Sept. 5, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
– Most autumns, surprise of some sort comes to Bruce Heppler’s sport as Georgia Tech’s golf coach is usually greeted by a mix of the tried, true and familiar in his travel roster and a trinket or two among the young.
Last season, there were pretty much no new toys.
That was OK because while the roster rarely churned the Yellow Jackets won a school-record five tournaments, including the ACCs, and made it to the NCAA match play quarterfinals by season’s end.
Today near Dalton, the No. 3-ranked Jackets will set off on a new journey with three “new” faces joining seniors Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson as the season launches at the Carpet Capital Collegiate.
The first surprise will be in the clubhouse before a shot is fired.
His name is Drew Czuchry, and although he’s from around here, you might say the fifth-year senior has come out of nowhere to earn a spot in his first college event in nearly two seasons.
In this age where so many prognosticate, few might have predicted him winning Tech’s 108-hole qualifier by 13 strokes over the nearest teammate. He made just two fall travel teams three years ago after transferring from Akron in 2011, two in the fall of ’12 and redshirted ’13-`14.
Drew took the sideline last season for five good reasons: seniors Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson, who will join him this weekend in the CCC, and recent graduates Bo Andrews, Seth Reeves and Richard Werenski.
Obviously, after going 19-under par over the combination of three rounds at East Lake and three more at the Golf Club of Georgia, the native of Auburn, Ga., has done some work in his “down time.”
“I red-shirted last year, and I knew this year we were losing a lot of guys and I had an opportunity,” he said. “Starting last spring . . . I just set that as my goal: I’m going to make a difference this year.
“I’ve been playing better every tournament all summer, and in qualifying I’ve played those courses so many times. Finally, I put together everything I’ve been working on. It was fun, kind of what I expected.”
Actually, Heppler would use a word other than “surprise” to describe the way his roster is unfurling.
The man went into his sports Hall of Fame last year, he’s in his 20th season helming a program that has finished in the top 10 of the final Golfstat rankings 11 times since 2000, and in the final Golfweek/Sagarin top 10 twelve times. Tech has not finished lower than 14th in either ranking in any year.
He’s seen a few things.
“Drew played great after he signed at Akron, had a wonderful eight or nine months, and decided to come back [to Georgia],” the coach said. “We [were] pretty good and sometimes it gets discouraging [not playing much].
“When you’re trying to play for a team that’s inside the top three or four for the three years … anybody could get discouraged. Then, he had some back and hand issues. He’s healthy now, and he has a chance to help.”
While majoring in business with a concentration on marketing, Czuchry re-wired himself in the wings.
“It was very much confidence and believing in myself,” he explained. “Coach has talked about it since I’ve been here: you can’t be a good guy one day because you shot 65 and a bad guy the next because you shot 75.
“You have to go out there before the score and decide what kind of person you’re going to be, and what kind of player you’re going to be, but that has not been easy for me. I’m finally getting to where I can do that most of the days that I go out there.”
The good-guy/bad-guy stuff is Heppler-speak translating to don’t take for granted the good times, nor don’t beat yourself up during the bad.
Czuchry appears to be processing, and his coach also seems to be doing fine with change.
“Drew has learned how to hang in there and fight and claw,” Heppler explained. “The great thing about it when guys are new or they haven’t played, and you really try to coach, the growth and improvement can be very significant and that’s very satisfying.
“With Seth and Bo and Richy, it got to where watching them get better, you can’t see [tiny improvements]. But somebody who has never played or hasn’t played in a while, you can see huge gains. For me, that’s the jazz, the excitement; you begin to feel like you can make a huge difference again rather than a little difference.”
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