Georgia Tech’s Hiroshi Tai, NCAA champion, readies for U.S. Open

Georgia Tech golfer Hiroshi Tai flips up his ball from the second green during the final round of the NCAA college men's match play golf championship, Wednesday, May 31, 2023, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech golfer Hiroshi Tai flips up his ball from the second green during the final round of the NCAA college men's match play golf championship, Wednesday, May 31, 2023, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

One of the quirks of the NCAA golf championships can create a hectic few hours testing one’s emotional stability and mental toughness. Such was the case for Georgia Tech’s Hiroshi Tai.

A sophomore, Tai won the individual national championship May 24 at the Omni La Costa Resort in California. The next morning he was back on the course helping the Yellow Jackets defeat Illinois in the quarterfinals of match play in the team competition.

“It probably took a while (for the national championship win) to set in,” Tai told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. “It was a pretty quick turnaround to get some rest and get ready to play.”

Tech would go on to lose to Florida State in the semifinals in match play, a result which allowed Tai and his teammates to head back to Atlanta and which gave Tai some extra time to decompress. The 22-year-old was now the fourth individual NCAA championship in Tech golf history after starting his fourth and final round down three strokes, then sweated out another final hour after he had finished his final 18 with a 1-under-par 71.

Tai was 3 under par for the tournament over 72 holes. Six other players shot 2 under par.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” Tai told the Golf Channel after the win.

What Tai also learned while waiting for his national title fate to be decided was that, if he won, he would earn a spot at this week’s U.S. Open and in the 2025 Masters Tournament. Teammate Carson Kim informed Tai that the NCAA’s individual champion received an exemption from the USGA into both major championships.

So after Vanderbilt’s Gordon Sargent had a putt on No. 18 that would have sent him and Tai to a playoff lip out, Tai’s title and ticket to the 124th U.S. Open were secured. Tai returned to campus and took a few days off, collecting congratulatory messages from family and friends — and even an Instagram message of support from Joseph Schooling, the only Singapore native to ever win a gold medal at the Olympics.

Tai was born in Hong Kong and his father is a Singapore native. After finishing his high school golf career in Florida in 2019, Tai spent almost two years enlisted in Singapore’s Navy before enrolling at Tech in January 2022.

Making his Tech debut in the fall of 2022, Tai played in every event for the Jackets during the 2022-23 season. He won the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate Invitational and the Maui Jim Intercollegiate and finished second in a playoff at the ACC championships.

Tai had three top-10 finishes this past season and played in 12 events before putting it all together in Carlsbad, California.

In the days ahead of this week’s event in Pinehurst, North Carolina, Tai said he has been back on the course practicing and watching videos on YouTube of the 2014 U.S. Open, also played at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club.

Tai is scheduled to play a practice round Wednesday with Chris Petefish and Carter Jenkins. At 2:31 p.m. Thursday he’s scheduled to tee off from No. 10 with Harry Higgs and Brandon Wu. That threesome is scheduled to go off No. 1 at 8:46 a.m. Friday.

“It’s a little different having three days to play practice rounds compared to college when you only have one day. Just probably need to make sure I don’t tire myself out too much,” Tai said. “It’s probably gonna be hot and, hopefully, a long week.

“I know (the course is) hard. The greens have big runoffs all over the place and not a whole lot of rough. It’ll probably be long, that’s what I’m expecting.”

Tai added that longtime Tech coach Bruce Heppler advised Tai to just be himself and play his game. Tai also will be repping his school, as he said he’ll have a few Tech hats and shirts to wear when the tourney begins Thursday.

As for the competition, Tai doesn’t have many expectations one way or the other.

“Just looking forward to having a fun week and enjoying the experience,” he said. “Probably just doing my best in each round and on every shot and see how it goes once it’s all done.”