Hiroshi Tai wins National Championship, Tech finishes season strong

When redshirt-sophomore Hiroshi Tai successfully completed his up-and-down, sinking a five-foot par putt on the par-four ninth hole in the final round of the NCAA National Championships, he was unsure if it would be enough to win the title. Just earlier, Tai looked as if he was going to cruise to an individual victory, but a major hiccup on the par-three eighth hole resulted in a triple bogey to shrink his four shot lead to one. He nervously watched his opponents for another two hours, but his anxiety turned into relief as Tai captured the individual NCAA Championship. He joined three other Jackets, Watts Gunn (1927), Charlie Yates (1934), and Troy Matteson (2002) as individual champions. 

In late May, the Jackets traveled to Southern California to compete for an NCAA Championship at the Omni La Costa Resort North Course. Head coach Bruce Heppler stuck with his typical starting lineup of senior Christo Lamprecht, graduate student Bartley Forrester, Tai, and freshmen Kale Fontenot and Carson Kim. Tech came out of the gates on fire with Tai carding a five-under 67 to take the individual lead and the team finishing in fourth place out of 30 through the opening round. The concern for the Jackets came after the round when Lamprecht, who had carded a two-under 70, began experiencing back spasms that forced an early exit from the tournament. He was replaced by sophomore Aidan Tran. 

Even without one of the top amateur golfers in Lamprecht, the Jackets stuck within striking distance of the match play portion. Tech fired a 301 (+13) followed by a 292 (+4) and sat tied  for ninth heading into the final round of stroke play. The Jackets needed to crack the top eight in order to qualify for match play and have the chance to avenge their runner-up finish a year ago. After starting the championship in the lead after round one, Tai found himself three behind Ohio State’s Adam Wallin going into the final round of the individual portion of the championship. 

The final round was stressful for the Jackets. Tai and Kim both came out on fire, shooting a pair of 34s, and the Jackets made the turn inside the projected cut line. The Jackets continued the front nine with strong play, but then Tai made a brutal error by carding six strokes on the par-three eighth hole — a triple bogey. Now, the Jackets sat right on the cut number (+25) and were forced to wait to see how Florida and Oklahoma finished in order to determine if their season would continue. After Oklahoma’s Jase Summy bogeyed the par-five 18th, and Florida collapsed on the closing nine holes, Tech was sitting pretty inside the cut number. Even after it was clear that Tech would qualify for match play, the wait was still on for Tai to become the top amateur as opponent after opponent tried to chase his lead down. After each player fell short, Tai was officially crowned the 2024 Individual National Champion in a narrow one-shot victory over six different players. With this historic win, Tai earned a spot in the 2024 U.S. Open (in which he would go on to miss the cut) and into the 2025 Masters. 

As the last team to qualify for match play, the Jackets drew the top-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini in the quarterfinals. Lamprecht, still dealing with back issues, was kept on the bench, so Tech had to try and defeat this experienced squad without their number one player. The start of match play went poorly for the Jackets. Forrester led the Jackets in the opening match and dropped holes early while he and Kim both found themselves in early deficits. The momentum continued in the direction of the Illini as they took the lead over Tai in the final match, but then the Jackets started to turn it around. Tran opened up a lead against Illinois’ Piercen Hunt, and Forrester flipped his two down deficit to one up against Tyler Goecke. The experience of Forrester and his match play prowess showed and he clinched his match, but after the two freshmen fell behind, it was up to Tran and Tai to close out the match. Once Tai made a turn, he flipped a one-down deficit to a three-up lead within a five hole span. Tran sealed his match with a par on the par-three 16th, and the Jackets sent Illinois packing in style when Tai hit the flagstick on the 16th, and the ball landed just feet from the pin. The 3-1 victory propelled the Jackets onto the semifinals where they would square off against Florida State, who they lost to in the ACC tournament, for a chance to play for a national championship.

The revenge match for a spot in the finals was a nailbiter for the Jackets. Just around 20 minutes before the Jackets were supposed to square off against the Seminoles, Lamprecht stopped experiencing back spasms and decided to compete. Forrester continued his match play dominance by winning the opening match, and it looked like Tech was firmly in control. Both Kim and Lamprecht led in their matches, and Fontenot kept pace in his. Unfortunately, the screws began to fall apart in Lamprecht’s match as FSU star Luke Clanton started staging a comeback. Clanton flipped the match from two down to two up and defeated Lamprecht to put a point on the board for FSU. A short time later, it all came down to Fontenot against FSU’s Tyler Weaver. On the 18th hole in regulation, Fontenot made a clutch five-foot birdie putt to extend the match to extra holes, but a three-putt on the first playoff hole proved costly, as the Jackets fell to the Seminoles, 3-2. 

While the conclusion may have been disappointing, the season itself was full of historic achievements. Not only did Tai win the individual title, Lamprecht broke the overall Tech scoring record with a 70.05 stroke average during his career. Tai and Lamprecht both earned First-Team All-American Honors for the 2024 campaign. While Heppler will have to replace both Lamprecht and Forrester for next season, the pedigree of Tech golf is reaching new heights each year. Many of its golfers will be making their names well known on the national circuit this summer.