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Back On Track

Oct. 9, 2011

By Matt Winklejohn
Sting Daily

If Georgia Tech’s No. 4 national ranking last month was considered by some to be a show of respect for one of the nation’s top college golf programs more than a reflection of evidence, it makes more sense now.

The folks who put those rankings together apparently knew something, namely that Tech has serious depth and multiple golfers who can score.

The Yellow Jackets were erratic in their first two fall events, slipping to a No. 21 ranking as actual scores started rolling into the computer. Two of Tech’s three rounds in the season-opening Carpet Capital Collegiate were excellent, the other was forgettable. Tech wasn’t impressive in the Golfweek Conference Challenge a couple weeks ago.

Then, this weekend happened.

Tech blew away a strong field Friday, Saturday and Sunday in winning the Brickyard Collegiate by a 17 strokes in Macon. The Jackets were the only team to finish under par as their 848 was 16-under. Runnerup Florida State, ranked No. 15, fired a team total of 865, one-over par.

Freshman Anders Albertson and redshirt sophomore Seth Reeves tied for second individually at seven-under par 209. Five Jackets finished in the top eight (including ties), and as the Brickyard allows teams to compete more than the standard five student-athletes (with the extras not counting toward team scores) all seven Tech players finished in the top 20 (again including ties) among 84 golfers. Somebody – plural — apparently grew up in Macon, but head coach Bruce Heppler is – as you would expect for a golf coach – trying to remain on an even keel. Consistency reigned in Macon.

“You try not to over-react one way or the other. If we do that, people will say the sky was falling in Iowa [where the Jackets did not play well a couple weeks ago],” Heppler said. “Certainly it was a big moment, but I don’t know that the bus is turned around. It is big up for the players, though.”

I haven’t known Heppler to use the strategy of understatement, but if he says so. The last time Tech boat-raced a field was nearly a year ago, when the Jackets hosted the United States Collegiate Championship last fall. The Jackets will again host the USCC in two weeks, at the Golf Club of Georgia. That will wrap up their fall schedule.

Heppler has to be feeling a lot better about his team’s prospects today than he did a week ago, not that he was a pessimist to begin with.

The Jackets’ utter annihilation in Macon was so complete that it is difficult to describe. Before trying, some perspective is important.

With three seniors graduated from an outstanding squad that won the past three ACC titles and two freshmen and a few other players owning just a teaspoon or so of collegiate experience each, that preseason ranking sure looked lofty. Little in Tech’s first two tournaments said otherwise.

Perhaps Heppler’s young men just needed a few weeks to adjust and work their way up to speed.

Even though the Jackets have used three different five-man lineups in three tournaments, they were far more settled than any other team in Macon.

And get this: the “non-scoring” Jackets – freshman Ollie Schniederjens and redshirt sophomore Bo Andrews – finished tied for eighth place individually with scoring teammate Richy Werenski, a sophomore, at one-under par 215 for 54 holes.

Senior James White, an All-American last season, still hasn’t hit his stride, but improved in Macon. He shot 218 over three days to finish tied for 14th. Fellow senior William Miller, scoring in just the third tournament of his college career, tied for 20th at 220.

Reeves’ 65 on Saturday was the low round of the tournament. Sunday, the Jackets tore through the back nine, where Albertson shot 31, Werenski 32, and Reeves 33 while White and Miller were even par. Tech’s scoring players combined for 12 birdies and two eagles over the final nine holes.

Heppler didn’t seem surprised. He even had an explanation for the Jackets’ surge, sort of.

“I think it’s just time,” he said. “This was Anders’ third college start, Bo’s third or fourth. William hadn’t played in a long time. It’s just the beginning of the deal. You hope that over time you’re going to start telling yourself, `I’ve got this, I can do this.’

“I do believe is that when a team that’s new finally wins one together, they say to themselves it’s not as big a deal as I thought it was. This takes some of the stress off.”

Heppler’s primary message to his athletes never changes. He’s consistent. Over the weekend, the Jackets took a giant collective step in that direction as well. Do you wonder what the coach says most often?

“‘You’ve got to remain optimistic. Be good to yourself when you’re out there,’ ” Heppler said he says. “These kids are outrageously competitive and sometimes they beat themselves up. You’ve got to be your biggest cheerleader once you’re out there [on the course].

“These guys did a good job. They didn’t get down. You would have to assume that maybe some bad habits got broken.”

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