Ga. Tech’s Bruce Heppler, UAB’s Graeme McDowell capture men’s awards
Heading into the 2001-02 season, Georgia Tech men’s coach Bruce Heppler wondered what the Yellow Jackets golf program was going to be like without Bryce Molder.
He had good reason to be concerned.
Molder and Wes Latimer had graduated, leaving Heppler with two key starting lineup spots to fill. In Molder, Heppler was losing a four-time first-team All-American, three-time Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and two-time Golfweek Player of the Year. More important, he was losing someone whose career scoring average of 70.69 is an NCAA best and who, the previous season, averaged 69.4.
The next-best stroke average on the team in Molder’s senior season was Troy Matteson at 72.4. And Heppler’s lineup would include two freshmen.
“Losing Bryce Molder is huge. It’s like losing three or four shots a round,” Heppler said before the season. “Now we just have to see if the other guys can step up and come into their own.”
With Heppler’s guidance, that’s exactly what the Yellow Jackets did. Georgia Tech had its best season in school history and in the process earned Heppler the Golfweek 2002 Division I Men’s Coach of the Year honor.
University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Graeme McDowell captured the Player of the Year honor after finishing the season No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
Heppler’s Yellow Jackets never looked back after finishing 10th at the season-opening Ping/Golfweek Preview. They had two victories (Carpet Capital and Long Cove Invitational) in three events in the fall, then opened the spring season with three consecutive victories before placing sixth at the U.S. Collegiate. Tech followed with a victory at the ACC Championship, a tie for first at the NCAA East Regional and a second at the NCAA Championship. Not only were the seven victories the most in a season in school history, they were the most by an ACC team since the early 1990s.
Tech finished No. 1 in the Golfweek/ Sagarin rankings, and all five starters earned All-American honors – Matteson, a junior who became the Yellow Jackets’ first NCAA medalist, was named first team; senior Kris Mikkelsen second team; senior Matt Weibring third team; and freshmen Nicholas Thompson and Chan Song Wongluekiet honorable mention.
“I think we had great team chemistry this year,” said Heppler. “We became a close-knit group that worked hard and cared for each other. We began just kind of feeling each other out, but before the year was over we had a great team atmosphere.
“We came up a couple of shots shy (four) of winning the big one (NCAA title) and we were all a little disappointed. But all in all, these young men had a fantastic year. Seven wins, five All-Americans, an NCAA individual champion . . . these guys deserve all the credit.”
McDowell, a junior from Northern Ireland whose eligibility expired after this season, had a dream year, finishing out of the top 15 only once (17th) in 14 starts.
A first-team All-American and Conference USA Player of the Year, McDowell recorded six victories and posted a 69.8 scoring average, both school records.
Thirty-five of McDowell’s 43 rounds were even par or lower, and he shot his career low round of 63 in the final round to win the Atlanta Intercollegiate with a career-best tournament total of 19-under 197.
He closed out his season with a tie for eighth at the NCAA East Regional and a tie for fourth at the NCAA Championship.