The Tech golf team ventured to the Caribbean last week looking for their seventh win in 28 total appearances at the Puerto Rico Classic. Although the Jackets had a strong history at this event, including six team wins and seven medalist honors, the team knew it was going to be a tall task to come out victorious. 15 teams participated in the event, six of whom are ranked in the top 50 by Golfstat, including the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners.
In addition to this, the Puerto Rico Classic, which runs from Sunday to Tuesday and is held at Rio Mar Country Club provides an interesting test to collegiate golfers year after year due to the howling winds and hot ocean air. However, despite the strong field and testy conditions, the Jackets entered the tournament confident as ever. The team was coming off of a fifth place finish at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii, and were ranked number three in the nation. The conditions also played in the team’s favor, as the warm, breezy air provided a much needed break from the grueling winter conditions the Jackets have dealt with as of late.
Despite the tournament’s deep field, the team event quickly proved to be a two horse race between the Sooners and the Jackets. Oklahoma took a one stroke lead after Round 1 on Sunday spurred by solid rounds from Garrett Reband and Jake Holbrook. However, led by Connor Howe and Bartley Forrester’s rounds of 68 and 66 respectively, Tech fired a second-round score of 268 (-20) to take a two-stroke lead into the final day. Howe, a sophomore shared the individual 36 hole lead at 8-under after shooting back-to-back rounds of 68. Forrester, a redshirt freshman, was close behind his teammate after a scorching back nine of 31 on Monday, including an eagle and three birdies. Senior Luke Schneiderjans found himself in the hunt for the individual tournament as well after rounds of 69 and 68.
The final day of action was pressure packed as the Jackets held a very slim lead over the top-ranked Sooners. However, the Jackets showed they had been at the top of the leaderboard many times before. Forrester played nearly a flawless final round, recording four birdies and just one bogey. Senior Tyler Strafaci recorded a round of 71 and the reigning U.S. Amateur Champion, Andy Ogletree, added a two-under-par round of 70.
The strong play of the Jackets was too much for the Sooners as Tech captured their seventh ever win at the Puerto Rico Classic with a score of 832 (-32). Also of note, the 19th ranked Georgia Bulldogs finished in third place and the 24th ranked Clemson Tigers finished fifth.
In addition to the impressive team win, Forrester pulled out a share of the individual title with a total score of 207 (-9). In Forrester’s third event as a member of Tech’s golf team he found himself atop the leaderboard amongst many other experienced veterans from some of the nation’s best teams. While it is quite clear how talented Tech’s senior players are, performances like these from the underclassmen show how bright Tech’s future can be.
Following his win, Forrester remarked, “To see all my hard work pay off with a win is the most gratifying feeling. I hit the ball probably the best I’ve ever hit it, and I made enough putts to get the job done.”
The Jackets have seen impressive individual performances from every member of the team this season and promise to be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC this upcoming season.
Looking ahead, the Jackets are preparing for the Southern Highlands Collegiate tournament in Las Vegas, NV. The tournament will run from March 1–3. Last year, the Jackets held a 36-hole lead before crumbling in the final round and falling to sixth place.
Hopefully the Jackets can build off of this week’s performance and bring home another first-place finish from Nevada in early March, where the Sooners will be looking to exact revenge on the Jackets after their close loss in Puerto Rico.