Georgia Tech wins first U.S. Collegiate title

James White after winning the individual title at the U.S. Collegiate.

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Walking into the clubhouse at The Golf Club of Georgia, the first thing that stands out is the U.S. Collegiate Championship’s permanent trophy, which stands at just more than five feet tall.

About three quarters of the way up the huge mahogany base there are brass nameplates, each inscribed with the names of the team and individual champions.

Of the four inscribed plates, none bear the name of host Georgia Tech.

“I’ve walked by that trophy for 1,200 or whatever days it is,” said Yellow Jackets coach Bruce Heppler after the second round. “I’d sure like to see a different name on there. So, we’ll see if we can get that done tomorrow.”

The Yellow Jackets granted their coach his wish Tuesday when they did, in fact, get the job done. In extremely windy conditions, they shot a closing round 8-under 280 to finish with a tournament record 28-under 836. That gave Georgia Tech a 27-shot victory – another tournament record – over UCLA, which closed in 290 for a 1-under 863. Texas A&M followed at 866 while USC was next at 867. Virginia rounded out the top five in the 15-team field at 870.

The previous tournament record total was even-par 864 by Clemson in 2006 and USC in 2008. The 27-shot margin of victory blew away the old mark of eight strokes by Georgia in 2007. The margin of victory was also a school record by two shots, bettering the mark shot by the 2002 Tech team in Puerto Rico.

“It’s going to be nice seeing our name on one of those plates,” Heppler said. “I may have to ask them to turn that trophy a little so our plate is the first one you see.”

And giving that nameplate an even sweeter appearance will be the name of the first Georgia Tech champion.

Junior James White, who won wire to wire thanks to an opening 10-under 62, closed with an even-par 72 for a 12-under 204 total that sealed his first collegiate victory. He was five strokes better than USC’s T.J. Vogel, whose 66 was the best closing round. Jordan Russell of Texas A&M was another shot back at 210.

Posting its first tournament title since winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship in the spring, Georgia Tech was in total control of this one from start to finish.

The Yellow Jackets opened with a 17-under-par 271 that shattered the previous tournament record and gave them a 13-shot lead. They followed with a 3-under 285 to get to minus 20 and take an 11-stroke cushion into the last day.

No other team was able to get within single digits at any point. When Tech’s final player made the turn, the Yellow Jackets were at 25 under and led UCLA by 19. At one point, the Yellow Jackets were up by 23.

“We try to get the best teams we can so if you win this tournament it really means something,” Heppler said.

For the veteran Georgia Tech coach, it goes beyond just the fact of beating some of the top teams in the country.

“The Golf Club of Georgia is a very special place to me and to all our guys,” Heppler said. “Winning is always nice, but to do it here, in front of all these people, all the club members, all the family and friends, it makes it that much more gratifying. And, my parents and my sister are here from Utah, so that’s pretty special.

“We wanted to come out today and get off to a good start and keep it going. We were able to do that. The thing about it is this was definitely a five-man team victory.”

The Yellow Jackets placed three players in the top 5 and all five among the top seven. In addition to White, Kyle Scott and Rich Werenski tied for fourth at 4-under 212, while J.T. Griffin and Paul Haley shared seventh at 1-under 215.

White took a six-shot lead over USC’s Steve Lim into the final round. Playing in the final group of the day along with A&M’s Russell, the two birdied the first hole. Lim bogeyed No. 2, but came back with birdies at Nos. 3 and 4, while White made bogeys at Nos. 3, 6 and 7. He stood at 10 under with only a two-shot lead on Lim.

At the par-5 ninth, White appeared on his way to another bogey when his third shot flew the green and into a flowering bush. Lim, on the other hand, hit his third shot to within 5 feet.

Local rules gave White a free drop from the bush and he pitched to 6 feet. Still, it looked like it could be a two-shot swing between the two competitors, but White sank his par putt and Lim missed.

White wasn’t challenged again, especially as Lim made triple bogey on the par-5 11th hole. When White birdied No. 12 to get to 12 under, his lead expanded to seven shots over Russell, who was even on the day at that point.

“Holes eight and nine were big momentum swingers for me and when Steve made triple bogey at 11, I finally took a deep breath,” White said. “I just told myself to keep my focus and keep my mind on what I had to do.

“Right now, I’m absolutely elated,” he said. “I wanted to win all semester. We’ve been playing well and I knew it was just a matter of time for it all to come together. What a great time for that to happen, here at home.

“And then for me to get my first college win to go with (the team win), it’s just really, really special,” White said. “When you know you came out the best, it makes you feel good.”

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