Tech men’s golf team enters this season just as they entered last season — with a chip on their shoulder. After finishing out the season with its seventeenth ACC Championship win in North Carolina, the ninth title in the past 13 years and the twelfth under current head coach Bruce Heppler, the Jackets lost a spot in the national tournament by one stroke, a bit of deja vu for the team, who the year before had also lost a spot in the event by a single stroke.
Tech will return three All-ACC members this year: Noah Norton, Luke Schniederjans and Tyler Strafaci all received the honor last season and are set to return this season under ACC Coach of the Year Heppler. Chances favor that the Jackets will progress this year to the next level with more experience under their belts and the hunger that comes with an opportunity denied.
Along with the returnees, Heppler has brought in three new athletes for the class of 2018. Connor Howe, Luka Karaulic, and Bartley Forrester all will add serious depth to the roster while learning from those that have been around a little bit longer.
Howe hails from Ogden, Utah and signed his letter of commitment back in November along with Karaulic. Howe was ranked as high as No. 41 in his class and helped his high school team to two state championships. Howe consistently finished in the top 10 of multiple junior golf events in the past year and has his sights set on the PGA Tour in the future.
Karaulic ranked No. 180 in his class and No. 7 in his home state of Georgia. A Lawrenceville native, he may yet draw some local fans to Tech’s matches. His last two years of high school resulted in an all-county selection, as well as showing as a Daily Post Super Six pick. While transitioning to his college career, Karaulic tied for 23rd at the Southeastern Amateur in Columbus, GA over this past summer. Karualic’s athletic nature runs in his blood — his father, Branislav Karaulic, was a 1988 Olympian for Yugoslavia in the 400-meter hurdles.
Forrester is another Georgia native, traveling down south a little further to Atlanta from Gainesville, who signed his letter of intent last April for the Jackets despite interest from some Ivy League schools. Forrester’s name may sound familiar to Tech golf fans — Bartley Forrester is the nephew of Carlton Forrester, a former Jacket All-American in the same sport. In the younger Forrester’s junior career, he was ranked as high as No. 76 nationally and won multiple championships, including the Hall County Boys Championship, the Coal Mountain Golf Classic, and the Athens Junior Classic.
The three incoming Jackets will add fresh talent to the roster and should be sufficient in replacing the talent of Chris Petefish, an All-American scholar, across the three of them. Although there will be growth and learning to be done, the three can expect to contribute to the team from the get go while growing accustomed to the collegiate playing field.
The Jackets were ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation in the latest polls by Golfstat (No. 6) and the Golfweek/Sagarin Index (No. 8). Over the summer, Strafaci became the first undergraduate Jacket to compete in the U.S. Open in 20 years, while juniors Andy Ogletree and Luke Schniederjans each posted top 10 finishes in the Monroe Invitational and The Dogwood, respectively. Additionally at the Monroe Invitational in New York, Howe and red-shirt freshman Ben Smith tied for No. 31 and No. 58 in the field standings, respectively.
As many Tech students had busy summers abroad and completing internships, golf took full advantage of the break, continuing to compete and conquer over the summer months.
With the loss of a bid to the NCAA national tournament fresh in the returners’ minds, they will surely be after a place in that tournament this season. Heppler will undoubtedly do his best to prepare the team, as he has over the last 23 years, but in the end, it is in the competitors’ hands.
A fourth straight year left out of the cold when the NCAA Tournament rolls around would be a heavy burden for the players and coaches alike, especially given the Jackets’ regular season success. With the influx of new talent and strong new members, however, it seems that this may be the year the streak is broken.