Leading The Pack

May 19, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Day one of the NCAA Regionals started out swell for Georgia Tech, which really came as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about that golf team.

The Yellow Jackets, who a couple weeks back routed the ACC, are ranked No. 2 and No. 4 nationally by the two metrics most often used. If that did not make their six-stroke lead over Duke (one-over par 289 to the Blue Devils’ 295) anti-climatic, then it bordered on predictable at the least.

Kyle Scott leads the field after firing a 68, and for those not sold on the Jackets’ potential, consider this: senior Paul Haley, Tech’s hottest golfer going in after winning the past two tournaments, did not score Thursday at the River Course at Virginia Tech.

He shot 76, which fell behind the scores of teammates Scott, James White (73), J.T. Griffin (74), and Richard Werenski (74). So, Haley’s score did not count as the top four count each day toward the team competition.

Lest you wonder about whether coach Bruce Heppler has to be concerned that his golfers will take their foot off the gas, uh, fear not. If you have to find something to worry about, perhaps you could concern yourself with the opposite.

“I think most of us are wanting to win. That drives us a lot,” said Scott, who was runner-up to Haley in the past two tournaments. “The ACCs helped us out. We extended our lead every round. “

We want to show the nation that we’re a great team. It’s not about safeguarding [the lead]; it’s about playing the great golf that we know we can.”

The Jackets have at times played great golf over the course of the school year (and now beyond).

Griffin, White, perhaps Werenski and certainly Haley can score better than they did Thursday. The Virginia Tech course, with narrow fairways and small greens, favors the straight ball off the tee and solid approach games.

There, you have the Jackets.

Tech is not going to let up. If the Jackets are going to do themselves in, and that’s the only way I can see them losing the regional, they might have to over-do it.

You don’t pass on first down when you’re leading by two and already in field goal range in the final two minutes of a football game. When you’re nursing a six-point lead in the final minute of a basketball game, you don’t hoist a long, contested jump shot early in the shot clock.

This team, though, is conditioned to go for it rather than to try to avoid disaster. My hunch is it won’t be a problem. The Jackets are not obsessing. In fact, Thursday afternoon they went to a Virginia Tech baseball game as the Hokies were playing host to Georgia Tech.

“We’ll chat for a little bit, and talk about some of the good shots we hit and some of the bad shots we hit,” Scott said of the post-competition routine Thursday. “We’ll just leave and go have a good time, have some dinner. [Going to the baseball game] is just going to be nice.

“I heard the [Mark] Pope kid for Georgia Tech is pretty good and I’m looking forward to seeing the talent.”

Pope can pitch a little, in case you hadn’t heard.

The same goes for the Tech golfers.

They’re now like hitters sitting on a hitter’s count, ready to pounce. That’s a good thing.

“I think [the course] suits the team really well. We drive the ball off the team very well. The fairways are pretty tight, the rough is up a little bit this week. If you’re driving it on the fairway it makes it easier. I was a pretty steady round today, but I didn’t do anything spectacular.”

How’s that for a mindset? The top five teams in this regional will advance to next week’s nationals. Thoughts to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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