Talent, experience abound for Tech golf

Photo courtesy of Danny Karnik

Few on the golf team are strangers to big stages. After a summer where a school-record six golfers qualified for the US Amateur, the golf team looks primed for another season as one of the top collegiate teams in the country. Just ask golf coach Bruce Heppler, who, following a win at the Carpet Capital Collegiate (CCC), praised the team.

“This should be one of our deepest teams. We’ve had some sporty groups … but they’re impressive,” Heppler said. “Five guys who can drive the ball well, and we started making some putts. Everybody feels like they were part of it.” After a disappointing previous two seasons, in which the golf team was without a team title, the victory at the CCC starts off the fall season on the right foot.

The golf team’s roster is rich with talent — the six students who qualified for the US Amateur make up half the team’s 12-man roster. Of those students, two of them ­— sophomore Luke Schniederjans and freshman Noah Norton — ranked among the top 200 amateurs in the world going into the event, Schienderjans at No. 128 and Norton at 162. Norton had a stellar showing at the event, reaching the round of 16 before falling to senior Theo Humphrey of Vanderbilt.

With such a deep roster, it is little surprise that the golf team has already been pegged for success — in the pre-season coaches’ poll from the Gold Coaches’ Association of America, they were ranked No. 18 in the country and fourth overall in the ACC. Following their successes at the US Amateur, the Jackets are also highly ranked individually. Norton and Schniederjans sit just outside the top 100 amateur golfers, ranked 103 and 133 respectively, and their teammates Tyler Strafaci, Andy Ogletree, Jacob Joiner and James Clark also sit inside the top 500 rankings. All are impressive marks; a team with six players ranked in the top 500 is even more exciting.

The victory last weekend was a welcome change for the golf team, as last season had ended in disappointment for them. For only the fourth time since the introduction of the current NCAA golf tournament format, the golf team missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships, and did so in heartbreaking fashion — losing by a single stroke to UNC. The feeling was all too familiar, as the golf team missed the championship by four strokes the season prior as well. There is reason to hope that the team will take the next step.

With golf seemingly stuck on the verge of success yet not quite over the hill, the addition of Norton is a welcome boon — the icing on the cake that could finally catapult the team to the top of the ACC. However, it is an uphill climb; the golf team has a difficult schedule every year, and this season is no different.

They will have little time to rest on their laurels, as the Maui Jim Invitational in Arizona awaits the golf team on Sept. 22-24. Later next month, they will host the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate, whose 15-team field stacks up with 12 top-25 opponents, including No. 3 Oklahoma State. In the spring, the golf team will travel to Hawaii and Puerto Rico for tournaments, and hope to finish out their seasons with the ACC Golf Championship and the NCAA Championship, the pinnacle of team collegiate competition.

It is a difficult slate of upcoming tournaments for the golf team, but hopes are nonetheless high. Roberto Castro, golf-team alumni and one of many pro-golfers to have taken the green for the Institute, tweeted that “this team could stack [victories] up this year” in response to the golf team’s victory at the CCC. It is hard not to be excited for this team. The golf team is back with a chip on their shoulder, and they’ve got plenty to prove, with all the tools to do so.

This year marks Head Coach Bruce Heppler’s 22nd with the team. His tenure in Atlanta outlives many of his players. But despite incredible individual talent such as Ollie Schniederjans, once the number one amateur golfer in the world, his team has never captured an NCAA championship. They achieved second-place marks in 2000, 2002 and 2005. 2017 may be the year Tech finally breaks through and hoists a championship trophy of their own. No longer the bridesmaid, the Jackets seek to at last play the bride.