Golf readies for Amer Ari

Photo courtesy of Danny Karnik

Tech men’s golf team consists of a small, yet impactful group of individuals who look to build on the success they experienced in the fall season. Last year, the men finished the season with a national ranking of No. 22 behind schools that included conference foes such as Clemson, Wake Forest and Duke University, with SEC powerhouse Vanderbilt sitting atop the list.

The estimated potential rankings for the upcoming season were listed by Golfstat and included a potential ranking of No. 16 if every single player was one shot better per round. Tech’s reputation only increased from there onwards, placing them at No. 3 nationally in the same rankings by the end of November. After opening the fall season with a win over highly ranked Alabama at the Carpet Capital Collegiate, the depth and experience of the team showed throughout 2017.

Tech’s success starts at the top with head coach Bruce Heppler. He was named an honorary Tech alumnus at the beginning of 2018 and was honored on Jan. 25 as part of the Alumni Association’s Gold and White Honors Gala. Heppler has coached the team to 11 ACC championship appearances in the past, along with sixteen trips to the NCAA finals, but is still in the pursuit of a national title with Tech. Last year, the Jackets did not perform as well as they would have hoped at ACC’s and missed out on a trip to the National Championship by one shot at the regional tournament, which has unfortunately been typical in recent years. Heppler, along with assistant coach Drew McGee and the rest of the team, will strive to better their performances from last year in the hopes of appearing at the national championship this year.

While the Jackets’ rise through the rankings has been impressive, it has hardly been sudden. It started over the summer, when six of the competitors qualified for the United States Amateur Championship in California, including freshman Noah Norton. The men performed well across the country in the events which they chose to compete. Looking forward, the team has already secured two commitments from the class of 2018, Connor Howe from Utah and Luke Karaulic of Georgia.

The team is led by four seniors in James Clark, Jacob Joiner, Chris Petefish and Michael Pisciotta. Clark will be redshirting this year, but has served as part of the Tech lineup for all but three events in his career.  Joiner qualified for the U.S. Amateur over the summer by winning a qualifier and can be expected to build on his success from last season. Pisciotta advanced out of a U.S. Open local qualified over the summer and has been an essential player since coming to Tech as a top-ranked player in the state of Georgia. Lastly, Petefish also qualified for the U.S. Amateur over the summer and played in numerous events leading up to the season that will bolster his confidence and ability to perform in key situations without losing his nerve.

The season has been off to a good start with the experienced team, including two wins over the course of four tournaments and second and fourth places in the other tournaments. Those top finishes have put Golfstat’s relatively conservative preseason prediction to shame.

This weekend, the team is in sunny Hawaii for the Amer Ari Invitational, the first tournament of the spring season. The Atlantic Coast Championship tournament in late April will be held at Old North State in New London, North Carolina, a familiar ground for Heppler and the rest of the team.