April 26, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
It’s not often you’re at home on the road, unless you playing for Georgia Tech’s golf team in the ACC Championships at the North State Club at Uwharrie Point up in North Carolina.
The Yellow Jackets Sunday won their 12th conference golf title, and six of those crowns have come on that track about an hour north of Charlotte. Tech has won back-to-back ACC titles there, four of the past five and fired 12 consecutive sub-par rounds there so that’s not much of a road trip.
Head Coach Bruce Heppler said it’s not just that his team charters a flight to the site that makes the Jackets comfortable, but that the squad’s memberships at East Lake Country Club and the Golf Club of Georgia help their practice so much that playing a course with lightning-fast greens is like practice.
He hardly seemed surprised by Tech’s 23-under-par 841, which was 13 strokes better than Virginia, or that senior Chesson Hadley took medalist honors with a 10-under 206. Hadley, though, owes teammate James White a big assist for the way he negotiated the greens over the weekend.
“We benefit so greatly playing at East Lake,” Heppler said of the home of the PGA Tour Championship. “The other teams can’t handle it. It’s like they’re used to playing on mud and you put them on a hockey rink. And between the 36 holes at the Golf Club, and East Lake, we see it all regularly.”
You’d never have guessed from last weekend’s results, but Tech’s pre-ACC team analysis was muddled. The Jackets played middle of the pack in nearly every tournament, junior John-Tyler Griffin leading the way, James White generally running second, and a gamut of players falling in line thereafter.
The third score sometimes would be solid, sometimes not, and only rarely did Tech score well in the fourth spot Yet this squad won the ACC going away.
How? Well, for starters, Griffin finished fifth for Tech at the ACCs and White fourth, and although neither shot down to their usual standards, they didn’t shame themselves. This means teammates played their tails off.
“Paul Haley came along,” Heppler said. “If you look at their individual records, they’ve all had some high finishes individually. What it shows you is that each of them when they’re good, they can win. We had just never matched them up [in the same tournament]. Chesson has been playing really well.
“If he plays the way he can, we’re really good. Paul Haley just keeps getting better. You have your fifth guy finishing fourth [in the ACC], you’re good.”
Hadley had starred in this and other tournaments before, but . . . he found a girlfriend a few years ago, and struggled to balance that relationship with golf and school.
An All-America selection as a sophomore, he struggled to make the travel team as a junior, last fall and even early this spring. He’d played steadily of late, and White may have recently pushed the Raleigh, N.C., native over the top.
“[Hadley] has really worked on his ball striking, but he couldn’t make a thing [on the greens],” Heppler said. “We were out, had a practice [a week ago] Saturday, and James, who’s a really, really good putter, watched him miss eight-footer after eight-footer. James said, `Dude, you need to try this.’ He made one adjustment to his set-up, and James said, `Just rock your shoulders.’
“Chesson had a hard time keeping his wrists and hands out of his stroke. All of the sudden, you didn’t recognize the guy putting.”
Hadley figured something out.
He finished two strokes clear of everybody, and wrapped up his ACC career having never shot above par in the ACC Championships. He shot scores of 69, 66 and 71 last weekend.
The Jackets are accustomed to standing out during in the ACCs.
That charter flight the golf team takes into a tiny northern North Carolina airport helps.
“It’s the one real treat for [players] every year,” Heppler said. “If we fly into Charlotte and do the rental car thing, it ends up being like a five-and-a-half hour trip. We fly into an airport about 10 minutes away, and get back in time for the kids to go to school Monday. All those Carolina school have a short commute. I figure this is the closest thing to making it a fair fight.
“We have a fund-raiser every fall to supplement the way we travel. I like winning, and this is one of the two goals we have every year. If you can dominate, it helps recruiting, makes the boosters happy, and I know that coach Radakovich loves winning ACC championships. In this part of the world, winning the ACC is almost as big as the big one.”
That would be Tech’s other goal, the NCAA championship.