Local golf: Georgia Tech starts ACC title defense

Bruce Heppler, Noah Norton of Georgia Tech - Linger Longer Invitational, March 12, 2021, Great Waters Course Eatonton, Ga.
Bruce Heppler, Noah Norton of Georgia Tech - Linger Longer Invitational, March 12, 2021, Great Waters Course Eatonton, Ga.

Credit: Clyde Cick

Credit: Clyde Cick

Georgia Tech is aiming for a record 19th ACC championship when the conference tournament begins Friday at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course in Milton. The Yellow Jackets won the 2019 ACC title to match Wake Forest’s all-time total and have won 10 of the past 14. The event was not conducted in 2020.

It won’t be easy. The Jackets are ranked No. 28 by Golfstat and face a loaded field that includes No. 2 Florida State – led by world No. 3 John Pak -- No. 4 Clemson, No. 6 Wake Forest, No. 8 N.C. State, No. 16 North Carolina and No. 25 Notre Dame. Ten of the 12 teams are in the top 50.

The ACC has ditched its traditional stroke-play format and adopted the NCAA model, a change heartily endorsed by Tech coach Bruce Heppler. Teams will play 54 holes, with the top four teams qualifying for match play. The finals are set for 9 a.m. Monday.

Tech’s lone returning starters from the 2019 championship team are senior Noah Norton, a two-time all-conference selection, and junior Connor Howe. The Jackets have been bolstered by Christo Lamprecht, a freshman from South Africa, who will join senior Will Dickson and junior Ben Smith in the starting lineup. Sophomore Bartley Forrester will be the alternate.

“This crew has worked really hard,” Heppler said. “We’ve gotten better. We’ve worn them out (with seven spring tournaments). I felt like we needed to play as much as possible. … You can only get better when you play in tournaments. This group, from everything they do, they’re on par with every group we’ve ever had.”

The Crabapple Course is familiar to the Jackets. It hosted the 2013 NCAA Championship and the 2010 NCAA Southeast Regional. Tech has competed there on many occasions.

“I don’t know if you can pick a better place,” Heppler said. “It’s big, it’s long and these five guys hit it a long way. We’ve played well there, so I don’t know why you wouldn’t expect to be successful there. I think the golf course fits this group perfectly.”

Longtime GSGA official Williams dies

Layne Williams, a tournament director and rules official with the Georgia State Golf Association since 1987, died Wednesday after a long bout with cancer. He was 68.

Williams was the official in charge at more than 250 GSGA events and hundreds of qualifying rounds for USGA competitions. He served on the rules committee at 60 USGA Championships, including the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur. In 2015 he received the USGA’s Ike Grainger Award for 25 years of service and leadership.

Born in Atlanta, Williams graduated from Moultrie High School and played golf at LaGrange College, where he was the No. 1 player for three years.

Williams was inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 2016. He is survived by his wife, Teresa.

Hanzel prevails at GSGA Senior Match Play

Former U.S. Senior Amateur champion Doug Hanzel of Savannah outlasted McDonough’s Rusty Strawn in 19 holes to win the GSGA Senior Match Play Championship at Houston Lake Country Club in Perry.

Hanzel emerged from the 36-hole stroke play qualifier as the No. 1 seed and defeated Rhett Baker of Statesboro, DeWitt Weaver III of Suwanee and Billy Mitchell of Atlanta to reach the final round.

In the Super Senior division No. 2 seed Jack Kearney of Peachtree City scored a 2 and 1 win over No. 1 seed Mark Benefield of Peachtree Corners.

Three Georgia teams in U.S. Women’s Four-Ball

Sammi Lee and Mary Ellen Shuman, who were teammates on the University of Georgia golf team from 2013-17, are among the favorites at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship, which begins Saturday in Dallas.

This is their third time in the competition – last year’s event was a COVID-19 casualty – and they were runner-up in 2017. Lee currently works for an investment bank and financial services company and Lee, who graduated from UGA law school, is a law clerk.

Two other Georgia teams in the competition, both made up of high schoolers: Loralie Cowart of Carrollton High School and Ava Merrill of Johns Creek are in the field, along with the duo of Sara Im of Lambert High and Thienna Huynh of Lilburn. Im defeated Huynh in a seven-playoff to win the 2020 Georgia Women’s Amateur last year.

Around the campuses

University of Georgia junior Jenny Bae shot a career-low 68 on consecutive days and tied for 10th at the SEC Championships in Birmingham, Ala. She finished at 8-under 208, also a career best. The Bulldogs finished 14th in the loaded field. Next up for Georgia is the NCAA Regional, which will be announced April 28. …

Georgia Southern is among the favorites at the Sun Belt Conference men’s championship, which begins Monday in El Dorado, Ark. The No. 43-ranked Eagles, led by tournament winners Ben Carr and Mason Williams, are trying to dethrone No. 54 Arkansas State, which won the 2019 tournament. … The Division III Southern Athletic Association will begin its 54-hole championship Friday at Chateau Elan Golf Club. The field includes No. 18 Oglethorpe.

Miscellaneous

The team of Shaye Bennett, Kevin Dye, Billy Bryant and Todd Yeargin won the final qualifier for the Georgia State Park Golf Cup at Arrowhead Pointe in Elberton. They shot a 15-under 57 to edge out four other teams who tied for second at 58. Fifteen teams have qualified for the championship event to be held May 7-8 at Arrowhead Pointe. … Georgia Tech grad and reigning U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci said he will turn pro after the Walker Cup and make his debut May 13 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in McKinney, Texas.

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