Take it from someone who has covered sports in these parts for many years, if you want to peak the interest of even the most casual spectator just add a dash of the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry. The late Bill Cromartie’s book “ Clean Old Fashioned Hate” chronicled the storied history of the football series between the Yellow Jackets and the Bulldogs. In this state most folks either back the gold and white or the red and black. Not a lot of gray area when it comes to these two.
These days, after the girdiron, the golf course is the place where the rivalry is at it’s best. Both Georgia and Georgia Tech have men’s golf programs that are national powerhouses. Each year Georgia and Georgia Tech’s teams are ranked nationally, making annual appearances in the NCAA Championships. The number of golfers from the two programs on the pro golf tours seems to grow with each passing year. This makes recruiting rather easy for the coaches and gives supporters of the Jackets and Dawgs another reason to stick out their chests and boast.
In recent years Georgia fans have had a lot to cheer about at the Masters. In 2014 former Bulldog standout Bubba Watson claimed the green jacket for the second time in the past 3 years and the sound of barking could be heard echoing through the pines.
While Georgia fans may have been celebrating Watson’s victories , Georgia tech supporters will quickly remind them that Masters Co-Founder Bobby Jones graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Engineering. Loyal followers of the North Avenue Trade School will also remind them that a Georgia Tech man won the green jacket before that golfer named “Bubba”.
It was my second Masters tournament as sports reporter at Augusta’s WRDW-TV. The 1987 Masters came down to a three man playoff between PGA Tour superstar Greg Norman , 2-time Masters Champion Seve Ballesteros, and Augusta native Larry Mize. With Ballesteros eliminated after the first playoff hole, Mize chipped in from 140 feet away on number 11 setting off one of the loudest roars that I have ever heard at Augusta National. Norman’s attempt to respond failed and Mize claimed the green jacket. It was a popular victory as Mize was a Georgia Tech man, winning a tournament that was started by a Georgia Tech man. I got to know Larry Mize and his family pretty well during that time. Nobody seemed to enjoy it more that Larry’s dad, who operated the Baskin-Robbins at Daniel Village. Can you imagine being the father of the Masters Champion and the Ice Cream Man. Life just doesn’t get any better than that.
This year four products of the Georgia and Georgia Tech golf programs will chase the green jacket for the first time in their professional careers. Georgia’s Brian Harmon, Erik Compton, and Brendon Todd along with Georgia Tech’s Cameron Tringale will make their Masters debut this week.
Georgia fans will have great expectations as Defending Champion Bubba Watson is expected to contend for a third green jacket, but this reporter believes that a Georgia Tech man should be a big contender this time around. It was back in 1998 that Matt Kuchar arrived at Augusta National as the U.S. Amateur Champion and Georgia Tech All-American. Kuchar took Low Amateur honors that year and there were predictions of stardom on the pro tour. I didn’t happen quickly as Kuchar struggled to maintain his tour card and from 2003-2009 there were no Masters invitations. The former Georgia Tech star returned to Augusta in 2010 and for the past 3 years Kuchar has put together a string of top 10 finishes.
I can just see it, Sunday afternoon at Augusta National with Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar dueling on the back nine with the green jacket hanging the balance. It would truly be Augusta National’s version of “Clean Old Fashioned Hate” , and it could get even better should Kuchar manage to win. Remember, Masters Chairman Billy Payne is not only a Georgia grad, but he played football for the Bulldogs. It would Chairman Payne’s job to introduce the Georgia Tech man, and Watson’s responsibility to deliver the green jacket in what would be a classic photo and a Masters moment that would endure the ages.
Just something to think about as you watch this year’s tournament. I hope that you will have an enjoyable Masters Week.