#STINGDAILY: Are the Young Jackets Ready to win Fifth-Straight ACC Title?

April 25, 2013

Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –

It seemed a decent question in an age of entitlement, yet Bruce Heppler was nearly astonished when asked: “Given all the success Georgia Tech has had on that golf course, are you concerned that your team believes that simply showing up will ensure a fifth straight ACC title?”

“That” golf course is the Old North State Club in New London, N.C., where the ACCs  run Friday-Sunday. Tech has owned it. The Yellow Jackets won four straight outright ACC titles there (2009-’12), a couple by lopsided margins, and shared the championship in ’06 and ’07.

The place shares similarities with both courses the Jackets practice upon in Atlanta, and, well, success begets success. This program’s run there has fed the streak in a big way.

Still, the Tech coach – who rarely seems off guard – was a bit miffed by the query.

“If I have to worry about their level of commitment or focus, then we’ve recruited the wrong guys,” Heppler said. “Their expectations and goals and ambitions should far outweigh mine. It’s their team, and their individual accomplishments so I’ve never worried …

“You get so few opportunities. There’s only nine tournaments a year, and then you go into postseason. If you recruit ambitious people, and that’s their nature and their culture . . . I don’t think anybody takes it for granted.”

The Jackets have had something of an uneven spring; not disastrous yet nowhere near dominant.

They’re ranked No. 9 by Golfweek/Sagarin and have played the nation’s sixth-toughest schedule, and yet the Jackets haven’t really settled into a rhythm. Heppler attributes that at least partly to the fact the roster has turned over so often beyond sophomores Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson.

Junior Bo Andrews, who three weeks ago was medalist in the Gary Koch Invitiational in Tampa, Albertson and Schniederjans all played Old State on last year’s title team. They’re on the travel squad again.

That’s it for experience. Tech’s nine competitive rounds on that course (three each) are the fewest the Jackets have taken into the ACCs in the past nine years, dating back to the shared title in 2006. In ’07, Tech took 24 combined rounds of experience into the tournament, and a couple times the Jackets took 21.

Freshmen Michael Hines and Shun Yat Hak will be newbies, however, and yet Andrews said there is something to be said for aura. He’s not calling it a sense of entitlement. Andrews said it’s more a matter of confidence rather than arrogance.

“Obviously, we feel comfortable there,” he said. “We’ve done well there in the past. All the guys who have come before us have played really well and it’s kind of what we do. When you’re part of this team, you go up there, do your stuff and add ’em up at the end.”

Heppler said that only a couple times as Tech’s coach can he remember the Jackets approaching any tournament as if it were formality. Once, it was one of his most talented teams, a squad with Matt Kuchar and Bryce Molder. That was in Hawai’i.

“The practice round was a joke, and everybody was more worried about where we were going to have dinner, and we just got absolutely smoked,” the coach said. “I kick myself because I could feel it, and I waited until after it was over to get after them.”

The Tech coach didn’t have that sense as the Jackets practiced earlier this week.

“I think it’s a confidence thing,” he said of his cause for optimism. “I don’t think it’s a matter of, ‘We don’t have to work hard,’ or ‘We don’t have to get ready.’ I think it’s more of, ‘We’ve played well up there, and there’s no reason why . . . we can’t again.’ “

Count Andrews in the camp. The said the Jackets are not over-confident, but rather secure in a way that may relieve pressure.

“We treat them the same, just go in with the same attitude to play our best and give it all that we’ve got.” he said. “I think you feed off [prior success]. You play with a little more confidence. I feel obligated to perform well there, and that’s kind of what makes this  program. We just get it done.”

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