May 17, 2006
Head coach Bruce Heppler hopes to meet two challenges this weekend as Georgia Tech’s golf team takes on a strong field in the NCAA Central Regional championship – be one of the top 10 teams that advance, and master conditions expected to be similar to what the Yellow Jackets might face in Oregon two weeks from now.
The fourth-ranked Yellow Jackets are the No. 2 seed in this week’s regional, which is being played Thursday through Saturday at Sand Ridge Golf Club in Chardon, Ohio, outside of Cleveland. Oklahoma State, ranked No. 2 nationally, is the top seed, and there are six other top-25 teams in the 27-team field.
The other two regional tournaments also will be held this weekend at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Fla. (East Regional) and Tucson National Golf Club in Tucson, Ariz. (West Regional). The regionals are 54-hole stroke play events, each with 27 teams and six individuals competing. The top 10 finishing teams in each regional, along with the top two individuals not on one of those teams, advance to the NCAA Men’s Golf Championship, May 31-June 3 at Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Ore.
Live scoring for all three regionals can be followed at www.golfstatresults.com.
The forecast for the Cleveland area this weekend is for rain and high temperatures in the middle 50s. Heppler believes the Sand Ridge course and the weather will offer the teams a better peek at what they will see at the national tournament, if they advance, than what the East or West Regional participants will face.
“Everybody that I’ve talked to that knows anything about (the course) says it’ll be perfect,” said Heppler, whose Yellow Jackets won a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference title last month and have won three tournaments this year. “If we’re successful and go to Oregon, it’ll be bentgrass fairways, bentgrass greens and long, wet rye grass rough.
“This golf course is probably closer to the one where they’ll play the national championship. You go up there, grind it out. I don’t think the weather is going to be very good, and it won’t be very good in Oregon. If we handle it the right way, we benefit from getting ready for the next one.”
Rated the 52nd-best golf course in America by Golf Digest in 2005, the Tom Fazio-designed Sand Ridge will play to 7,173 yards and a par of 71 (35-36), with the sixth hole being converted from a par 5 to a 485-yard par 4.
Tech, Oklahoma State and third-seed Texas A&M will be paired together for both Thursday’s and Friday’s rounds. The teams will tee off hole No. 1 between 11:30 a.m. and 12:08 p.m. Thursday, and off hole No. 10 between 7 and 7:38 a.m. Friday. Final round tee times Saturday will be determined by 36-hole standing.
The rest of the field, in order of seed, are Clemson, Duke, Texas, Kentucky, Tulsa, Northwestern, Minnesota, Lamar, Kent State, Oklahoma, TCU, Purdue, SMU, Xavier, Texas-Arlington, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas State, Eastern Kentucky, Cleveland State, Siena, Princeton and St. Francis (Pa.).
Heppler will send senior Mike Barbosa (St. Petersburg, Fla.), juniors Roberto Castro (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Kevin Larsen (Santa Barbara, Calif.), and freshmen Taylor Hall (LaGrange, Ga.) and Cameron Tringale (Laguna Niguel, Calif.) to compete for the Yellow Jackets. That lineup has produced five top-five finishes in seven chances, including all three of the Yellow Jackets’ victories this year (Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate, UH-Hilo Intercollegiate, ACC Championship).
Three Tech players rank among the nation’s top 25, including Larsen (18th), Tringale (21st) and Castro (24th). Larsen, with five top-10 finishes this year, has a team-low stroke average of 72.27. Castro, with two top-10s and seven top-20s, and Tringale, the only ACC player with two victories this year, are tied at 72.40. They rank 6-7-8 among ACC players in scoring average for the year.
Tech won its first spring tournament at the UH-Hilo Intercollegiate in Hawaii, with Tringale taking individual honors, then endured a slump before tying for fourth place at the United States Collegiate Championship, an elite event hosted by the Yellow Jackets at The Golf Club of Georgia in April. Tech followed by capturing a share of the ACC Championship behind Tringale, who took a one-shot victory in the medalist race.
“We’ve always felt like this is a good time of the year for us,” said Heppler. “We’re out of class, and we’ve only got one thing to do. We’ve always played well at the end of the year. They felt good about winning [the ACC Championship] together as a group, and they’re excited about this week.”
Since the NCAA began the current regional qualifying format in 1989, Tech has played in an NCAA regional every year except for 1996 and 1997, and has never failed to advance to the NCAA Championship. Tech has never finished below a tie for seventh in an NCAA regional, and has finished in the top three 11 out of 14 times.
Tech remains ranked fourth in the nation in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the highest ranking of any team in the ACC, which boasts five teams in the nation’s top 20.