Peach State college talent prevalent in Masters field
by John Bednarowski
sportseditor@mdjonline.com
April 09, 2014 04:00 AM | 2102 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Patrick Reed is virtually in his own backyard as he prepares to make his Masters debut. The 23-year-old helped lead Augusta State to consecutive NCAA titles in 2010 and 2011, and his success as a professional — three wins since August — has worked to bolster Georgia’s reputation as a hotbed of college golf talent.
<BR>Associated Press photo
Patrick Reed is virtually in his own backyard as he prepares to make his Masters debut. The 23-year-old helped lead Augusta State to consecutive NCAA titles in 2010 and 2011, and his success as a professional — three wins since August — has worked to bolster Georgia’s reputation as a hotbed of college golf talent.
Associated Press photo
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AUGUSTA — Turn the TV to a PGA Tour event and there’s a good chance a player from one of Georgia’s colleges and universities will be at the top of the leaderboard.

Already this season, four Georgia Bulldogs — Chris Kirk, Harris English, Russell Henley and Bubba Watson — have won. The Yellow Jackets’ Chesson Hadley earned his first PGA Tour victory in Puerto Rico, and Augusta State’s Patrick Reed has already won twice.

Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said the success is all about math.

“It’s good to start with 14 or 15 guys on tour,” he said. “When you have 10 percent of the (field), it’s a numbers thing.”

That’s true again at the Masters. Of the 97 players in the field, 10 come from a college within the Peach State’s borders. That also includes Georgia Tech alums Matt Kuchar, Stewart Cink, Roberto Castro and Larry Mize, as well as Boo Weekley from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton.

It’s becoming an inside joke on tour as to which player from Georgia will win from week to week, and that could hold true again for this week’s Masters.

“We definitely hear it,” said Kirk, who won the McGladrey Classic last fall to qualify for his first Masters. “There are seven guys from UGA on the PGA Tour and every one of them can win.”

Georgia coach Chris Haack believed the abundance of Peach State products is a result of college teams “rich in tradition.”

“They have great environments. And there is a competitive nature,” said Haack, who led Georgia to the NCAA championship in 2005, with Kirk on the Bulldogs’ roster. “Players see other players having success and they are drawn to the program.”

Charlie Rymer, a Georgia Tech product and former PGA Tour player who now works as an analyst for the Golf Channel, credited the various colleges’ support group.

“It’s the alums who give the coaches the tools to put together these kind of teams,” he said. “It’s a momentum thing. When the (high school) players see the same programs over and over, that’s where they want to go.”

Heppler agreed, and added that it will last as long as the programs continue to produce players capable of playing on the professional tours and challenging for national championships. As long as that happens, top high school golfers will have Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia Regents (formerly Augusta State) near the top of their recruiting lists.

“It’s certainly an indicator when you can sign (junior golf) all-Americans to your program,” said Heppler, whose Yellow Jackets advanced to the semifinal round of match play of last year’s NCAA championships at the Capital City Club in Milton. “They think they have a chance to become PGA players.”

But with all the talented golfers who have come through Georgia’s colleges, there have been only four modern major champions. Along with Watson and Mize, who won their respective Masters titles in 2012 and 1987, the list includes Cink and fellow Georgia Tech product David Duval, who won the British Open in 2009 and 2001, respectively.

Bobby Jones, winner of 13 majors as an amateur, also went to Georgia Tech, but he retired in 1930, before golf’s modern era of after World War II.

Heading into this Masters, there are 24 first-time players at Augusta National, including Castro, English, Henley and Kirk. And while it’s a popular theory that this may be the first time since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 that a first-timer may win a green jacket, Heppler has his eyes on a couple of veterans.

“I think (Cink) is on to something,” he said. “He’s been playing better, and if you’ve won one major, you can certainly win a second.

“(Kuchar), any week, he can get there. He’s rounding into form, and now he’s the best guy to have not won a major.”

Haack leaned more toward his Bulldogs, saying it wouldn’t surprise him if any of them won.
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