Here's To the Winners

Oct. 16, 2010

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

– Part of the charm of Bobby Dodd Stadium is that it’s the oldest stadium in use in college football — having been in use since 1914.

Not many things can claim to be in the same peer group as Bobby Dodd, but the Wanamaker Trophy can. Standing 28 inches high, 10 1/2-inches in diameter, and weighing 27 pounds, the trophy awarded to the winner of the PGA Championship was initially made in 1916, when Bobby Dodd still had that new-stadium smell.

Named for Rodman Wanamaker, renowned sportsman and heir to the New York City-based department store empire who was instrumental in the creation of the PGA, the prestigious trophy, which has survived harrowing adventures ranging from accidentally being left in a cab in Chicago in 1925 or New York in ’26 or Dallas in ’27 — no one really knows the exact city or year — to intentionally being brought to a John Daly party — no one really wants to know the details — will be on display at halftime Saturday on the 50-yard line of Grant Field and throughout Bobby Dodd during the rest of the day.

The trophy will be on hand to help promote the Atlanta Athletic Club’s hosting of the 2011 PGA Championship, and event to be held next Aug. 8 through the 14.

Georgia Tech Golf Coach Bruce Heppler, who admits he’s never seen the trophy but is intrigued to do so, is excited to be in its presence. He feels that the PGA Championship’s presence at the Atlanta club says volumes about the state of Georgia’s standing in the golf community. It’s also a boon to his recruiting efforts.

“To have a major championship in town, to have the trophy around, to have that tournament in the area is much like what the Masters does,” he said. “There’s a lot of inspiration for kids that grow up in this state. This is another one of those things that really makes Georgia a little bit different than a lot of places. Because it hosts so many great tournaments that means you’ve got great golf, great golf fans and great golf courses. Those are all things that we sell in recruiting.

“Obviously, it’s very exciting for our team to have the Tour Championship in town,” he added. “They know that the best players in the world are coming there. It’s an inspirational thing. That’s where those guys want to be.”

One guy who’s already been there is Matt Kuchar.

Kuchar, who represented the U.S. at the recent the Ryder Cup (playing with fellow Yellow Jacket Alum Stewart Cink), had a PGA-best 11 top-10 finishes and earned a tour-high $4.9 million in 2010. He was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame Friday night.

His presence is special to Heppler.

“Matt was my first recruit,” he said. “I think it was 10 years ago last Saturday when he made that call and said he was coming. He’s a big deal to me and a big deal to what we’ve done.”

What the program has done, especially last year, will be the focus of the halftime ceremony. With the Wanamaker Trophy in the foreground and Kuchar in attendance, the golf team will receive its championship rings for winning last year’s ACC Tournament.

“The ACC is a golf conference that’s rich in tradition. Great teams, great players,” said Heppler, a five-time ACC Coach of the Year (his latest was in 2009). “So [the ACC championship is] certainly No. 2 on our goal list every year. Obviously the first one is winning a national championship. It’s big for the program. It’s a major focal point of what we work towards every year.

“The kids, obviously, don’t play in front of large crowds,” he added. “So it’s nice for them to receive their recognition in front of Georgia Tech fans that buy tickets and make donations and make their experience possible. It’s a pretty neat experience for the guys.”

Championships are becoming almost a rite of spring, as Heppler’s teams have won or had a share of seven ACC crowns since he became head coach in 1998, and have won four of five since 2006. He appreciates the recognition and the fan support.

“Because it’s Georgia, because it’s the Master’s, because it is what it is, there are a lot of people that are really interested in what our kids do, especially when they go on and succeed at the next level, that obviously enhances the visibility of your program,” he said. “So, there’s a lot more interest in what we do than probably is shown. Ours is a program where we raise a lot of money to make things go and I know the people that give their hard-earned dollars, they feel an ownership with the golf team and they’re right there with those guys and they should feel like they’re part of it because they pay for a big part of it.”

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