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April 23, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

It was a strange day Sunday, when Bruce Heppler left his cell phone in the rental car. Georgia Tech’s golf coach did not want to know past a fuzzy point what was going on in the ACC golf tournament even as his squad was in it and leading.

A four-peat hung in the balance, but in keeping with the theme of many things being abnormal, Heppler parted with the hand-held device normally used to track scores because, for another change, he was walking the course with one of his golfers.

That thing buzzing in his pocket, or Heppler’s reaction to scores, might have disrupted freshman Ollie Schniederjens as he made a run at the individual title.

So, no phone for the rare caddy.

No problem; he found out the good news first-hand: Tech’s returning All-American, senior James White, did not bank a countable score for the second time in three rounds yet it all ended the same as usual – with the Jackets buzzing everybody else like a B-52 at 12 feet on the way to their fourth straight title.

“The four younger guys took it upon themselves to do well,” Heppler said. “They really didn’t know how to celebrate.”

That wasn’t just because the squad was comprised of freshmen Schniederjens and Anders Albertson, sophomores Bo Andrews and Richard Werenski and White (after last year’s squad was made up of three seniors, White and Werenski), but also because of the way it went down.

The Jackets struggled early in drizzle, and mores at the end as wind and rain picked up. This was less a good walk than a siege survived in slickers.

In the middle they were stout, and Friday and Saturday they rocked.

Albertson birdied the final hole Sunday to finish tied for fourth place at seven-under par 209 over 54 holes, but while four Tech golfers finished seventh or better and high man James tied for 11th among 55 golfers, the lusting Jackets were thinking about more.

Schniederjens, for example, finished with a triple-bogey to land in a seventh-place tie, five strokes back of Virginia’s Ben Rusch. Had he finished par-par, Schniederjens would have finished in a second-place tie.

Sophomore Richard Werenski had the two-day lead, but scuffled to a 76 Sunday, just one shot better than White.

Everybody’s scores rose, though, on a miserable, strange day up at North Carolina’s Old North State Club that was not unlike a slog through a sea-side round in the British Open.

Conditions were far from familiar. After two beautimous days where the Jackets forged an 11-stroke lead, there was wind, rain, bluster, misery. Drizzle grew into rain; and the gale was in everybody’s face coming in.

“We had a couple boo-boos at the end,” Heppler said. “That’s why you get ahead first. Today was an exercise of when you get so far ahead, the entire weight of the tournament was on us. To have all that stress on us for five hours, that’s tough.

“I think it was probably the least [jubilant his team has been after any of the four straight titles]. They didn’t know how to celebrate. That’s a little uncomfortable.”

Once they all got their bearings, though, good times on the charter flight home.

Nothing was strange about Tech winning the title; Heppler’s squads have done it nine times in his 16 seasons (after finishing last and next-to-last in his first two seasons) and the Jackets have 14 championships overall.

The methods just happened to be a lot different this time, and the feeling when it was over was abundantly odd as well.

Tech (27-under par 837) crossed seven strokes clear of No. 2 Virginia (844).

The Cavaliers closed to within four strokes early in the day, but Heppler didn’t really know that. Scoreboards are scarce at Old North State.

“The first scoreboard you can see is on No. 9,” he said. “The guys spent the first couple hours going around not really knowing what was going on [which was fine with their coach]. I actually decided to walk every hole with Ollie. I didn’t want to have my phone out looking at it; I’ve got to be supporting him.

“I left it in the car. I didn’t know anything until 9; we were five [clear] at the turn. Then, I saw [a Virginia player] that was a counter [counting scorer] make a double at 10.”

The Cavaliers, in fact, were undone at No. 10, where they recorded a triple bogey and three double-bogeys.

The Jackets were not undone by anything.

They matched the 1991-’94 Tech golf squads with their four straight titles, something the baseball teams of former coach Jim Morris did from ’85-’88.

At the week’s end, the same Old Gold was left standing alone yet younger.

The Yellow Jackets banked their fourth straight ACC title because that’s what they do.

Old or young, in good weather or bad, favored or not, Tech rolls at the Old North State.

It’s been a tough year at Tech for the athletics teams and their people.

Sunday, though, Heppler’s hackers did it again to salve wounds.

I’m absolutely brain dead after double-staffing the Hawks Friday night (Associated Press and NBA.com), the UFC Saturday night (AP, until 1:15 a.m.), and the Hawks again Sunday (AP, NBA.com) while pitching in Georgia Tech stories in that span.

Sorry I missed the spring game Friday night, but I’m coherent enough to write that I love this. Heppler and assistant Christian Newton know what they’re doing, and although they’re young and occasionally erratic the golfing Jackets are forging themselves as if steel in process.

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