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Bruce Heppler Interview - January 27, 2010

Jan. 28, 2010

Obviously you start your tournament for the 12th straight year in Hawaii traditional opener along with Puerto Rico and Las Vegas after that. What is it about that tournament that makes you want to schedule it every year?

“I think over the years the guys have done a terrific job with their school work, and they’re playing and it’s a nice reward as well as a good gold tournament. Obviously we could find somewhere that’s probably a little cheaper or closer to home, but it gets a lot of guys out of their element. We have a lot of players from the southeast that have never been there before, so to play on some Bermuda greens is good. It’s a good way to learn some things that they have probably not been exposed to. And then it’s fun watching all the former players play in Maui and then at the Sony in Hawaii. It gets the season started for everybody that way. And if you look at the field, there’s national championship contending teams in the event, so we get off to a good start by competing against good competition. Where else are you going to play in the last week in January and first week in February and get something done? All of these factors lead into why we go over there, and we’ve had a lot of success. I know the guys really enjoy it.

The field is probably as strong as it’s ever been. Oklahoma State is there and 12 of the top 30 teams in the country I counted. Is this tournament really growing in stature?

This is the 25th anniversary, so they’ve worked really hard to get everybody back that’s ever played in it, or played in the first one. Obviously, you look at all the teams – I think it’s 22 or 24 – so we’re looking at some six-hour rounds and some long days in Hawaii, but it’s always had a pretty good field, and I would think at least seven or eight of the top twelve. So I think they made an effort to bring back some people who haven’t really been there in a while, and it just made it even better.

Explain the process of how you came to arrive at the five players you’re taking.

We chose to let the low 3 players go and the coaching staff picked two. We played for a lot of spots this fall; I think the first 3 events, we played low 5 go and when we went to Greensboro, I think we did the same thing. We just feel like some guys have played well at home and played well on the road and did the work in the classroom necessary to get to go over there and be gone for 7 or 8 days. So we played low 3 go and Kyle Scott, who has done virtually every qualifier since he’s been here, won that. And then Bo Andrews had another very good qualifying and tied with Paul Haley for second. So those guys are the three that earned their way. It was nice to see Paul play well. Obviously, the weather this time of year is very challenging; you have to be mentally tough and hang in there and all three of them did a nice job of doing that. Then had some circumstances with a couple of the other guys that we thought played really well in the fall who were not able to participate because of some things. So we went ahead and picked James White and JT Griffin who were our highest ranked players in some of the magazines and polls that there are to finish off the top five.

Your schedule this spring has changed a little bit. You have your traditional three out of the gate. You don’t have the USCC this year; you have the Linger Longer, which is a different tournament that’s been around but that you haven’t played in, and the Wolfpack Invitational. What led you to add those to your schedule?

The demise of our event, which the original premise was to find a really nice place to play 8 to 10 days before we have to go play in the conference tournament to play against good teams and fast dreams and get ready for that. With that moving to the fall of every year, we had to do something different, so we looked around. And we had played in the past up in North Carolina which was kind of an extension of the penal American and these events lasted a long time with NC State now hosting that. So that kind of fit the hole there, and then Hawaii became an exempt competition which gave us another three days which led to the Linger Longer and obviously when you’re in an academic situation, you try to play as often as you can when you don’t have class. And it fell on Spring break. So once we got the event back from Hawaii with the three days, we tried to find something that would fit that schedule in March to where the guys could play and not miss any school. And it’s another event like the one in Macon where we get to play some extra guys, so based on the information we have right now everybody who has the eligibility to use this year will get to play down there, so we’ll get to play 7 or 8 guys. And that should help with who gets to play at the end of the year and those kind of things. I think there’s a good match to it; there’s some time in between one each of those to come back and practice and get ready to go to the next one.

What’s your general outlook toward the spring season? You had a little bit of an up and down fall but finished with a win at Greensboro at the UNCG. You had everyone basically in the top 21 that played up there, but you’re ranked 22nd in the Golf Week right now. You’re kind of flying under the radar right now; what’re your expectations?

The ranking’s interesting. Obviously, some qualifying turned out and we played low 5 go to Macon and John-Tyler Griffin had been our best player before that and after ended up not qualifying and he goes down there and finishes 2nd in his individual and James plays well as an individual. Still what it says is if they were playing, we’re not going to change the results or feel good about whatever but the reality we have to come back to play really well down there. So then you go to Greensboro and both those guys are in the line-up and you win the tournament. I’ve continued to tell the coaches and the guys on our teams, “The stuff that’s going on around here everyday is as good as it’s been in a long time.” Obviously, you’re replacing, arguably and scoring average-wise, the second best player you’ve ever had in the program’s history, and one guy like that, one really good player, makes a huge difference. You just look at programs that jumped up in the last two or three years. Well, what happened? That one guy that ended up there for whatever reason who could win tournaments, challenge every week, be a first team All-American changes the dynamics of your results. And we lost one of those, so you wonder what the results will be and where we are, but I think, as a group, they’re filling in that. And I feel like there are more than five guys who can do that. Obviously, it’d be wonderful if someone grew into that First Team All-America role and there are probably some candidates, but I just think the work that’s being done, the things done in the dormitories and another great fall semester leads you to believe that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And hark work, disciplines, at the end of the day usually pays off, so I see guys working with each other, helping each other, and playing when we’re not requiring stuff and I think overtime that will make a huge difference. So even though the ranking’s probably as low as we’ve been in 7, 8, 9, 10 years – I think the play, if you really analyze it, is really better than that. And we’ll go see this semester where we fit in, but I think Coach Newton and I are very enthused about what goes on everyday. We’ve got good players, and if they’ll put in the time then I think at the end of the year we’ll be very competitive.


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