One year after horror story, Georgia Tech’s Ross Steelman fires 64 at NCAA

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Georgia Tech’s Ross Steelman has seen enough horror stories in the past two years at Grayhawk to give anyone nightmares for weeks.

Balls bouncing on the greens.

Putts roll as if on glass.

Extreme heat that can easily – and often does – suck the great golf out of the world’s best players.

Last season at the NCAA Championship, Steelman was one of those horror stories, starting his tournament 6 over six holes and carding just three birdies in four rounds. He finished solo 77th, beating a single player who made the 54-hole cut.

“This course kicked me in the teeth right off the bat last year,” Steelman said.

On Friday, however, the Yellow Jackets senior fired back. Over 18 holes, Steelman doubled his career birdie tally at Grayhawk, notching six birdies as part of a bogey-free, 6-under 64 that gave him the first-round lead by two strokes. Georgia Tech, tied, also sits atop the standings as a team.

Steelman made 20-foot birdie putts on each of his first two holes to build momentum early, and even when he got out of position on the tee – like at the par-4 closing hole when he is left 222 yards in, out of choppy water and over water – he quickly scrambled to at least earn himself an easy par.

“His iron game was ridiculous,” Georgia Tech head coach Bruce Heppler said. “Damn trick.”

Steelman is the first player Heppler has ever signed without meeting him prior to his commitment. Steelman grew up in Columbia, Missouri, about 5 minutes from the Mizzou campus. While many of Steelman’s current peers learned the game at private clubs and from PGA Tour-level instructors, Steelman got his start at Perche Creek, a par-3 course that adjoins the eastbound lanes of the Interstate. 70, just west of town. Steelman’s instructor, Jake Poe, owned the course, but later sold it and opened a golf shop in town, giving simulator lessons. Steelman worked for Poe when he wasn’t in school, and before he received his first new golf club at age 14, Steelman occasionally rummaged through the trash of Poe’s used clubs to fill his bag.

His favorite second-hand discovery: the Titleist 7 blade with the red and black shaft he found when he was 12 years old.

“I messed things up with that thing,” Steelman recalled. “I used it until the face cracked about five years later.”

Steelman was a good but not great junior player, deciding early on that he wanted to stay close to home and attend the school of his dreams. But after two years at Mizzou, where he won twice, Steelman’s game had progressed enough that his coaches recommended he move to a top-10 program where he could develop further. And so, Steelman landed at Georgia Tech, where he was like a kid in a candy store – an elite training facility, private jet travel, renowned academic opportunities, everything available to him.

“His putting, holds and chips have all improved since he’s been here,” Heppler said. “He just became a complete player.”

But as Steelman said, despite now having a relationship with Titleist that effectively ended his days of scouring resale racks, “I will always have memories of rummaging through used clubs that people didn’t want anymore. I hope I still appreciate what I have.

Right now, that’s a lot. Not only is Steelman in an early position to potentially win an NCAA individual title — and possibly a national team championship later — he’s also ranked sixth at PGA Tour University. After several top seniors, including North Carolina teammates Austin Greaser (ranked ahead of Steelman) and Dylan Menante, decided to drop out of the rankings and return to school for one more season, Steelman was propelled just outside of that coveted peak. 5. While No. 6 will still compete in all Korn Ferry Tour events this summer, as No. 1 will compete on the PGA Tour, No. 5 and above will also earn a ticket directly to the final leg of the PGA Tour Q -School all in Numbers 6 to 20 are only exempted in the second stage.

Steelman had also briefly flirted with the idea of ​​returning for a fifth year, but now he has decided that this NCAA championship will be his last event as an amateur. He needs at least a solo fifth place or better to crack the top five without any other help.

“This week is controlling your own destiny for me individually,” Steelman said. “I’m glad Austin is doing what he loves to do by going back to school. I told him about it, and he loves North Carolina. But it was nice to see that he selfishly gave up to improve. sort of my potential status.

Heppler added, “Ross wants to play golf for a living, and he’s willing to do that.”

What a difference a year makes.


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