Georgia Tech returning wiser to NCAA golf championship

Georgia Tech's Christo Lamprecht, a native of South Africa, has been chosen to compete for the International team in the 2022 Arnold Palmer Coup.  Here he is at the - Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate, Round 3, October 24, 2021, Golf Club of Georgia, Alpharetta, Ga.

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Georgia Tech's Christo Lamprecht, a native of South Africa, has been chosen to compete for the International team in the 2022 Arnold Palmer Coup. Here he is at the - Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate, Round 3, October 24, 2021, Golf Club of Georgia, Alpharetta, Ga.

A year ago, the members of the Georgia Tech golf team arrived in Scottsdale, Ariz., with a most useful ally accompanying them to the NCAA championship – local knowledge. In January of that year, coach Bruce Heppler had brought the team to the Grayhawk Golf Club for seven rounds to learn the course that would be hosting the NCAA championship later that year.

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However, while Tech did reach the NCAA finals, the familiarity didn’t prove as beneficial as planned. In the heat and dry conditions of June, the course played much shorter than it had in the relative cool of January. The Yellow Jackets, a long-hitting bunch, were hitting through target areas on the course and had to adjust their strategy. Seeded 22nd of 30 teams, Tech did make a 15-team cut after three rounds, but did not advance to the eight-team match-play portion.

“The adjustment was just tough between January and June because they were just used to hitting driver on those holes, so the course changed completely,” Tech coach Bruce Heppler said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. “I still think it helped us being familiar with the place for how we performed last year, but I think we’ll be a little more prepared for what (clubs) to use.”

The NCAA championship is back at Grayhawk, and so is Tech. The Jackets, along with Georgia and Georgia Southern, will begin pursuit of NCAA glory with the first round Friday. Tech is seeded 10th of the 30 teams in the field, followed by UGA at No. 14 and Georgia Southern at No. 28.

The Bulldogs are making their 50th appearance in the finals, the Jackets their 31st and the Eagles their 16th. UGA won national titles in 1999 and 2005.

Tech players have had low-iron clubs made for the event to hit off the tee. After using his driver only once in one of his four rounds at Grayhawk last year, Christo Lamprecht had a 3-iron club custom built for his 6-foot-8 frame that he’ll use to drive off the tee.

“I think he’ll wear that thing out,” Heppler said.

Lamprecht is one of three Jackets who played at Grayhawk last year who will play again starting Friday, the other two being Connor Howe and Bartley Forrester. Benjamin Reuter and Ross Steelman fill out the five-man team. Lamprecht, Forrester and Howe were All-ACC selections.

“I feel like I’m much more of an all-around golfer this year than last year,” Lamprecht said. “I feel like last year, I wasn’t able to adapt to a course that didn’t suit me, and I feel like I’ve been working on different aspects of my game, so I feel a lot better about that. And as a team, I think we’re so much more ready to play there.”

Perhaps that adjustment will help the Jackets bring home the lone item missing from their vast trophy case – a national championship. While Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are the favorites in the event, Heppler likes the team he’ll bring with him, calling the group “one of the best teams we’ve ever had” in his 27 years at Tech. Considering that Heppler has taken 18 teams to the NCAA finals at Tech with 11 finishing in the top eight, it’s significant praise.

“I don’t mind saying that,” Heppler said. “Physically, absolutely. And have been probably as much of a pleasure to coach as any group I’ve had.”

The Jackets have won or shared the title at five tournaments in 2021-22, including a tie for their NCAA region championship at Columbus, Ohio. At the Ohio State Golf Club, Tech showed its potential with a 13-under-par team score in the second round of the event. The best of Oklahoma State’s three rounds was nine shots worse. The teams ultimately shared the region title at 10 under.

“That round that we played in Ohio – we’ve gone up there a lot of times – that round’s never been played before,” Heppler said.

It was a demonstration of an analogy that Heppler has shared with the team.

“If you’re in the shower, and the water’s cold, you’ve just got to wait until the water warms up,” said Lamprecht, a sophomore from South Africa.

That is to say, if players aren’t producing the desired shots and scores, they need to be patient and wait for their talent to click in.

“Don’t play yourself out of it before the hot water comes on,” Heppler said.

In that second round at Columbus, for instance, Heppler recalled how Lamprecht was displaying poor body language after hitting a poor shot early in the round.

On the course with him, Heppler called him on it.

“He goes, ‘Yeah, I get it,’” Heppler said. “My bad.”

After an opening-round 78, Lamprecht finished the second round in 3-under 68.

“We’ve got to match their maturity and their composure, and they’ve really bought into that,” Heppler said. “And I think we’ve come a long way with that.”

All 30 teams will play three rounds, with the top 15 teams advancing to a fourth round to be played Monday. Out of the top 15, the top eight teams after the fourth round will advance to match play that begins Tuesday.