By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
- There’s always a tingly feeling about the start of a new golf season, and Georgia Tech’s Yellow Jackets believe this one will be extra special as they begin the Carpet Capital Collegiate today with extra spring in their steps.
The Jackets frequently play well at The Farm Golf Club in Rocky Face, Ga., near Dalton, as Tech has won the tournament seven times and players have captured nine individual titles, including the past four.
Sophomore Luke Schniederjans, who won the CCC last year, and his teammates feel fantastic about their prospects, and not just because they’re familiar with The Farm and ranked No. 18 by the Golf Coaches Association of America.
“Oh, we’re pumped up because everyone’s playing real well,” Schniederjans said. “Everyone’s had a great summer, and we’ve got a deep team. It’s not false hope. We actually believe we can win.”
It’s easy to see that the Jackets also feel good about each other, their collective talent and their depth, and after two seasons without a team title, Tech means to get back to the business of winning.
Half of Tech’s 12-man roster qualified for the U.S. Amateur, which was played last month at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and three advanced to match play.
For that, head coach Bruce Heppler granted exemptions into the CCC to sophomores Andy Ogletree and Tyler Strafaci and freshman Noah Norton. They’re joining Schniederjans and senior Chris Petefish, who won a playoff for the final spot on the squad. Senior Michael Pisciotta is playing as an individual.
“I saw Luke at a gas station this summer in Alpharetta, and he jumped out of his car and said, ‘we’re going to be so good it’s stupid,’” Heppler said. “They look around and see what each other has done this summer, and last year and in qualifying.
“I think their belief system is a lot different. I think last year there was a lot of wondering, ‘could we be good?’”
Petefish sure thinks so.
He had an outstanding “off season,” winning the Azalea Amateur and the Terra Cotta Invitational in the spring, tying for second at the Monroe Invitational in Pittsford, N.Y., in June, winning his U.S. Amateur qualifier in Salix, Pa., in July, and tying for second at the Porter Cup in Lewiston, N.Y., in July.
Add him to a travel squad with Schniederjans, who won two tournaments as a freshman, Strafaci, who won one, Ogletree, who’s been playing sublime golf recently, and Norton, who ranks No. 6 nationally among college freshmen, and why shouldn’t Petefish be feeling good about the Jackets?
“There’s an excitement, just a different feel this year about the possibilities,” Petefish said. “I just think we’re very committed to be great this year. We’re deeper. Players are playing better, and it’s harder to get into tournaments.
“We’re going to have five guys who are playing well going into every tournament, which is exciting. We’re one of the deepest teams in the country.”
The Jackets are not working slowly into the season. The 15-team field at the CCC is deep, including seven teams ranked in the top 20 by the GCAA: No. 7 LSU, No. 10 Florida, No. 13 Auburn, No. 15 Virginia, No. 17 Clemson and No. 19 Alabama.
“It’s a great place to go; we start there every year,” Heppler said. “We’ve had a lot of success there individually and as a team, and there are some really good teams there. The hurdle is set on the high bar.”
Tech began gearing for the season immediately after Schniederjans, Strafaci, Ogletree, Norton, Petefish and Joiner competed in last month’s U.S. Amateur.
“I’m pretty calmed down,” Schniederjans said. “Last year, I didn’t have anything to lose, not that I do now. I’m defending so it’s a little bit different. I’m real relaxed and prepared.”
Heppler is glad to be competing again, and eager to win after the Jackets missed last spring’s NCAA Tournament by one shot and finished ranked No. 21.
“I think we’re way more talented and a lot of that talent now has a year under its belt. There’s more depth. There’s more experience,” the coach said. “My evaluation is we should be way better. It doesn’t matter what I believe or what I see. They have to believe it and see it.
“I see a better team. They see a better team, and now we’ll see if we are a better team.”