March 19, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Bruce Heppler is a joy to speak with, and in the past he’s explained that he is comfortable talking about the Georgia Tech golf team in ground-level terms because the Yellow Jackets get so little media attention that they come under a different kind of scrutiny than, say, the football or basketball teams.
If the Tech coach were to have occasion to have his feet held to the fire, the time would be about now.
As the fourth-ranked Jackets today begin hosting the Callaway Collegiate Match Play Championship at Hawks Ridge in Ball Ground, they’re uniquely positioned.
First, they know the course.
Second, they will be less than one week removed from competition.
And finally, that quick turnaround is very welcome because it will give the Jackets a chance to put distance between themselves and a rare clunker of a show. Tech was on a roll dating back to last fall. That changed.
The wheels didn’t fall off last week in the Southern Collegiate Masters in Las Vegas, but just about every lug nut wiggled loose over the final day or so and Tech tumbled to ninth place after shooting – by far – their worst round of the season. James White shot a 68 on the final day to tie for fifth place in his fifth straight top 10 finish, but that was the only good news. Tech’s other four scores were 79, 79, 80 and 80.
There were some tangible reasons for the poor showing, but you have to wonder: had confidence tipped past a control point to become arrogance?
“A little bit, you can say that,” said senior J.T. Griffin. “But we’d struggled the past couple years in Vegas. I haven’t played well there at all. The air is thinner, and I have a hard time with the yardages.
“It kind of stinks that we did that, but in way . . . it’s nice to see where you are, and I don’t think it’s going to affect us in the long haul.”
The idea that it’s good for a good team to be humbled once in a while comes to mind, and White didn’t disagree with that.
Heppler, though, disagreed with the suggestion that his squad might have been too confident in the first place. Yet he concedes that his golfers last week let go their grips of the psychological rope.
“Not this group,” the coach said when asked about the possibility of over-confidence. “Leading up to that, we had maybe three bad individual rounds the whole year and you get four on one day. How’d that happen?
“You think you’re past that because that’s a round that can cost you a championship whether it’s the ACCs or making the final eight to get into the NCAAs. With three seniors, I thought we were past that but obviously not.”
Generally, the Jackets have at least two weeks between competitions, but the timing of this event works out quite well because Tech will be on spring break this week. Plus, like a football team that doesn’t want a bye following a bad loss, Griffin said competing again quickly will be good for his team.
“I know a few of us didn’t touch a club for a couple days,” he said. “It will be good to get back out there with the desire to play better.”
Match play is rare in college golf, but it has become part of the NCAA tournament format for the final eight teams. In that way, this three-day, 16-team tournament is a tune-up for the Jackets.
Heppler likened the vibe of this event to the Ryder Cup, where emotions rarely seen around a golf course become common place.
“It gets the juices flowing,” he said. “In stroke-play events, you wallow around for three days . . . In match play, there’s a win and a loss every hole [or a half]. It’s great for our guys. There’s winning and losing every hole, and that changes the dynamic completely.”
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