Jan. 30, 2008
ATLANTA – After beginning the fall season having little grasp on how his team might perform, head coach Bruce Heppler now enters the spring much more confident in his Yellow Jacket team.
Led by sophomore Chesson Hadley, the Jackets finished second at the season-ending Callaway Golf Match Play Championship, posted third-place finishes at the Carpet Capital Collegiate and Brickyard Collegiate tournaments, and finished sixth at the Isleworth-UCF Collegiate, all against top-caliber competition.
Heppler’s team will go to its traditional spring opener on the Big Island in Hawaii ranked No. 5 in the nation, according to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, this despite having only one player ranked higher than No. 82 individually.
That would be Hadley, who at No. 5 in the rankings has put together a very strong run of golf since this time last year, when he finished 18th at Waikoloa in his collegiate debut. To say Hadley has carried the Jackets since then would not be entirely accurate, but he developed into the rock-solid foundation they need at the top of the lineup.
Beginning with a tie for ninth, as Tech captured its second straight Atlantic Coast Conference title, Hadley has reeled off six consecutive top-10 finishes in team stroke-play events. The Raleigh, N.C., native began the fall by winning the Carpet Capital Collegiate by three shots. He followed with a sixth-place effort at the Brickyard and a tie for fifth at Isleworth, then won two of four matches at the Callaway Match Play and tied for 16th at the Western Refining College All-America Classic.
“The fundamental changes that he made last November have allowed him to drive the ball more consistently,” said Heppler. “He made a couple fundamental changes in his golf swing that have allowed him to become much more consistent, and he is in every round.
Hadley matched or broke par in 10 of his 12 rounds in the fall, and has done so in 18 of 22 rounds since the ACC Championship last spring, compiling a stroke average of 70.22 over that stretch.
Nearly forgotten in Hadley’s remarkable run of success is the fact that the Yellow Jackets also have a two-time, second-team All-American on their roster in Cameron Tringale. The junior from Laguna Niguel, Calif., ranked No. 148 nationally, spent the fall recovering from a poor start at the Carpet Capital Collegiate, but tied for third at the Brickyard.
Tringale comes into the spring with 12 top-10 finishes in 28 career events. He led the Jackets in stroke average last year (71.45) by a hair over senior All-American Roberto Castro, finished second at the ACC Championship and tied for ninth at the NCAA Championship.
Heppler was also encouraged by the fall performance of junior Taylor Hall, a top junior player when he entered Tech who has shown flashes of brilliance during his career, but never logged back-to-back top-20 finishes until this fall.
The LaGrange, Ga., native had only one top-20 finish each of his first two years, but posted the Yellow Jackets’ second-best stroke average in the fall (72.89). He tied for 14th at the Brickyard and 20th at Isleworth, won all four of his matches at the Callaway Match Play event, and is ranked No. 82 in the Sagarin Index.
When Hadley and Tringale are both playing well, and if Hall continues the consistently good play he showed in the fall, the Jackets can be formidable.
“I think we are a top team if that happens, because I think there is enough push in Taylor’s development to become more consistent,” said Heppler. “When you get two guys on the lead in a tournament, unless somebody has four guys or five guys really having a great week, that’s when you see teams win by 20, and then we will be in every tournament.”
Heppler utilized five other players to fill out the Yellow Jackets’ travel squads this fall, with only incoming freshman William Miller (mononucleosis) unable to see any action. The 13th-year head coach will need solid contributions from at least two of these players each week.
The top performers among that group were red-shirt freshman Paul Haley and junior David Dragoo, each of whom played in three events. Haley, from Dallas, Texas, had the team’s fourth-best stroke average (74.33) and posted a high finish of 23rd at the Carpet Capital Collegiate. Dragoo, from Scottsdale, Ariz., finished just outside the top 20 twice and averaged 74.67 for nine rounds.
Also in the mix are junior Adam Cohan (Wayne, Pa.), sophomore Daniel Bowden (Easley, S.C.) and red-shirt freshman John Tyler Griffin (Wilson, N.C.). Each of them played in two fall events without much success and only two subpar rounds out of a combined 18. Miller, the 23rd-ranked junior player last year from Venetia, Pa., will compete for a spot on the travel squad for Hawaii and attempt to duplicate Hadley’s rise of last spring.
As usual, though, all five spots are up for grabs for the first tournament in Hawaii, which will begin Feb. 7.
“We have a whole half a year to go. Who goes home and sits and eats turkey and watches TV and eats doughnuts, versus the guy that is out there working he is going to have a chance to make up some ground here,” said Heppler. “I have just always done it that way. If you didn’t play well to [make the travel squad], what’s going to change when you get on that plane? Now Cameron would argue that he barely made it his freshman year, the last guy on the trip, and turned around and played great. But he still made the five-man team and qualified to be there.”