Georgia Tech’s golf team is finally a winner in the Brickyard Collegiate Championship and Florida State’s Brooks Kopeka is at last a champion in a college tournament.
The Yellow Jackets and the Seminoles’ senior each posted solid closing rounds Sunday afternoon to easily outdistance the competition for their respective titles in the fifth annual event at the Brickyard at Riverside. Georgia Tech shot 5-under-par 283 in the final round for a 54-hole score of 16-under 848 while Koepka had a 3-under 69 to finish at 11-under 205.
Georgia Tech had a second, a third and a fourth among its previous four trips to the tournament. Head coach Bruce Heppler said his team has long had the Brickyard targeted, in part because course co-owner Alfred Sams, who initiated the tournament, and his wife Cindy are Georgia Tech supporters.
“We can finally check this one off the list,” Heppler said. “Alfred is a big Georgia Tech guy, and we wanted to win this for him and his wife. They’re great hosts, and there’s nowhere we go in the country where the community does a better job supporting the tournament.”
Like Georgia Tech, Koepka finally broke through after challenging for a host of titles here and elsewhere. The former ACC Rookie and co-Player of the Year, had been a runner-up four times in his college career and tied for third and fifth here the past two years.
“I’ve had so many second places, this feels really nice,” said Koepka, whose total was a shot off tying the tournament record of Georgia’s Harris English in 2007. “And it was great to get (win) up here. I love this golf course.”
Neither the Yellow Jackets nor Koepka were seriously challenged in the final round despite some early struggles. Georgia Tech led by 13 strokes entering the day’s play, saw the cushion cut in half at mid-round before rallying on the back nine to win by 17 strokes over Florida State.
“Sometimes you get so far ahead that all you can do is look bad,” Heppler said. “But they responded on the back nine with some really good golf. Hopefully, they’ll learn that when things aren’t going their way that it’s not so much what they’re doing but what the team is doing.”
Sophomore Richy Werenski had a day’s best 68 to lead the Yellow Jackets. He was the leader of the sparkling back nine, playing his final five holes 4-under, including an eagle on the par-5 18th hole.
Anders Albertson and Seth Reeves, each of whom shot 70 to finish tied for second individually at 209, were a collective 8-under on the back nine. William Miller and James White rounded out the Georgia Tech lineup, each with 75.
“I passed Anders on 11 and told him to just keep going that we could get it done,” said Reeves, who opened with a course- and tournament-record 65. “I was pretty confident we could get it done because we all seem to play the back pretty well.”
Added Albertson, who like Werenski eagled the 18th, “I had some uncharacteristic bad shots (on the front nine). I was 4 over after eight holes and had a good talking to myself and refocused. I think everybody knew we could get it back on the back nine.”
Koepka played the front nine 2 under with two birdies, an eagle and two bogeys. He had two birdies and seven pars coming home to easily end his victory drought.
“I got some things done (on the range) after (Saturday’s) round,” said the resident of Wellington, Fla., who has won a handful of summer amateur events while a collegian. “I worked pretty hard and felt confident (Sunday). I just tried to stay patient and make the most of chances.”
Koepka and teammate Doug Letson, who also had 69, enabled the Seminoles to shoot 285 and finish three shots ahead of North Florida. The Ospreys closed with 294 for a 868 total, four shots ahead of defending champion Georgia, which had a day’s-best 281.
Host Mercer slipped from its fourth-place standing after 36 holes to still post its best finish ever in the tournament. The Bears, who shot 289 on Saturday for their best 18-hole Brickyard effort, had a 302 on Sunday for a 890 total to tie for eighth with Oklahoma (293) in the 15-team field. Mercer’s previous best finish was 11th.
Two-time defending national champion Augusta State and senior Taylor Floyd, a former standout at FPD, struggled on the final day. The Jaguars were 12th at 896 after a closing 302. Floyd finished tied for 31st at 221 after a 77.