Georgia Tech no longer under radar, leads NCAAs
STILLWATER, Okla. – By just about any standard, Georgia Tech has had an outstanding season.
The Yellow Jackets won three times, including the U.S. Collegiate and the Atlantic Coast Conference, and have five other top-5 finishes – all of which have elevated Georgia Tech to the No. 2 spot in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings.
Still, for some reason, it seems the Yellow Jackets haven’t really gotten the recognition that they certainly deserve.
“That’s something we can’t worry about,” said Tech coach Bruce Heppler, in his 16th season at the Atlanta university. “You can’t just wait around for someone to pat you on the back. You don’t play to have someone write an article about you. We play for the satisfaction of doing well and knowing we’ve played the best we can.”
NCAA Men's Championship (Round 2)
Images from the second round of stroke play at the NCAA Championship, played June 1 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.
There’s plenty of that satisfaction buzzing around the Yellow Jackets, not to mention the attention they are attracting.
That’s what happens when you are on top of the leaderboard after the first two rounds of the NCAA Championship.
Tech followed its opening 5-under 283 with a 2-over 290 Wednesday and leads the 30-team field at 3-under 573 at Karsten Creek Golf Club. UCLA, which shot par in the second round, is one stroke back.
John Peterson certainly saved his best for last – or make that, second-to-last – stroke-play round of the season. The LSU senior shot a competitive course-record 7-under 65 and surged into the individual lead at 5-under 139, one shot better than first-round leader James White of Georgia Tech, who had a 73.
Peterson’s score bettered the previous competitive course record of 66 shot by Andy Stewart of Kansas in the first round at the 2001 Central Regional and Oklahoma State’s Hunter Mahan in the second round at the 2002 Ping/Golfweek Preview.
The third and final stroke-play round is Thursday, after which the individual champion will be crowned and the low eight teams will advance to match play. The match-play quarterfinals are set for Friday, semifinals on Saturday and the championship match is on Sunday afternoon.
Following Georgia Tech and UCLA in the team standings is Illinois at 2-over 578, one shot better than Georgia and two lower than Alabama. Oklahoma State is sixth at 9-over 585, with defending champion Augusta State seventh at 12 over and Ohio State and 2009 NCAA winner Texas A&M eighth at 14 over.
Still in the hunt for an Elite Eight spot are USC (+16), Arkansas (+18) and Duke, Iowa, San Diego State and Arizona State (+20).
“Well, we’re better than when we started (the week),” said a smiling Heppler after his team’s round. “We have some ups and downs, but you’re going to have that on this golf course. But the guys really hung in there and did what they had to do.
“We played here in the (fall, Ping/Golfweek) Preview and I had a team here in 2003 (at NCAA Championship) and was here (as Oklahoma State assistant coach) when they built the course,” Heppler said. “I think I have a good idea of where to hit it and how to deal with it. I think it helped in our preparations and felt we had a really good game plan coming in.”
UCLA coach Derek Freeman also did some pre-tournament planning to get ready for this championship. He brought his Bruin team into Oklahoma last Thursday night, and they played three days at nearby Oak Tree National Golf Club in Edmond.
“We wanted to get accustomed to the (two-hour) time difference and to the wind and the humidity,” said Freeman, who guided UCLA to the NCAA title in 2008. “I think when we got here (Karsten Creek), we were very comfortable and feeling good about how we were playing.
“Any time the wind is down on this golf course, you have to take advantage of it,” Freeman said. “Fortunately we have played well the last two days. But our guys know it’s a challenging golf course, and they know each day is separate. We just need to come out tomorrow and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Host Oklahoma State, the No. 1 team in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings, continued to struggle and remains in the middle of the pack for an Elite Eight spot at 9-over 585. It’s hardly the performance most – especially the large throng of orange-and-black-clad OSU fans – expected from the Cowboys, who won eight times this season, including dominant performances at the Big 12 Championship and South Central Regional.
“We let our own golf course push us around the last two days,” Oklahoma State coach Mike McGraw said. “Most of it is attitude and frame of mind. The guys just let the golf course get to them. I know they can play a lot better than this, and luckily they’re going to have one more round to do that. Bottom line is, we just need to put (the last two rounds) behind us and go out and play well tomorrow.”
Peterson’s record round came after an opening 74, which included a 6-over 42 on his first nine holes.
“I felt so bad shooting that 42,” he said. “It’s was like, ‘God, I’m in 100th place, and we’ve only played nine holes. I’ve got to dig myself out somehow.’ ”
He played the back side in 4-under 32 and remained on a roll Wednesday, making six birdies and an eagle against a lone bogey.
Starting on the 10th hole, Peterson birdied 12, eagled 14, then birdied 16 and 18. He made bogey at No. 1, but closed out with birdies at 4, 5 and 9.
“I had control of my ball all day,” Peterson said. “When you have control of your ball, you can hit at flags you normally wouldn’t go for. I got it to where I knew where the ball was going and how far it would fly and release.
“It was a good ball-tracking day and a good putting day,” he said. “It all came together today, and if feels pretty good to have it happen at this course.”
For a while, it appeared as if White were going to turn things into a runaway. Coming back from his opening 67, White, starting on the back side, birdied 14, 18 and 1 to get to 7 under for the tournament. He made double bogey at No. 2, but birdied 3. Then he made another double at 6 and a bogey at 8.
“I can deal with a round like that,” said White, who lost two balls off the tee with pulled drives. “I need to work on my tee shots a little bit. It wasn’t a great round, but it was good enough to keep me in the hunt.”