Nov. 8, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Self-promotion will never be the signature of Bryce Molder.
That’s okay. Molder’s accomplishments speak for him, just as they did from 1998 through 2001, when he starred as a part of a Georgia Tech golf.
Even as he prepares to be inducted into the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame tonight, he’s still the same humble young man that played a humbling game.
“My first response was, ‘I don’t know if I deserve to be in a Hall of Fame of anything,'” he said, with a laugh. “But it’s more just pride. I have such pride that goes along with being a member of the Georgia Tech family and the athletic program. It’s such a great school that to be a part of it in this way is really special and exciting, humbling, everything at the same time.”
Humbling also would describe what Molder did to the collegiate field in his years at Georgia Tech.
The 32-year-old native of Harrison, Ark., — he now calls Scottsdale, Ariz., home — and member of the PGA Tour became only the fourth player in the history of college golf to earn four First Team All-America selections. He also received the prestigious NCAA Top Eight Award and bookended his career by winning the Jack Nicklaus Award winner (awarded to the Golf Coaches Association of America Collegiate Player of the Year) as a freshman and a senior.
Molder was a three-time ACC Player of the Year and helped Georgia Tech win 14 tournaments and finish second, third and fourth in the NCAA Championships (he had two top-10 finishes in the NCAAs). A three-time Academic All-American, Molder left The Flats with eight tournament victories, tying David Duval’s school record, and his 69.43 stroke average in 2000 (formerly the NCAA record) and career 70.69 still stand as Tech standards.
“I contend that he is arguably as fine a student-athlete as there has ever been in any sport,” said Georgia Tech golf head coach Bruce Heppler, who will present Molder. “To have the lowest stroke average over a career for all the years that have ever been played and then to be an NCAA Top-Eight Award winner as a student-athlete, there have only been four four-time First-Team All-Americans. I think he takes those three accomplishments and I don’t know that anybody else in any other sport has ever put that all together as a student-athlete. So he’s a pretty special guy.”
Molder may be the only person who doesn’t recognize how special he is, or at least prefers not to talk about. He admitted there was even a time he preferred staying in the shadows to talking about himself.
“I remember when I was so shy and lacked self-confidence to the point that, as a junior golfer, I remembered almost being happy when I missed a putt to win a tournament because I wouldn’t have to make the speech afterward,” he said. “I slowly got over that. It doesn’t mean I like doing it, but I remember at that time, I hated attention so much that I would have happily finished second so I didn’t have to make a speech.”
That changed once he got to Georgia Tech.
“He finished first enough he had to figure out how to do that,” said Heppler, with a laugh.
Molder never had any trouble figuring out what he wanted to do on the course nor did he have any trouble going after it. He laid out his blueprint with Heppler prior to his first college match, while on the University of New Mexico Golf Course.
“We had a funny little side bet that if I got First-Team All-American and then I remember us talking about how many times has it happened with a freshman,” Molder recalled. “Then [Heppler] said, ‘How many times has anyone done it four years?’ He said, ‘There’s been three of them.’ I said, ‘I want to be one of those.’
“That’s when you start thinking back, ‘That’s a long time just to stay and play like that,'” he continued. “I feel like I’m a better player now but if you put me with my skill level now and put me in college I don’t know if I could do it, much less 14 years ago to start that way. It’s an accomplishment that I’ll always hold.”
Heppler knew pretty much right away that Molder was capable of doing something special.
“The level of maturity that he showed up with was pretty rare,” he said. “I think that allowed him to have the four-year career vs. guys that it takes a while to figure out what they want to achieve. He kind of landed on the ground with that level of commitment and maturity. That’s why there have only been four First-Teamers all four years ever. To be able to do that takes, obviously, a very talented person but somebody who also makes good decisions.”
“To be able to be a First Team All-American as a freshman is very difficult,” he added. “You see a lot of the same things with the Heisman. To get the name recognition, to get yourself considered vs. older guys. To be able to come in and handle school and play at that level really takes somebody who’s grown up and makes really good decisions with their time and time management and life decisions.”
Molder was forced to grow up as he had to overcame being born without a left pectoral muscle, and deal with Poland Syndrome, a rare defect which left him with a left hand that is smaller than his right and required three surgeries prior to age five to correct.
He started playing golf at five, basically following his father around the golf course and by age 10 was able to make his own way around the course.
“By then I was playing quite a bit,” he said. “I just kind of picked it up, like I did every other sport, and happened to be best at it, so I kind of continued doing it longer.”
He’s now doing it, on the PGA Tour. Molder recorded his first professional victory in early October, at the Frys.com Open, birdying on the 18th hole to force a playoff, then rolling in a six-foot putt on the sixth playoff hole to gain the victory.
The victory was somewhat unexpected even if his M.O. was not.
“I’ve never been the straightest driver of a golf ball and the best part of my game is probably putting but part of that is my scrambling,” he said. “I can hit some pretty amazing recovery shots, especially when I went through a time period in my professional career where I was really hitting it crooked. So I don’t know if that’s when I learned those shots or that’s just when I honed those skills but it seemed like I always made things pretty exciting and I’ve certainly done that as a professional. Good, bad or ugly or worse, I tend to make it pretty exciting.”
Molder is very excited about tonight’s induction. It’s an honor that, much like his Georgia Tech career, may not really hit him until down the road.
“Even now, when I think back to where I won Player of the Year Award as a freshman and I think back to that now, I’m like, ‘Wait, did that really happen?'” he said. “I just didn’t know any better yet. I didn’t know how tough the game was yet. So to be put in the same category as some of the guys that have come through Georgia Tech and some of the other players elsewhere is an honor.”