'Low-Key' Jackets Head West

May 14, 2012

NCAA Golf Championship site

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Now that they’re in the Do-or-Die phase of the season, Georgia Tech’s golfers are working under a dynamic quite different from that of the fall or spring seasons, or even last month’s ACC tournament.

Except, that is, for one important consideration: this week’s NCAA Regionals are not do-or-die. The top five teams in each of six regionals will advance to the championships.

That raises a question, I think, about approach. How do the Yellow Jackets go about it? Is there danger in a mindset based upon merely seeking to qualify through their regional at the University of Oklahoma, of just getting by?

There are no real rewards, after all, for winning the regional — champions do not receive a higher seed for the eventual team stroke-play portion of the championships.

This is not like the NCAA basketball tournament, where you win or go home. Might that knowledge prompt the Jackets to turn down the wattage just enough that Tech golfers will merely go through the motions, and – Gasp! – risk falling short of even qualifying?

As you might imagine, head coach Bruce Heppler has a solution, and it is simple.

“I think what you do is you don’t try to qualify; you try to win the tournament,” Heppler said. “What line are you aiming for, the one at the top, or the cut line? That would not be a good approach. The only objective will be to win the regional.”

The Jackets are going about their business differently.

Senior James White, sophomores Bo Andrews and Richard Werenski and assistant coach Christian Newton left for Oklahoma Monday, after practicing for a bit near campus. While their teammates were working on their games, freshmen Ollie Schiederjans and Anders Albertson were trying to make it through a local U.S. Open qualifier at the Marietta Country Club. They’ll join Heppler Tuesday to travel to Oklahoma.

Everybody will practice over the OU course on Wednesday, and tee it up for real on Thursday.

Does Bo know?

“You just kind of play it by ear, add ’em up at the end, and where you stand is where you stand,” Andrews said. “We’ve all played enough golf to where we know what we have to do.”

Well, then. Bo seems relaxed. That’s a good thing, right? No sense tensing up.

“We’ve played real good teams all year for this reason. We’ve only finished out of the top five once all year, and that was a bit of a disaster in Iowa in the fall.

If we just do what we do … the key is to convince them that we don’t have to be better than they were [in winning] the ACC tournament to play in this,” Heppler said. “[Jack] Nicklaus always said that the Majors were the easiest tournaments to win because 70 percent of the guys were so wigged out by the time they showed up that you didn’t have to worry about beating those guys.

“Again, the objective is don’t make a big deal out of stuff. It’s not all of a sudden you’ve got to hit 10,000 [practice] balls, play 36 holes a day. School’s out, and you could go do that stuff easily. We’ve try to low-key it, and they’ve played a lot and practiced a lot. The key will be just go be ourselves.”

So good luck with that. The Jackets want to low-key it, but not to the point where they dull themselves down beneath the cut line.

“We’ve played real good teams all year for this reason,” Heppler said. “We’ve only finished outside of the top five once all year, and … if we just do what we do, the season’s results say we’ll be fine.”

Andrews seems A-OK. As he finished practicing Monday, he could barely wait to head west. “Oh, yeah. Road trips with the team are definitely the best,” he said. “You’re with five of your best friends, and two coaches, and we’re eating out, hanging out in the hotel rooms after rounds while playing competitive golf. It doesn’t get any better.”

So, there’s that. It can get better, though. Just think about it. Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com

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