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Interview with Head Coach Bruce Heppler

Feb. 3, 2009

You return eight of your nine players from last year’s team and have added two highly-regarded freshmen. How does that depth benefit you in building a travel squad?

“If you look at the results from the fall, a bunch of different guys played. That’s when you kind of push everybody. If the depth stays at home, you don’t get much out of it. I think we saw a small benefit in the fall, and will see a lot of it in the spring looking at the Hawai’i line-up with two freshmen going over there. I think you will start to see the push as we move though the year.”

Your team begins this spring ranked No. 10 in the nation, which is not an unusual position for your program. How do you keep this program consistently among the nation’s best?

“That has to do with expectations. You just set your expectations so high that if you get anywhere near that, then you are ranked in the top ten. You just instill that in your guys about winning the national championship and winning the ACC. You don’t build towards that, there is no such thing as rebuilding or building, it’s just the way the program is. With that mindset, winning is what you are supposed to do, and you are supposed to be ranked in the top ten, and hopefully psychologically, it pays off.”

Last year your team did not advance out of the NCAA Regional for the first time in 11 years. How did that set with your players, and what issues did you feel you needed to address as a result?

“It was extremely disappointing. Hopefully the players took it harder than I did. But, I think as we thought about it and talked about it after the event, even in the hotel in Columbus, that we need to be a little bit different people. We need to be a little harder to discourage. I think we played nine bad holes in [the NCAA regional], and it cost us. I think that says a lot about the depth of college golf. If you just give in for nine holes on a tough day, it can be the end of the year. We needed to come back with more of a resolve, stay positive through an entire round, deal with adversity better, and maybe we learned a lesson that will pay off this year.”

Your team seemed to get stronger as the fall went along. How did your players perform in the recent qualifying tournament, and do you feel you have your six best players going to Hawaii?

“I thought we were more competitive. I thought there were some things that we were better at because of it. Chesson didn’t play up to his capabilities. As you look to the spring, if he can regain the results that got him through the fall workout and being that type of player, then the younger guys playing, I think we could really improve a lot from the fall, and the fall may be better than it actually looked.

“I think the six that are going over (to Hawai’i) to this point have proven that they were the top six or seven on the team. Ming (Wang) had a top-20 finish in the fall and was terrific. James had a nice tournament in Macon as he got started. I think they won’t be as nervous. They’ve been around school now for a semester. Now they are playing in their third event, plus the experience that the other guys have. I really feel like the direction we are heading in is really positive.”

Cameron Tringale has had a terrific career for you, yet he played better in the fall than he did in past years. What do you expect from him this spring?

“The world is coming for Cameron, and now the world is halfway there. In June, it comes for him and he’s got to be ready, and that takes a different type of commitment to be a professional and do those things and get away from school. I think Cameron struggled in the past, because I think he ran out of gas a little bit. He has played so hard for us for six months and then goes into his summer golf. The interest level is hard to maintain that for twelve months a year. I think he realizes that player of the year honors and those types of things start in August and September now, and he had a great fall, and if they are better than what his springs have been in the past then he is going to have a great year.”

One of the more interesting stories on your team is the development of David Dragoo, who is only 5-foot-6, 124 pounds, lefthanded and came to you from Arizona. How has he managed to become a regular part of your lineup?

“What sold us on David was that he would give his all. He would be very conscientious and be able to move from one thing to the next as he moved from his school work to his practices. He can compartmentalize those things, and be organized, and therefore have the time he needed to improve. He kind of got knocked around early on, and I think it hurt his confidence, but he continued to take care of his business. Dave would be the poster child for being responsible, being persistent, and all of a sudden his conscientious practice and his conscientious efforts with his schoolwork have created a very confident guy.

“He has worked on a few things with his game, but for the most part, it’s the same game that he showed up with. He just now believes that, and I think what he has learned is that you just have to believe in the process, not the results. First couple years, it was all results-based self-esteem and finally we convinced him that, `Look, Dave, the effort is there.’ I think once he bought into that, he really does a great job. That’s when you start to see the results come and now the results are beginning to stack on top of that, and he is a pretty confident guy.”

What’s your opinion on the new NCAA post-season format (54 holes of stroke play, with the top eight teams engaging in match play to determine the team champion)?

