THE FLATS - Six Georgia Tech golfers, half of the current Yellow Jacket roster, begin their quest Monday to join past champions Bobby Jones and Matt Kuchar as U.S. Amateur champion. Seniors Chris Petefish and Jacob Joiner join sophomores Andy Ogletree, Luke Schniederjans and Tyler Trafaci as well as incoming freshman Noah Norton in a 312-player field that will compete for the 117th edition of the national championship.
The eventual champion, crowned in a 36-hole final next Sunday, endures a grueling week of golf, beginning with 36 holes of stroke play Monday and Tuesday at famed Riviera Country Club (7,279 yards, par 70) in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and Bel-Air Country Club (6,722 yards, par 70). Each of the entrants will play one round at Bel-Air and one round at Riviera. After Tuesday, the top 64 finishers qualify for match play competition – round of 64 Wednesday, rounds of 32 and 16 Thursday, quarterfinal matches Friday, semifinal matches Saturday and the 36-hole championship match on Sunday. All matches will take place at Riviera.
FS1 will provide television coverage Monday through Friday, with the Fox network taking over coverage of the semifinals and finals Saturday and Sunday.
The six Tech qualifiers match the most the Yellow Jackets have ever had from one team, giving Tech its greatest odds in a long time of having a champion join the likes of Jones, who won five times (1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, 1930) and Kuchar, who won in 1997. Strafaci (Davie, Fla.) and Norton (Chico, Calif.) became the final Jackets to make the field in their respective qualifiers in Florida (July 25) and California (July 24). Petefish (Danville, Calif.) qualified on July 6, followed by Joiner (Leesburg, Ga.) on July 17. Ogletree (Little Rock, Miss.) and Schniederjans (Powder Springs, Ga.) both made it out of the same qualifier on July 19.
Joiner, Petefish, Schniederjans and Strafaci are each playing in the U.S. Amateur for the second time. Norton and Strafaci are two of 16 players in the field who also competed in this year’s U.S. Junior Amateur. Schniederjans, at No 128, is the highest-ranked Tech player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, followed by Norton (162), Petefish (233), Strafaci (239), Ogletree (369) and Joiner (502).
The success of the Jackets in U.S. Amateur qualifying understandably has head coach Bruce Heppler, who is caddying this week for Ogletree, excited about his team’s prospects for the coming year. Four of Tech’s six qualifiers for the U.S. Amateur won their sectionals, and the Jackets have combined for 20 top-10 finishes, including all U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur qualifying events.
“If you look at what they’ve done as a group, it’s one of the best summers that we’ve ever had,” said Heppler, heading into his 23rd year at the helm. “The consistency of the play is what has me enthused. We had some really great play by some younger guys during the year last year, but it wasn’t consistent. That’s leveled itself out this summer significantly. Even in the tournaments leading up to those qualifiers, I was enthused, because you’re playing against players who are on other college teams, and those fields are limited to a lot of the best players in the country. These are the same players we’ll see at The Farm, at Arizona and whatever.”
Only two of Tech’s six players will play their Monday rounds at Riviera Country Club – Ogletree and Strafaci. The other four play their opening rounds at Bel-Air Country Club.
Tee Times Monday/Tuesday for Tech Players (all times Pacific Daylight)
Noah Norton - 7:10 a.m. (Bel-Air, No. 10) / 12:25 p.m. (Riviera, No. 1)
Andy Ogletree – 7:31 a.m. (Riviera, No. 1) / 12:46 p.m. (Bel-Air, No. 10)
Chris Petefish – 8:24 a.m. (Bel-Air, No. 10) / 1:39 p.m. (Riviera, No. 1)
Luke Schniederjans – 12:25 p.m. (Bel-Air, No. 1) / 7:10 a.m. (Riviera, No. 10)
Tyler Strafaci – 12:46 p.m. (Riviera, No. 1) / 7:31 a.m. (Bel-Air, No. 10)
Jacob Joiner – 1:49 p.m. (Bel-Air, No. 1) / 8:34 a.m. (Riviera, No. 10)
ABOUT GEORGIA TECH GOLF
Georgia Tech’s golf team is entering its 23rd under head coach Bruce Heppler. The Yellow Jackets have won 16 Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, made 28 appearances in the NCAA Championship and been the national runner-up four times. Connect with Georgia Tech Golf on social media by liking their Facebook page, or following on Twitter (@GT_Golf) and Instagram. For more information on Tech golf, visit Ramblinwreck.com.