Feb. 24, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Lest one think that everything about the game of golf is, um, gentlemanly, there is the recent example of one James White — the white-hot one who not so long ago nearly had his ears burned off.
The Georgia Tech junior won the Puerto Rico Classic last weekend, which you know if you’re a regular here. That was his second win in three outings dating to last fall and his fourth straight top 10 finish.
Not bad for a guy who, to hear White tell it, was nearly sent packing by coach Bruce Heppler.
Site: Stillwater, Oklahoma, home to the Ping/Golfweek Preview International.
Trigger point: White had just shot a final-round 81, contributing mightily to Tech tumbling to finish in seventh place after beginning the day one shot off the team lead.
White was not the only Jacket to struggle that day, but given that Heppler sensed so much of White’s work was the result of a poor attitude, the young man wore a bulls-eye as Heppler made like an old-school football coach.
“He chewed me out pretty good at the final round of the Ping, and I had to take a message home and think about some stuff,” White said. “I’m going to have to reconsider my spot on the team, my scholarship.”
Nevermind that we live in an ever-more PC world, Heppler wore no kid gloves. So what exactly did he say?
“I can’t remember exactly, and I don’t know if he’d want me to quote word-for-word,” White said. ” `This is your third year here, you need to focus, do your best. Attitude is a choice. You either need to lead by example for your teammates, or find something else to do.’ “
Sure didn’t hurt.
White has played 15 competitive rounds since then, never once in that time firing a round over par.
He finds himself in a bit of surprising situation now as he has so suddenly found a grip on so many elements that were eluding him previously – elements that had little or nothing to do with swing mechanics, and everything to do with mental mechanics.
His roommate now is Ollie Schniederjans, a freshman who entered school early after graduating early from Harrison High – White’s alma mater.
“Definitely a big chunk of it [White’s improvement] is just growing up,” he said. “My roommate who is 17, a buddy who I played with in high school who had a better junior career than I did by far. He thinks a lot of the things that I thought when I was that age. It’s hard for me to explain to him, but as you get older, the way you look at the game will change.”
Clearly it can be difficult to put into easy-to-understand words what something like this means. You get it or you don’t. White didn’t. He does now.
“Coach doesn’t sign up for second place; he wants to win. He really pushed me hard to get better,” White said. “I was having a poor attitude, and not handling myself. I’ve come to love getting better at the game of golf. You tend to get caught up more in results [when askew between the ears, as White was].
“I’m more relaxed. I’m not focused on the pressure to finish here or there. I’m just trying to make better swings, make fewer mistakes, play better golf.”