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Mental Notes

Sept. 22, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

The golf team will leave today for Iowa, and there will be some changes. Freshman Anders Albertson, for example, will look to pick up where he left off and leave off where he picked up.

This may make sense in a moment.

This time a year ago, the Golfweek tournament was at Oklahoma State, a preview for the NCAA championships. This go-round, the folks at L.A.’s Riviera Country Club – site of next spring’s NCAA championships – don’t want to host a preview. The snooties off of Sunset Blvd. are not rolling out the green carpet, so . . . to Burlington, Iowa, the Yellow Jackets go for the Golfweek Conference Challenge.

Tech, as the conference champion, will represent the ACC, but the Jackets will not be represented by the same five golfers who combined for a third-place finish a few weeks ago in the season-opening Carpet Capital Challenge outside Dalton.

Albertson, fellow freshman Ollie Schniederjans, sophomores Bo Andrews and Seth Reeves and senior James White will swing `em for Tech, White being new to [this season’s] lineup.

He was Tech’s ace much of last season, but didn’t qualify to travel a few weeks ago after waffling through 99 holes of qualifying in foreign fashion. Apparently offended by that result, the All-American blew away his teammates by 11 strokes in qualifying in the latest laps around the links.

Back to Albertson, the new guy who rolled out a collegiate debut to be envied by just about any measured evaluator. He finished tied for third in Dalton, and better yet he improved gradually as he went.

That’ll be the goal again, and hopefully the lad from Acworth won’t have to make such dramatic improvement as he goes. He opened with a 74 in Dalton, and followed with scores of 70 and 67. So here’s to using his ending as a beginning. If he can again then follow the gradual improvement track … look out.

In college golf, at least when the big boys get together, most players have most shots. They don’t all know as well as one another when to use them, though, and some players shrink in certain moments where others rise.

The idea of practicing shots seems easy enough to grasp.

But given that gray matter separates the good golfers from the really good and great ones, how does one practice that part of the game?

“You have to know what your game,” Albertson said. “If … I don’t try to play like somebody I’m not, I’m not going to bomb it 340, that’s what I have to do. “It’s tough. You can’t just sit on the range and practice your mental game. Before rounds, I write out my mental thoughts, what I need to work on in preparation for the round and during the round.”

This process, or those similar to it, differs from one golfer to the next. Some suffer or thrive in relative silence. Others seek outside input. Albertson has tapped head coach Bruce Heppler and associate head coach Christian Newton.

“My coaches help out a lot, in one-on-one conversations. They’ve been around the game a long time. They’ve definitely helped me improve as far as what I’m thinking on and off the course,” the freshman said. “They’ve watched us play a lot of golf. They know what we’re doing well and what we’re doing poorly.

“They’re not, you know, sports psychologists, but they’ve been around the game a long time and they know what the best players are doing, and how they got there. As a freshman, I want to get there. I pick their brains.”

It’s up to Albertson to make the shots.

The mental part of his game is chiefly his responsibility, too, but just as he has sought physical coaching over the years, and still does, he has picked brains for quite a few years as well.

Albertson said he has read up on psychological approaches to golf, although he rarely goes that route any more. Real-time experience is his No. 1 instructor.

“I’ve been in a lot of situations,” he said. “The more events you play, the stronger mentally you get.”

Once a round begins, Albertson said he manages his mind. Heppler and Newton may be of help on strategy or even a minor mechanical issue, but the brain game is his to play once he drives that first tee shot.

“With coach, I might ask him where I should hit it, where do I need to be?” he said. “And I’ll talk to him after the tournament, after a round, about what I need to improve. Once on the course, you’re kind of in your own little world.”

I’m in my own little world when I golf, too, but I imagine it to be a darker place than the one Albertson and the Jackets inhabit. There are demons there. How about you?

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