Feb. 9, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
You might say that it took a while to sink in — although as Bo Andrews himself readily admits, “golf us such an up and down game,” that one can never be sure — but there’s no denying that his recent work with the sticks offers evidence that finally, Bo knows.
With three straight top-10 finishes, the redshirt sophomore appears to be walking tall. Not so long ago, not so much.
“He was afraid, tip-toeing around, not wanting to upset anybody,” Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said. “Not any more. He’s walking like, ‘I belong here. I can do this.’
“His body language since that conversation is completely different.” So, we’re looking over another Heppler summit meeting, but not yet. We’ll get to “the conversation” in a bit.
Rare is the Tech student-athlete who competes as a freshman and then redshirts the next year. Andrews, however, knows the unusual. He spent the 2010-’11 season redshirting behind the ropes in part because his sister, a Georgia student, was seriously ill. Even before that, he was not what he may be now.
The young man from Raleigh might seem a tad uneasy when first he meets you. He won’t strike you as someone seeking the spotlight.
Yet once he locks onto a thought and starts off on it, the words fly and confidence comes along.
If you didn’t know better, you might think just from chatting with Andrews that he’s a changed young man. You’d be right.
Rhyne Andrews, the older sister at UGA with whom Bo speaks, “just about every day,” has aced ovarian cancer, and for that her brother is abundantly thankful. Theirs is a closer family, a grateful quartet of North Carolinians. It was the summer of ’10.
“I was on the way to a tournament, in the airport with my dad, and he got the call and it was a surprise to me and to everybody,” Andrews said. “We had no idea that that would happen, or could happen. Why would it happen to anybody?
“You’re in shock for a while, and then you call the people that you want to talk to. I talked to coach. I didn’t qualify for the first two fall tournaments, and then I did qualify for the third one but we made the decision that it would be best to redshirt.”
There’s more going on here than Rhyne Andrews kicking C’s butt. It’s not like Andrews showed up at Tech in 2009 as Happy Gilmore; he was in no way clueless. But he wasn’t Bryce Molder, Stewart Cink or David Duval, either.
He competed in six events as a freshman, never finishing better than 21st in a tournament. His stroke average was 76.0, and his cumulative body of work that season saw him finish ahead of 245 golfers and behind 274 in those tournaments.
Andrews was a middle-of-the-packer.
After sitting out the next year, he started down a similar track last fall. He tied for 21st and tied for 37th in Tech’s first two tournaments with a combined record of 77-56.
Then, something happened.
Whether Heppler got hold of his soul, or he grabbed it himself — or likely both — Andrews went hot.
“Coach Heppler and coach [Christian] Newton have been a huge influence on me,” he said. “I want to do well for the team, the school, and that’s pressure but in a nutshell . . . then, you try too hard and he told me the pressure is not going away, and I need to figure it out.
“[The Summit] was right before the Brickyard. I wasn’t reaching my potential. I felt like I was trying too hard, I was wanting it too much instead of just going out and doing it.”
Just do it, indeed.
With his first sub-par tournament, Andrews tied for ninth place (one-under 215) as the Yellow Jackets won the Brickyard in Macon, and then he tied for eighth at three-under 213 at the autumn finale, the U.S. Collegiate Championship.
His combined record in those two events: 142-15.
Last week, he tied for sixth with a seven-under 209 in the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawai’i.
It’s a tricky deal trying to determine how much of this is the Heppler effect, but it’d be crazy not to suggest that his coach has helped Andrews break through by finally breaking through to Andrews.
The message: there’s no getting around the presence of pressure, but stop creating more; own your game, play it for yourself.
“The conversation with Bo was, ‘You love your mom. You love your dad, you kind of like coach, and you’re a great teammate, but you’ve got to go about getting your spot, playing to win qualifying, playing to win tournaments, and we’ll just take those scores and put them over toward the team score and see what it does,’ ” Heppler said.
“If you’re carrying around expectations [of others] and hopes and dreams for way too many people, it creates too big a deal. He can’t be out there, standing on the 17th fairway, afraid of what’s going to happen if he hits a bad shot and I’m standing there.”
Heppler’s done this before. The Summit seems to happen with most of his golfers at some point or another. There are variations on theme, although to some degree they all involve the coach telling the player to pull his head out of a dark place and get on with it.
The results are not always so startling, but neither is Andrews the first example of a Jacket finding another gear after one of these fireside (or often fiery) chats.
“What we’ve started to realize is you recruit a certain way, and [Tech] requires you to do some of that. My personality requires me to do some of that,” the coach said. “And so what we end up with is a lot of really nice guys that are willing to do the schoolwork, probably live a more conservative lifestyle, practice …
“What this [recruiting process] produces is a really good kid, and what I’ve noticed about really good kids is that they tend to worry way too much about what other people think. They tend to be pleasers.
“It just seems to be the nature of what we get . . . a lot of kids looking outward for acknowledgement, for backup, and that’s why I think we go through this a lot. We don’t get a lot of stick-it-in-your-ear guys.”
Andrews is on board. He does not deny.
“If you’re thinking about things that could go wrong . . . you’re just hurting yourself,” he said. “You’re not going to make the golf better, or the situation that you’re worrying about.”
Weird transition here, and frankly it could be a lengthy conversation for another day, but suffice to say that Heppler believes that there comes a point where a golfer — especially if he aspires to play professionally, as Andrews said he does — had better get familiar with selfishness.
It doesn’t feel right to suggest that Bo is all that just yet, but he’s better about compartmentalizing his concerns for others. The thoughts of others should not be his burden on the course.
Lately, they haven’t been.
“I told him, ‘There’s nothing more you can do to get any more of my admiration. I don’t care if you win the ACC tournament; I will not care about you any more than I do now. I will not admire you any more than I do now,'” the coach said.
“You do everything I ask you to do so we’re done on the Heppler meter. I don’t admire your results. I admire the fact that you came here, you go through this place, you put up with what we do, you make good grades, you’ll graduate … that’s where the admiration is.
“You can’t do any better than you’re doing so let’s forget about coach because it isn’t going to get any better … don’t be looking around. Just feel good about what you’re doing, and don’t be looking for me to validate what you’re doing, or don’t play for your parents … go play for yourself.
“Get into what you’re doing because trying to play for everyone around you … you can’t do that. It’s impossible.”
Andrews’ “situation” is good. H’s sticking it in Heppler’s ear.
Better yet, through surgery and chemotherapy his sister — about 18 months older — has produced clean scans for a while.
All the time they spend together, and there is a lot of that, is high quality. Golf is a bonus whether he plays it well or not.
“I try to see her as much as I can. We go eat with her and her roommate, and visit with her dog, Hunter,” Bo said. “She got him during chemo, this British Golden Retriever. That dog is awesome.
“We were close, but when this happened it definitely changed our family’s life. We’re definitely closer now in how we talk, what we talk about, how we treat each other. Nothing is that big a deal. We just enjoy the time, and little things that you might take for granted like eating breakfast together, or walking the dog. It’s all good.”
Damned straight it’s all good. I enjoy talking to Heppler — even if he makes me feel both smarter because I can relate to and marvel at some of his high-minded thoughts, and dumber because I can’t always process as quickly as he delivers — and I REALLY relish writing stories like this. They write themselves.
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