Sept. 25, 2009
by Matt Winkeljohn, Managing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA
ATLANTA – Chesson Hadley went skidding into a ditch last year, which by itself was no surprise because all athletes hit rough patches.
When he stayed there, though, his wheels spinning as if in mud, you couldn’t help but wonder: what’s going on here?
A young golfer doesn’t go from honorable mention All-America the spring of his freshman year to first team All-America as a sophomore to struggling to make the travel squad as junior. He didn’t qualify for Georgia Tech’s first tournament this fall, either, before making this weekend’s travel team.
Unless there’s a serious injury, or a wreck between the ears, this kind of thing just doesn’t happen.
The diagnosis for the senior: Hadley was doubly afflicted. As he careened off course, his heart was breaking. Then, his psyche – a golfer’s bullet-proof vest – went poof!
“I had a very serious girlfriend back home in Raleigh (N.C.), and it was really, really hard leaving that summer  because we had grown so close,” he said. “When I got down here, my golf game had deteriorated. I lost it. Every bad shot that I hit ripped out what gas I had left. I was running on empty every single swing.”
Something of a late signee from North Raleigh Christian Academy in ’06, Hadley was slow to warm up at Tech. There was little special about his fall season.
In the spring, he came close to aces, finishing in the top 10 in his final three events (ninth at the ACC Championships, seventh in the NCAA East Regional and then tied for fourth in the NCAA Championship, four shots out of the lead).
Sophomore season, he took off. You don’t lead the ACC in stroke average (71.09), have all 29 of your rounds in a season count toward the team score, put together eight straight top 10 finishes, spend time ranked No. 1 in the nation by Golfweek/Sagarin and end up the only Tech golfer under par for the season (-23) without knowing what you’re doing.
Then, Hadley forgot. His junior ranking? No. 129.
When his teammates were in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas, he was in Atlanta, failing to qualify to travel. “Embarrasing,” he recalls.
His girlfriend, Amanda Geer, had graduated from North Carolina and was home in Raleigh.
That was a big problem about to get worse.
“As badly as I wanted to be with her, our relationship started to go downhill last year at Thanksgiving,” Hadley said. “We broke up Dec. 27, a week before I went back to school and she was moving down here to take an internship.”
The flailing continued in the spring.
“Even with her being here, I couldn’t talk to her. I could not mentally and physically handle it. I totally shut her out of my life. Despite how much she meant to me, we never could have been friends as bad as that sounds,” he said. “I felt like I had to do something. I was either going to get involved in all the typical bad influences that there are…”
Or, he was going to grab hold of his life. “I went to a Christian school growing up, and I just really made that the focus of what I do every day all the time,” he explained. “That’s what really made it bearable. In January and February, I was as miserable as in the fall.”
Having played since he was a tot, when he’d take a cut-down 9-iron out and hack it around with his father, the game was for months foreign to Hadley, who explained: “In March through the first couple weeks in April, I was doing a lot better, I really learned balance. I was creating independence to where I’m able to separate golf and Amanda.”
Indeed, over time, the fog cleared. With an 11th-place finish in the U.S. Collegiate, and a third-place finish in mid April, he moved back on course.
“I’ve always had huge dreams. Be the best, be on [the PGA] Tour, win on Tour consistently, win majors,” he said. “I finished third at ACCs and had a chance to win. I thought things were starting to turn the corner.”
Guess who called?
“[Geer] was down here the weekend after ACCs, and she sent me a text,” Hadley said. “It said she was with some of her friends I knew, and she said, `I’d love to get together and see you.’ I was like, `I don’t think so.’ I was borderline rude.”
Ms. Geer, though, was persistent.
“A week and a half went by, and I get on Facebook. They have this instant message feature. I tried to sign off, but she sent a message before I could,” Hadley said. “She said, `I’d really like to talk to you when you get back to Raleigh.’ I told her I don’t want that; it wouldn’t be healthy for me.”
Geer kept pushing. They agreed to meet once classes ended at Tech, where Hadley is on track to graduate in May with a management degree: “I’m trying to study for exams and getting all giddy thinking this girl’s going to give me another chance.”
Golf went south again this summer for Hadley, who described it thusly, “Actually, it was awful.”
But… there is hope. He appears to be getting traction again, saying he’s erased many poor habits.
The management major (on track to graduate next year) didn’t play two weeks ago in the Carpet Capital Collegiate in Dalton (Ga.), where the Jackets finished third. Yet he’ll be playing this weekend in the Mason Rudolph Classic in Nashville, hosted by Vanderbilt (which is coached by ’91 Tech graduate Tom Hall).
The Jackets will be one of 17 teams in the tournament named for a former Tennessee golfing great whose older brother, the late Jake Rudolph, made the $125,000 tackle for Georgia Tech in a 1952 win over the Crimson Tide that sent the Jackets onto the Sugar Bowl, where Bobby Dodd’s team would secure a national title.
In fact, Hadley finished second in Tech’s 54-hole qualifying tournament at 8-under par. Kyle Scott led the way at -10.
“It’s funny how things work out. We talked and Amanda and I got back together April 30, and… we’re engaged now,” he said. “It was perfect, such a God thing. It was the most miserable four months and three days of my life, but it’s really, really great now.”