May 18, 2012
By Jon Cooper
– There’s no substitute for experience and when it came to NCAA Tournament experience, Georgia Tech’s golf team lacked that.
Head coach Bruce Heppler admitted that as he prepared freshmen Anders Albertson and Ollie Schniederjans and sophomores Bo Andrews and Richard Werenski for this weekend’s NCAA Southwest Regional, being played on the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club, located in Norman. They joined senior James White in representing the Jackets.
“It will be interesting. It will be three guys who have never played in the NCAA Tournament before and Richy played just once,” said Heppler, who is finishing up his 17th year at Tech by leading his team to the NCAAs for the 15th consecutive year.
Heppler also admitted there is no substitute for winning, and that’s something the young group does know, having claimed Tech’s fourth straight ACC Championship.
“Every time they win as a group it gives them self-esteem as a group and a belief that they can do that,” he said. “You don’t want to head into [the NCAAs] not having won an event. I think [the ACC Championship] gave them a lot of belief that if they just do what they do they’re pretty good.”
Pouncing on a team’s inexperience works well in theory. It’s the hook upon which opposing teams playing Georgia Tech hung their hats all season.
The rest of the ACC did when they came to the Old North State Club in New London, North Carolina, for the ACC Championship in late March.
We know how that worked out for them. Tech ran away, with second-place Florida State finishing seven shots back.
The 14 teams assembled at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club, in Norman, Oklahoma, for the Oklahoma Regional, which started Thursday, are probably counting on that inexperience theory, adding the corollary, “It can’t happen to me” or “It can’t happen to me, again.”
The flaw in the theory is and has been Georgia Tech’s ability to compensate maturity and poise for inexperience.
“Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson are both mature beyond their years golf-wise, mentally, physically,” said White, co-winner of the 2012 Byron Nelson Award. “I don’t really count them as freshmen. They have my support. I go out on the golf course not having to worry about picking up any slack. I know they’ve got my back.
“Richy has been getting a lot better,” he added. “We’ve been practicing a lot together. He’s really improved. I have a lot of confidence in my team to say the least.”
That a senior, who appears destined to join the ranks of Tech alumni playing on professionally, talks about first-year players “having his back” speaks volumes about how youth is not only being served, but is serving the Jackets.
“Obviously, Bo had the benefit of a redshirt year, so this is his third year in school but only his second year playing, but they are a very grown-up group,” said Heppler. “Ollie’s played all over the world, Anders from a maturity standpoint is about a 25-year-old man. They are grown up and they’ve played a lot of good golf. I think that’s why they’ve been successful as freshmen.”
The success of the youngsters starts with the atmosphere to which they are exposed every day before they even get to the course.
“Everything we’ve done around here is to show them what the older guys have achieved and accomplished and from the way we set up the office to the way we display things the idea is they visualize success,” said Heppler. “If you can’t see yourself doing something I think it’s really hard to do it. So we’ve held those guys’ accomplishments out in front of them.”
While exposing the youngsters to the program’s storied past — that’s in addition to the exposure that’s seen every weekend on television with PGA winners like Matt Kuchar, Stewart Cink and Bryce Molder among others — Heppler felt no need to expose his charges to the competition, which this weekend includes National No. 1 Texas.
“I think in golf the worst thing you can do is talk about all that stuff because we’re not playing Texas,” he said. “It’s the No. 1 team in the country but I can’t go tackle them, they can’t tackle them, they can’t block their shots. We just have to play the University of Oklahoma golf course the best we can for three days. You’ve got to focus in on what you can control and in golf that’s not your opponent. They know who’s there but we really don’t talk about it.”
Most important for the Jackets is to know themselves.
“Do the same thing that I’ve been doing all year,” said Andrews. “I went to ACCs, I hadn’t played in that. So just kind of take the same mentality and try to do the best we can. If we do great, great. If we don’t that’s that. We’ll just go out there, do the best that we can and try to win.
“I think we actually have a pretty young team but [assistant] Coach [Christian] Newton and Coach Heppler help us a lot in how to handle situations,” he added. “Just playing a lot of qualifying. That kind of gets you ready for tournaments and ready to be in situations that you’re not used to. That’s probably helped our maturity.”
Albertson and Schniederjans played in a U.S. Open qualifier on Monday, a move Heppler felt would get his freshmen back in the swing for the Regional.
The Jackets shot +2 on the first day, finishing eighth, 11 shots behind Texas and Florida State but only four out of fifth, the cut-off for qualifying. White was Tech’s highest individual finisher, shooting a -3, 69, sitting in a five-way tie for fifth.
The performance led Heppler to go to the whip a little.
“Not a good finish for our guys today,” he said. “Good scores were doable, but we had some misfortune, a few double-bogeys on the back side. We’ve got some work to do in the next two days, so we’re looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow.”
It’s his version of tough love, but sometimes that’s necessary in handling kids and no one does it better than Heppler.
The message got through, as in Day Two, the Jackets shot a collective -2 to pull even for the tournament. While they were still nine shots back of front-running Washington, they were in fifth place and had a three-shot edge for the final spot over host Oklahoma. Werenski shot -1, six shots better than Day One, while Schniederjans (-3) and Andrews (even) were three strokes better. Albertson (+4) and White (+2) struggled, but are more than capable of a big final day.
The key heading into the final day will be staying loose, as loose as they were going in.
“I’m very excited,” said Andrews, earlier in the week. “We have a great trip ahead of us, a great group of guys going. We’re going to play as well as we can, fight hard and we’re looking forward to some competitive days out there in Oklahoma.”
Sounds like something someone young, fearless and poised to take that next step might say.