Georgia golf flexes its college muscles

Georgia collegiate golf might be in its best form in years.

Four teams from the state will compete in the NCAA championship that begins Tuesday at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., one fewer than the Georgia entries in 2005, with all finishing in the top 15.

Each team this year has good reason to believe it can bring home the title:

• Georgia will make its 42nd appearance; it is the 12th seed and has a pedigree with two titles (1999, 2005).

• Georgia Tech is the ACC champ and the fourth seed, making its 25th appearance; the Yellow Jackets have never won the title, but have finished in the top five nine times.

• Augusta State is the defending NCAA champ and the sixth seed; it will be making its 12th appearance since 1993.

• Kennesaw State is making its first appearance, but features the player with the lowest stroke average in the country: Jeff Karlsson (70.33).

Throw in Georgia's Marta Silva Zamora, who was named national women's player of the year, and it's been a banner golf season for the state.

Only California, as it traditionally does, will field more teams (six) in the this year's NCAA championship, which features three rounds of stroke play followed by the top eight teams competing in three rounds of match play.

Good weather and good courses help make collegiate golf in Georgia among the deepest in the country. Hosting the Masters, the only professional golf major played on the same course every year, raises the state's profile.

Kennesaw State coach Jay Moseley said Augusta State's national title, its first on any level, has his players believing they can do something special this year. The Owls finished third at their regional in Florida.

"There's certainly that feeling that if those guys can do it, we can do it," Moseley said. "They've pushed each other to be a better team."

The Owls' Karlsson is a prime example of how the multi-media age has affected recruiting, particularly for small schools.

Karlsson grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden, and wanted to play collegiate golf in the U.S. He signed up with a company that helps place European athletes with American schools. OKennesaw State appeared to be a good fit. Karlsson researched the school online -- never once visiting the campus -- and signed with the Owls.

"That's how I built the image of the school," he said.

Georgia coach Chris Haack said the computer age has helped find international players that schools once missed. The Bulldogs have two international players on their roster, including Australia's Bryden Macpherson, who will compete in the tournament. He will be joined by Georgia Tech's Kyle Scott from South Africa. Augusta State has five international players, led by Sweden's Henrik Norlander and Olle Bengtsson and Australia's Mitch Krywulycz, who are entered in the tournament.

Jaguars coach Josh Gregory said in the past that there were five colleges recruiting internationally; now, he estimates, there are as many as 40.

Coaches said the biggest reason that golf in Georgia has improved is the deeper homegrown talent. With 213 members, Georgia ranks sixth in the country in players who are members of the American Junior Golf Association.

Matt Nagy grew up on a nine-hole golf course in Buena Vista, and Moseley was the only coach to recruit him. Nagy won two events this season and will join Karlsson as the Owls try to win the national championship.

"College golf in Georgia is extremely strong," Moseley said.

NCAA golf championships

When: Tuesday-Sunday.

Where: Karsten Creek Golf Club (par 72, 7,416 yards), Stillwater, Okla.

Defending champion: Augusta State.

Format: Thirty teams will compete in three rounds of stroke play, starting Tuesday. The top eight teams will be seeded by score and advance to a match-play format. Four matches will be held on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday to determine the national champion.

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