May 17, 2004
By Simit Shah – There aren’t many sure things in life, but you can pretty much bet on Georgia Tech producing some of the nation’s best golfers on a regular basis.
Dating back to Larry Mize, David Duval, Stewart Cink, and more recently, Matt Kuchar, Bryce Molder and Troy Matteson, the program has left an indelible signature on the world of collegiate golf.
So who might be the latest crown prince to this impressive legacy? Perhaps Nick Thompson, a junior from Coral Springs, Florida.
“I feel that I’m a good player, but it’s really how other people view it,” he said of his inclusion in the esteemed group. “Whether they put me in that category, I don’t know yet, but hopefully they will by the time I’m done.”
“He probably drives the ball as well as anybody that’s been here,” noted head golf coach Bruce Heppler. “If you’re playing from the fairway most of the time, it makes golf pretty easy. His greatest strength is how straight he hits it.”
As his junior year nears completion, Thompson already has impressive credentials. He has finished in the top 10 five times this year, including a torrid stretch of fourth, eighth and third in his last three tournaments.
“As the season has gone on, I’ve gotten more consistent,” Thompson stated. “I think I’ve become a better asset to the team over the season.”
Thompson is also on the verge of being named All-American for the third straight season, placing him in elite company. Duval and Molder were both four-time, first-team all-Americans, while Cink, Kuchar and Matteson earned all-America honors three times.
“That would mean a lot to anybody,” said Thompson, who is currently ranked 18th-best in the nation, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, and was recently named all-ACC for the second consecutive season. “I’d feel very honored just to be a one-time all-American let alone possibly being a three-time or even a four-time all-American.
“I just keep trying to take steps to help the team. I know if I keep helping the team, there’s a good chance of being an All-American. Really, that’s not what I worry about. I’d rather have my team win than be an All-American.”
While the team has had a strong season and is ranked sixth in the country, Thompson feels that they are hitting stride at the right time with the NCAA regionals this weekend (May 20-22) and the championship on the horizon (June 1-4).
Thompson, who advanced through local qualifying for the U.S. Open last Friday with a 69 in Boynton Beach, Fla., has rounded into form at the right time. He has finished fourth, eighth and third (ties all) in Tech’s last three events, and most recently, tied for third at the ACC Championship with an 8-under-par score of 208. He has averaged 69.89 strokes over his last nine rounds, and leads the team for the year at 71.14, which ranks fourth in the ACC.
He points out that the host course for the NCAA Championship, the Lower Cascades course at The Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, is where the Jackets finished second in a September tournament. “All of us have confidence in knowing we can play well at that golf course,” he said.
While team chemistry is an element often overlooked in golf, Heppler feels that it’s one of the keys to reaching an elite level, and he sees it developing with this team.
“We’ve fought that all year,” he explained. “We don’t have any seniors, and everybody is just trying to find their way. We have argued, fought and discussed a lot.
“I think right now, starting with the conference tournament, we’re close to getting in a position where that would help us. I think they’ve caught a vision of what it means to be a good teammate, and I’m hoping that comes into play for the NCAAs.”
The team also has the experience of playing in previous NCAA Championships. Thompson and teammate Chan Wongluekiet were both members of the 2002 squad that finished second overall and featured Matteson capturing the individual NCAA title.
“It’s another time around the block,” Thompson remarked. “There aren’t many teams that have two guys that have played in three straight NCAAs. I think helps us to deal with the nerves and pressure. We’re probably more relaxed than other teams.”
Before Thompson begins the chase for an NCAA title, he’ll tackle another personal goal as tries to qualify for U.S. Open on May 14. He has made it past the first stage several times, but he hopes that this is the year that he can advance to the field that will tee off at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York in June.
“Nick’s really played well from the moment he got here,” Heppler said. “The way he hits the ball, he has the ability to continue to do great things on this level, as well as the next.”