postseason won’t be the play of Kuchar and Molder, but the play of the third, fourth, and fifth players in the lineup — Troy Matteson, Matt Weibring, and Carlton Forrester.

“Those guys have played better in those positions this year than the guys we had in those spots the past three years,” said Heppler, whose team finished third in the NCAA Tournament two years ago. “This is the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Tech showed off its depth by winning the U.S. Collegiate Championship in early April. All five Jackets finished in the top 14 individually as Tech won by a commanding 14 strokes against a strong field. It wasn’t Molder or Kuchar who led the way, but Matteson, a sophomore, who tied for fifth overall in the tournament.

Still, it would be hard to imagine Georgia Tech making any noise in the NCAAs without big games from Molder and Kuchar.

Molder, who is a good bet to named first-team All-American for the third consecutive year, continues to play with the same mental toughness he displayed as a freshman three years ago.

“He arrived with a mental maturity that a lot of college golfers don’t arrive with,” Heppler said. “He didn’t come to college to see how much fun he could have and find the best watering hole in Atlanta. He wanted to be a first-team All-American his freshman year and accomplish something only three people have done (four-time, first-team All-American).

“One of those people (David Duval) went to Georgia Tech and I think Bryce wanted to see if he could also do it.”

"I know some of our rivals thought it was pretty funny we didn’t even make the cut last year after we won the regional. I guess you could say we have something to play for this time."

— Bryce Molder

Kuchar has also showed some mental toughness. After his mercurial rise last year with appearances in the Masters and U.S. Open and the agonizing debate over whether he should turn pro, Kuchar returned to Tech for his final year. He graduated last weekend and played solid — sometimes spectacular — golf this season.

“He did a real good job of sorting through everything and then making the decision to stay,” Heppler said. “It had to be tough on him because he was being pulled in so many different directions. He handled it well and I told him that when he gets out on the tour and things get tough, he can call on this experience to get him through.”

As for the NCAAs, Heppler doesn’t think past experience is going to make any difference in getting his team a title. He’s certain Tech has the talent to win it all, but sometimes the best team doesn’t win.

“There are some days the hole looks real big, other days it looks real small, just like on the PGA Tour,” the Tech coach said. “Some days the putter just lines itself up. You just never know what’s going to happen. I think, honestly, there are 20 teams out there who could win it all. We’re one of those teams, but you can’t predict what’s going to happen.”

If you don’t believe Heppler. Just ask Molder. He has the newspaper clipping from last year to prove anything can happen.

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