“I’m a huge proponent of it. We were the only championship without a bracket. Everybody gets brackets, and we would play along for four days, and all of a sudden somebody would win the tournament. There’s no news on the ticker, it’s anybody versus anybody. We’ve played in a match play tournament in the past. I don’t think I have ever seen our guys as intense as when we played Georgia or Oklahoma State or a team of that caliber. I think it may not create a lot of media attention, but I know when those guys tee it up, and it’s me versus you and us versus them. It’s going to be a better experience for the players. The winning and losing is going to be right in front of them. So I think for the players, it is going to be the best thing we have ever done.”

Will match play make the finals more interesting to watch, easier to follow, both for fans at the course and potentially for TV?

“I think the casual fans understand brackets, and we didn’t have any. So it may take a little while. Initially, it may just be an experience for the players, but I think over time it will be easier to cover for television. Obviously we are spread over 200 acres, so it’s going to be more focused the last couple of the days, plus the media attention of who advances. I think it is going to enhance our sport.”

Are six regionals (15 teams playing for five spots in each) better than three (27 teams playing for 10 spots in each) in terms of advancing to the finals?

“It’s a bit of a give and a take. Any one who plays golf would want to play for more slots. If you want to qualify for the U.S. Open, you want to go where the tour is playing for more 30 spots instead of two. The odds are better. But having run two of those, to be able and have the golf course be grinding and do all that work for 12-13 hours a day over three days – that’s difficult. Now everybody will play in the same weather. You don’t get the shaft a little bit on the rain or the wind or the cold because everybody is playing at the same time. I think the tournaments will be run better. I think they will be better experiences for the student-athletes. But, you used to play for ten spots, and now you are playing for five. And no one would tell you, that’s a good deal, but I think overall if you look at the give and take it will be a much better experience for the players.”

Your players have performed very well academically over the years – at least one or two All-American Scholars each year, several players on the ACC All-Academic team, the majority on the Tech Dean’s List each semester. How important is that to you, and to them?

“Well for me, it is a bit of a backdrop as to who I am. I may not be very talented, but I am well educated. When Homer Rice decided to hire an assistant coach to run this program, I think part of it is the fact that I had an advanced degree. I think to work here, if you don’t appreciate academics, it becomes a really difficult job. When they leave this school, it is a great place and a great education, and they can control that. We can get them graduated. They can graduate themselves. The professional thing, that comes and goes. The degree from Georgia Tech is worth a fortune. That is something that we can control, so we try to focus on that a lot.

“To me, two of the greatest accomplishments that I’ve had as a head coach is to have Bryce Molder and Roberto Castro both win the NCAA Top VIII award. That’s as big as winning a NCAA championship, because it takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and that’s an elite crowd. It’s what we do every day, it’s what we try to do, because it’s something we can contro,l and you need to worry about those things.

You have relationships and playing privileges for your team at some very fine local facilities – The Golf Club of Georgia and East Lake Golf Club, among others. How important are those in the recruitment and development of your players?

“It’s great, because we have membership privileges because we have joined and paid our way. The great thing about those facilities is they don’t have a lot of rounds played. So when our guys leave school, or leave class, or their papers are done, there is not a long line of folks standing in line to play. They are great facilities, and we have access to them when the players need them – on weekends, or the times when they can do their stuff. We can get on because we paid our way and they don’t have an extensive amount of play. The other great thing about them is the shot values that you have to hit to be successful there. Those two golf courses are the quality of PGA Tour venues. For someone to be able to go do that, play at a place where the tour is chosen to finish the year, the shot values, the way you have to play, I think the kids are ready for that. Between the access, and the fact of how difficult they are, and what’s required of you as a player to be successful on those types of courses, I think that bodes well and is probably part of the reason why our players have gone on and done so well after school.”

What are the benefits of hosting a top collegiate event like the United States Collegiate every year?

“I guess the first one is that it is not an event that you have to get on a plane and go somewhere, so you save some guys some time. The other thing is as a coach you feel like you need to give back, and if I make the effort to have one really nice event during the year with a lot of quality teams, then others will do the same thing and you end up with a real quality schedule. It’s a great test, you bring in great players, let our guys go against them every chance they get, and to show that club on a national stage is important to myself and to Jeff Paton, who is the director of golf there. That was kind of the whole idea behind that tournament.”

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