Georgia Tech has a long and respected history in college golf and has produced some notable players. The last 10 years David Duval, Stewart Cink, Matt Kuchar and Bryce Molder have played for the Yellow Jackets.
All earned national player of the year honors during their Tech careers, and Duval and Molder are two of only four players to be four-time first-team All-Americans.
What the Yellow Jackets program lacked, though, was an NCAA Division I Championship medalist.
Not any more.
Georgia Tech junior Troy Matteson took care of that June 1 when he shot a final-round, 4-under 67 at Ohio State’s Scarlet Course.
With previous rounds of 73-66-70, Matteson finished with an 8-under 276. Oddly enough, his opening 73 was Tech’s noncounting score for the round. Matteson’s 72-hole total was good for a one-stroke victory over Texas Christian junior Adam Rubinson, who closed with 69.
Hunter Mahan, a sophomore at Oklahoma State, shot a final-round 72 and was next at 6-under 278, while third-round leader Graeme McDowell of Alabama-Birmingham struggled with 74 and tied for fourth with Justin Smith, a sophomore who helped lead Minnesota to its first team championship. McDowell and Smith (69) finished at 279.
“There have been some great players at Georgia Tech, and to be the first one to win the NCAA is a tremendous honor,” Matteson said. “Coach (Bruce Heppler) was extremely helpful in preparing us for this golf course and he was really positive all week, helping me whenever I got down.”
Still, the victory delivered mixed emotions.
Georgia Tech was No. 1 in the Golfweek⁄Sagarin Rankings entering the tournament and was considered the favorite. The Yellow Jackets led or shared the lead after each of the first three rounds, but came up four shots short of Minnesota.
“Obviously this is the biggest win I’ve ever had, but believe me, I’d trade it in a heartbeat if I could be with my four buddies who I got up with every morning and we could win as a team,” Matteson said.
It took Matteson 21⁄2 seasons to figure out the formula for winning at the college level. Once he did, the flood gates opened.
The 22-year-old civil engineering major began the spring season with his first victory at the TaylorMade Waikoloa Intercollegiate in Hawaii. A week later, he won again at the Rio Mar Puerto Rico Intercollegiate, and two weeks after that, tied for first at the Callaway Las Vegas Intercollegiate.
“Troy had a fantastic season. He’s worked really hard to get to where he is and this is his reward,” said Heppler. “He played solid golf all week and didn’t make many mistakes. I just can’t say how happy I am for him.”
When the final round began, McDowell held the lead at 8 under, one shot in front of Mahan and two better than Washington’s Brock Mackenzie.
Matteson, who started the day 4 under, jumped into the race with birdies on Nos. 1 and 4, but bogeyed No. 7 to turn in 1 under. He birdied Nos. 13, 14 and 16 to get to 4 under on the day and then parred in.
Rubinson, playing in the first wave, made two birdies and a bogey on each side and was the leader in the clubhouse at 7 under as the last groups were making the turn.
McDowell, who won six tournaments this season and is No. 1 in the Golfweek⁄Sagarin rankings, struggled most of the day. He bogeyed the second hole and birdied No. 4, but added bogeys at 6 and 9 to turn in 2-over 38. He added bogeys at Nos. 11 and 15 before a birdie at 17.
“I just never felt comfortable over the ball all day,” said McDowell, who turned professional following the competition. “I don’t know why, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to get in any kind of groove.”
Mahan remained in contention until the very end. He birdied No. 4, bogeyed No. 7 and birdied No. 8, and at the turn was tied for the lead with Rubinson at 8 under.
He appeared to knock himself out of contention with a double bogey at No. 11, but came back with a birdie at 15. Mahan kept his hopes alive with a par save at the par-3 17th, getting up and down from a buried lie in a bunker and sinking an 18-foot putt. Needing a birdie at the final hole, Mahan pulled his drive into a cluster of trees and punched out into the deep rough right of the green. His birdie chip slid 12 feet left of the hole and he missed his par putt.
“I wish I could have played a little better today, but overall it was a pretty good week,” said Mahan. “I gave it a good try, but came up just a little short. Maybe next time.”