Aug 23, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
– Yet again Friday, Bruce Heppler found himself simultaneously beholden to and victimized by technology. The Georgia Tech golf coach was, as he so often is, following former Yellow Jacket golfers as they made their ways around Liberty National Golf Cllub at The Barclays.
They are in New Jersey, and Heppler is in Atlanta. No problem. He is quite the Jacket tracker as scores are readily available on his cell for nearly all pro and amateur events. Smart phone, indeed. That’s how he tracked current players all summer.
The very best news is that six former Tech linksters – Matt Kuchar, Roberto Castro, Cameron Tringale, Nicholas Thompson, Stewart Cink and Bryce Molder – qualified for the 125-man first round of pro golf’s season-ending FedEx Cup playoff series, and made the cut Friday in Jersey City.
That’s a big deal. The Barclays is an $8 million event (winner takes $1.44 million), and the top 100 in FedEx points after the event advance to the second round. All the former Jackets are in good shape. Molder was the low Tech man on the totem pole, at No. 98, entering the event.
Now, the downside: Heppler’s dang phone runs out of juice. Dumb battery.
“Now with live scoring, I probably spend too much time on my phone. I keep telling Anthony [Bridges, Tech’s director of computer operations] I need to find a phone that has more battery,” the coach said. “We’ve got to get past 4 in the afternoon; there’s so much refreshing.
“I found myself even at the U.S. Am[ateur] and junior tournaments not having enough juice to call my wife on the way home from courses. It’s probably crazy … it’s just me.”
Lest you were worrying that Heppler overspends time fretting about former players (Cink played at Tech before Bruce was hired, yet is a friend of the program), in his comments you see otherwise. He follows current Jackets religiously when they’re away in summers, and he’s at all those junior tournaments recruiting future Jackets.
Tech finished second in the stroke play portion of the NCAA championships last May, and lost in the semifinal of match play to eventual national champion Alabama. Four of the five golfers from that travel squad are back; freshman Shun Yat Hak has moved on.
The Jackets figure to be just fine. Here’s why:
Hines made the travel squad regularly late in his freshman season, and for the ACCs. There, he struggled and was replaced by Reeves for the NCAA Regional and Nationals. All Reeves did was earn All-America honors.
Werenski had a relatively dreadful junior year, but he’s no stranger to life as a primary ingredient. He was a regular starter as a freshman on a very good squad. He’s had a solid summer, and is lining up for a Chesson Hadley-style senior year.
If you favor the matrix approach, Hines, Werenski are the chief candidates to compete for what was Hak’s season-ending spot and they’re both already battle tested. Then again, chairs tend to move around over the course of a season in unpredictable fashion.
“I told some people that it felt like our season started two weeks ago because all those guys were [at the U.S. Am],” Heppler said. “That was a big deal … it’ll be fun. It’s an older group kind of, three seniors and two juniors and a sophomore doing most of the playing.”
Academics rarely come into conversation with Tech golfers because they’ve put up a perfect APR score of 1,000 every year. Schoolwork probably won’t stress Reeves, Andrews and Werenski. Reeves and Andrews have redshirt years behind them, and Werenski entered school a semester early, so they’ll all have light class loads.
Heppler’s battery, however, is as always being taxed. He recruits like mad, and, “You have to keep working beyond the current year. We’ve got to get Vincent Whaley ready to play this year or next. Michael Hines has got to develop. It just never ends.
“[Players] just keep leaving. It’s a sport where you may spend more time with guys who aren’t playing than guys who are. There will probably be an inordinant amount of time spent with Michael and Vince because these guys are leaving.”
The work is underway. The Jackets will qualify among themselves Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the Carpet Capital Collegiate, in Dalton Sept. 6-8.
Heppler is fully engaged in Tech golf, present, past and future.
He stays in touch with the guys who’ve left. He spoke by phone with Molder, in fact, shortly before he teed off on Friday.
“I had a little visit with him, and he feels pretty good about things,” Heppler said. “Guys are different. Some guys are texters. I talked to Cam in Florida a few weeks ago. Troy [Matteson] was in town this week for a few days.”
If you read here regularly, or follow Tech golf ardently, you know Heppler’s no swing coach. He’s more psychologist than anything – even with former golfers.
“You know me; they don’t have to ask,” he said. “I just really try to just encourage them. It goes back to being positive, and playing the entire round with optimism. Keep thinking something good is going to happen. That’s a tough business; you can go four or five weeks without getting paid.”
Heppler’s battery does not die.
“You recruit somebody for two or three years and then you’re around them four or five more and it’s hard not to [keep tabs],” the coach explained. “I hope they’re finding success and happiness, moving into wives and children. They’re busy, but they know where coach is.”
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