Home, sweet home
Georgia Tech takes advantage of familiar surroundings
MILTON, Ga. -- Home cooking always seems to help.
The NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship is no exception. Playing on the Crabapple Course at the Capital City Club that is very familiar, Georgia Tech matched its 6-under team total of 274 from the opening round in Wednesday’s second round of stroke play to surge into the lead of the 30-team tournament.
Georgia Tech’s two-day total for 12-under was one stroke better than California, the nation’s No. 1-ranked team, heading into the final day of stroke play Thursday. At the end of the 54 holes of stroke play Thursday, an individual national champion will be crowned and the top eight teams in terms of total strokes will be seeded accordingly for three days of match play, which will determine the 2013 team national champion.
If Georgia Tech continues to play as well as it has the first two days, it may head into match play as one of the favorites. Sophomore Ollie Schniederjans, who shot an opening-round 67 and followed that up with a solid 68 for a two-day total of 5-under 135 that has him tied for fourth, said that there is no question playing at the familiar par-70, 7,319-yard Crabapple layout has helped.
“The grass out here and the weather and just being at home, everything is just so comfortable for us. And we’ve played here a lot, too. That makes a difference,” Schniederjans said. “And it’s not just that we’ve played here a lot; the course suits us well, too. We’ve got a lot of guys who can hit the golf ball really far out there and know how to play out of the rough and know how to putt on fast, high-banked greens. So it’s perfect.”
Junior Seth Reeves, who has shot a pair of 69s in the first two rounds and is tied for 22nd at 2-under, agreed with his teammate.
“I think the advantage is just that we’re comfortable,” Reeves said. “We’re all the same [type of player]. We all just try really hard and really give our best, which can sometimes cause us to press a little and be a problem. Here, we’re just really comfortable and relaxed.
“We have a really long team, too. So playing here on a longer course doesn’t faze us. But the biggest advantage for us is just that we can come out here and there is nothing we haven’t seen. We can be comfortable and we’re not feeling like we have to press and try too hard. We can just let it happen and let our skills show for themselves. And I think that’s what is happening.”
Sophomore Anders Alberston had the low round for Georgia Tech on Wednesday with a 3-under 67 that left him at 4-under and tied for eighth for the tournament. He said that extra practice rounds during the 10 days leading up to this week’s tournament, when only the host team was permitted on the course, has helped him and his teammates tremendously.
“We’ve played out here a lot in the last couple week,” Albertson said. “I know what I usually shoot and I know what I can shoot. I know where I can fly it off the tee, where I can’t and where to miss it. I think being familiar is a huge advantage. Standing on the first tee, you know what you’re getting into. To have hometown advantage and family and friends come out relaxes you too.”
So while the Crabapple Course at Capital City Club is not technically one of Georgia Tech’s home courses (those would be the Golf Club of Georgia and East Lake Golf Club), it’s close. The Yellow Jackets also played two previous official events at the course this year, including when they tied California in the PING/Golfweek Preview Invitational last September. Earlier this spring, they also hosted TCU in a dual event, which they lost.
Other players have been lamenting the tough finishing holes on the course, particularly No. 16 -- a par-4 that measures a whopping 520 yards in length. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech’s players came into the tournament already well aware of the unique challenges presented by the final four finishing holes.
“We know those holes are tough coming in,” Reeves said. “Sixteen is a bear, really. You’ve just got to know where to put it. You can’t short-side yourself. They’re tucking the pins, so if you can give yourself a lot of green to work with, it’s okay to miss the green here or there. You just can’t do anything too stupid.
“Sixteen is a tough driving hole. And even if you hit it in the fairway, most guys will have 220 [yards] coming in. And if the wind’s swirling, it’s even tougher. But we’ve played out here in all conditions. We’ve played out here in the winter. We’ve played out here when it’s blowing. I think the biggest thing is that we don’t freak out and we know where to put it.
“Like for me, I made a bogey on 15 but I didn’t freak out. You can still go out there and make some birdies coming in. It’s still possible to score.”
Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said playing a familiar course has helped his team escape what could have been understandable jittery nerves. After all, none of his players have previously competed in an NCAA championship.
“We’re playing five guys who have never played in the national tournament before. I think that familiarity helps; that they know what’s out there. They know the shots that are there,” Heppler said. “It’s not like they’re uncomfortable. There’s no question that it’s helped a lot.”