TGW: Title Defense

April 22, 2016

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

If the race to win the ACC men’s Golf Tournament were equated with a run to the White House, there would be questions about Georgia Tech’s birth certificate.

With eight titles in the past 10 years, the Yellow Jackets have been presidential for a decade and beyond at the Old North State Club in New London, N.C., but right now they look like frauds.

That’s OK, sort of.

Head coach Bruce Heppler hopes that while Tech this weekend will not be foremost on the minds of its ACC brethren perhaps opponents instead will make a mess of themselves and the Jackets will play like they don’t have much to lose.

The boss would rather the Jackets have a big target on their backs, as usual, but that’s not happening as they’re 39th in the Golfweek/Sagarin Index and 48th by Golfstat. They trail seven ACC teams: Florida State (7), Wake Forest (11), Clemson (12), Duke (20), Virginia (24), North Carolina (25) and N.C. State (34).

Maybe there’s a silver lining for junior Vince Whaley, fourth-year junior Michael Hines, and sophomores Chris Petefish, Jacob Joiner and James Clark.

The ideal formula: Tech = loose; everybody else = tight.

“I want to think that in some way we have an advantage,” Heppler said. “What we have to do is just focus on playing, not winning or defending or the pressure . . . There’s a lot of [teams] who haven’t won in 15 years, haven’t won in 20 years, a lot of coaches who haven’t won one.

“Now . . . we don’t have any of that, and that’s a good thing in some ways. I wouldn’t mind having the best team by 15 shots. That doesn’t hurt, either.”

Whaley, Petefish and Clark played for the Jackets last year when they beat Clemson in a playoff to win the ACC. Hines played on Tech’s ACC travel squad as a freshman before redshirting. That makes Joiner the only newcomer.

The Jackets, though, have struggled all year –autumn included – to establish a pecking order after the graduation of two of the most successful golfers in program history: Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson.

Add the fact that the remaking of Tech’s near-campus practice facility between 14th and 16th streets has been delayed by many months, and the Jackets have missed out on a lot of short-game practice.

They’ve missed Schniederjans and Albertson in a big way, scuffling to establish leadership and accountability among players.

“I don’t know that we’ve had a lot of that,” Heppler said. “When you have a team where guys have not established themselves, then you don’t get a lot of the pushing and pulling [of each other] because all the guys are doing is figuring out how to get themselves on the [travel team] . . .

“You don’t have a lot of the group dynamic . . . We only get them for 20 hours a week and we can’t provide enough leadership in those hours to solve everything.”

The Jackets have also struggled collectively with their short games.

Practices at East Lake and the Golf Club of Georgia allow for plenty of work from the tees and on the greens, but, “Not being able to practice at the facility for a year is tough,” Heppler said. “A lot of hours have gone un-used, and a lot of the things that you do over there, which is hit wedges and chips . . .”

Still, there’s reason to believe that Tech has a shot.

Whaley’s had a solid season, winning the Clemson Invitational April 1-3 and finishing in the top 10 in three other tournaments. Joiner won the season-opening Carpet Capital Collegiate.

His record against other golfers beyond this season is just 351-213, however, and he’s finished 35th or lower in three of seven tournaments since.

“We have yet to have those two show up at the same time, and you have to have people challenging for the individual championship to win the team part,” Heppler said. “What we’ve got to figure out how to do is instill the belief that we know what we’re doing there.

“We’ll just play 18 and let everybody else worry about winning an ACC title. It’s in there somewhere, but we’ve got to figure out how to be the most relaxed, almost non-caring group of guys there.”

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