Originally created 05/26/98

Augusta trio ready for NCAA



ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The three Augusta freshmen in this week's NCAA Men's Golf Championships aren't being cocky when they say they expected to be here.

Charles Howell, John Engler and Scott Volpitto are simply accustomed to success on the golf course, no matter the level.

This trip to the desert for the trio is just the latest step up a ladder that they hope leads to the PGA Tour.

The site for the NCAAs, the University of New Mexico's Championship Course, is not a new one to the Augusta threesome. They all played here in the Ping/GolfWeek Preview in September. That tournament brings together the top teams from the previous year at what will be the NCAA Championships tournament site eight months hence.

"I knew we'd all be back here," Volpitto said.

Thanks to strong contributions by the three freshman, one of their teams could walk away with the title in the 72-hole, 30-team event, which begins Wednesday and concludes Saturday.

Engler and his Clemson team are ranked third in the country in the MasterCard rankings. Howell and Oklahoma State are sixth and Volpitto and Texas Christian are eighth.

"I knew coming in that Clemson and Oklahoma State would have good teams," Volpitto said. "We've had a good year, too. J.J. Henry and Alberto Ochoa are playing really good."

Before their careers are over, one day these Augusta golfers may go head-to-head in the same group with a national title on the line.

"That would be really neat," Volpitto said.

Just as the trio made national news as top junior golfers coming from the same city, they may make the same mark as collegians. It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that sometime in the next four years one of the trio could finish first as an individual in the NCAAs and another second.

"We're still freshmen," Volpitto said. "It's not quite like when we were juniors. In the next couple of years, we all may be playing well at the same time."

Howell is ranked 17th in the country among individuals while Engler is 46th. Volpitto isn't in the top 100, but he has had a solid season with the Horned Frogs.

The three freshmen had some rough spots in the fall as they started their collegiate careers, then have made great strides as the NCAA Championships grew nearer.

"I played bad in the first few tournaments because in high school I wasn't used to playing in tournaments in the fall and early winter," Engler said. "My brain got a little fatigued."

Howell said, "In the fall I played OK, but I had to make the transition to being away from home. I had a good spring. It's different playing in tournaments during school as opposed to playing in the summer when there is no school. It gets hectic when you're playing a bunch of tournaments in a row. You miss a day of class, then you catch up and before you know it, you're playing in another tournament."

"During most of the tournaments, you have some paper due," Volpitto said. "You've got to learn how to manage your time. The more you do it, the better you deal with it. In high school, the schoolwork wasn't that hard and you didn't have a whole lot on your mind. In college, there is a little bit more to deal with."

Engler didn't play in Clemson's first tournament because coach Larry Penley wanted to give his seniors some action. Engler played in every tournament since and set a school record for lowest stroke average (72.4) by a freshman.

"Coach gave me the opportunity to come out and play right out of the gate," Engler said. "The only thing I've missed is a win. My game is in good enough shape to do that in the nationals."

"This is the biggest tournament of the year," Howell said. "It will be a tough tournament to play in and a tough tournament to win."

"I'm ready to go out there and play," Volpitto said.