Oct. 31, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Having come to learn a few more of the many arts of golf, Vincent Whaley is moving to the role of plowshare for Georgia Tech’s ninth-ranked program neither by deft touch on greens nor delicate approach.
When the Yellow Jackets close out their fall schedule Sunday-Tuesday in the Kiawah Classic in Kiawah Island, S.C., a junior from McKinney, Texas, will slip into his newish zone where he knows that no single hole shall be make or break and the best way is to just keep working as a farmer would a field.
If you haven’t seen the Jackets play in a while, you might hardly recognize the strapping Texan now. Whaley’s world is shaping up, and Tech’s leading scorer is settling into leadership. He’s filling a big chair that was empty as the fall began.
“This guy looks like he knows what he’s doing. He looks more confident. His body language is better, like, ‘I’ve got this,’ “ said head coach Bruce Heppler. “He seems a little more calm. I think you would see more belief, more resolve.
“He’s looking at it more like a 54-hole event, not an 18-hole event or a two-hole event. He’s starting to trust: ‘Over all these holes, I’m going to finally get mine.’ “
Whaley’s 72.89 scoring average is Tech’s best by the slimmest margin, just ahead of sophomore Jacob Joiner’s 73. Joiner has played one more shot, and in winning the season-opening Carpet Capital Classic, he banked the Jackets’ lone title in three events.
Whaley registered the other top-five finish, tying for third at the DICK’S Sporting Goods Collegiate Challenge.
Over the past two tournaments, he’s averaged 71.2, including a 71 last time out when the Jackets moved up to finish fifth in the United States Collegiate Championship with a stellar round of 282.
That was an absurdly stacked field, with seven of the nation’s top 10 teams, and with a young squad still working out a pecking order, the Jackets finished ahead of No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Southern California, No. 8 Stanford, No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 13 Texas.
The Jackets are being forged by a scheduled ranked the nation’s most difficult by the Golfweek/Sagarin Index, and they’re 13-13-1 against top-25 teams.
As Whaley, Joiner, Michael Pisciotta, James Clark and Chris Petefish try at the Turtle Point Golf Club in Kiawah Island, S.C., to improve upon that, Whaley seems to understand why his coach would suggest that he’s settling down.
He’s matured, and something clicked in after that season-opening event, when he shot 74-75-80 at The Farm near Dalton to tie for 45th.
Whaley went back over the next few days to find the future, playing with former teammates who know a thing or two about stroking it, and leading the way.
“When I came here, it was nothing like it is now. I know I’m going to play professional golf regardless of what’s going on now,” he said. “I have the vision that I’m going to be out there, but I have to be patient. I felt like at the beginning of the year I had to get notice, get people to see me.
“In talking to Ollie [Schniederjans] and Anders [Albertson] . . . it’s not about that. It’s about doing your own thing, having your own vision. I played a few rounds the day after that with Ollie and then with Anders, and then both of them the day after that . . . do what you know.”
As he has stopped trying so hard to make a statement, Whaley began to glide into a leadership role.
He and fourth-year junior Michael Hines are Tech’s elders, yet for a while this fall the Jackets had several players perhaps trying too hard to backfill after the graduations of Schniederjans, Albertson and fellow senior Drew Czuchry.
Leadership is not there to be taken nor given by anointment, but rather grown into by approach. Some of this has nothing to do with golf.
Whaley sees himself as a future pro, yet takes to his school work like a professional. Twice, he’s made ACC Academic Honor Roll, and the business finance major is not shy about the fact that his goal this year is to earn Academic All-America honors – twice.
Whaley’s ways are all business.
“I think he’s grabbing hold of the hammer,” Heppler said. “You watch his efforts in the class room, the weight room, in practice . . . I think he’s well liked, well respected. You don’t just take that mantle on because you want it. You have to show that you’re the guy.
“They realize that he’s a very good example. He does a really good job early in the morning showing them what a good workout looks like. I think there are some guys emerging. Some I’ve told they don’t need to worry about it; they just need to worry about themselves. Some of them have struggled with that.”
Whaley’s smoothed out, and is plowing forward.
“Towards the beginning, it was a lot of ridiculous high expectations and I was putting pressure on myself for us to win and me to win,” he explained. “We have great players. You can’t put that pressure on yourself. I definitely don’t think of myself just as a leader. I don’t have that kind of a personality.
I’m not trying to . . . just lead by example. Go out to the range and watch Ollie and Anders, and go see how much they want it, how they approach it, and you see how that works. It’s special.”
Heppler sees in Whaley what he has seen in his forbears.
“I fully expect that as this year goes along . . . he has a chance to be a really, really good player,” the coach said. “He’s caught the vision. Vince hasn’t tried to be the leader. It just happens. I’m not too concerned about it coming from anywhere else right now.”