May 27, 2011
By Jon Cooper
It’s safe to assume that everybody on the Georgia Tech Golf Team had fun on its Friday afternoon trip to Six Flags.
Assistant Coach Christian Newton had a fun day and he was nowhere near the park.
“I’m headed out to Arizona recruiting this weekend, so I’m trying to catch a plane,” he said. “I’m going to meet the team in Oklahoma on Sunday night.”
Trying to beat the traffic on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Fun! Fun! Fun!
Yet, from the tone of his voice as he talked about his weekend, it’s doubtful Newton would have traded places with anyone on the team. He probably wouldn’t trade places with anyone in any walk of life.
“Recruiting is the lifeblood of what we do,” said the 32-year-old native of Lyons, Ga., who played his collegiate golf at Georgia Southern. “If we don’t have good players, then you can’t coach them. So we’ve got to have good players first.”
Once those good players get to Georgia Tech, they’ll be under the watchful eye of Head Coach Bruce Heppler, renowned as one of the best in the business, as well as Newton, who officially earned that honor for assistant coaches last Monday.
Newton, who was hired as an assistant coach at Georgia Tech on Aug. 1, 2007 after serving as an assistant at his alma mater, Georgia Southern, and at the University of Alabama, was awarded the prestigious Jan Strickland Award, as voted on by the Golf Coaches Association of America. The award is presented by by TaylorMade-adidas.
“It’s obviously an honor,” said Newton, who had been a finalist for the award the previous two years. “There were some great past recipients and there was obviously a nice tour of candidates this year. Just to be recognized for my contributions to Georgia Tech is very special.”
Naming all of those contributions would take a while, as Newton has not only made the job his own, but the equivalent of the job of many others.
“I get to have my hand in a little bit of everything,” he said. “As far as working out with the guys, playing golf with the guys, coaching them, helping with fundraising responsibilities, the recruiting, all the way to helping with some major gifts for fundraising. So I get to do a little bit of everything. That’s probably the thing that I like about my job the most, the variety. There’s no telling what kind of challenge will present itself each day.”
One of Newton’s biggest responsibilities is acting as liaison between Coach Heppler and the players. It requires walking a fine line, but it’s a line he’s become quite adept at walking.
“There’s my relationship with Coach Heppler and then there’s my relationship between myself and the players. I try to bridge the gap between them and try to help break the generation gap as well,” he said. “I’m a little closer to those guys so I help them understand where they’re coming from a little bit, sometimes. Maybe they can bounce some ideas off of me, if there’s something they don’t want to go into the big office with.
“As well as Coach’s and my relationship, I can’t go to him with every single little problem that comes up,” he said. “A lot of the stuff can maybe just stay between me and the players sometimes. It’s up to me to be able to determine does Coach Heppler really need to get involved or is it something I can handle? Both of those relationships,Coach Heppler’s and mine and myself and the players, that’s a constant battle to try not to be too harsh. I always tell them, ‘I don’t want to be your best friend.'”
He is willing to be a confident and a role model.
“I played at Georgia Southern for four years but took a lot of bumps and bruises and learned a lot,” he said. “So the excuse of, ‘They’re young and they’re learning, that’s what it takes to mature,’ that excuse doesn’t fly with me because I’m trying to tell them the mistakes I’ve made. I’m trying to give them a headstart on it.”
How successful he’s been in earning their trust and respect was brought home the day he won the Strickland Award.
“I got a text message from one of our freshmen. He said, ‘Congratulations on the award. I’m so glad that you’re recognized for all you do for us.’ That’s awesome for me,” he said. “To just know that the guys they cared about it and they felt that I was having somewhat of an impact on them. Obviously, that has to be the most rewarding part of the job.”
Suddenly, it’s easier to understand how a plane ride to Arizona can trump Batman the Ride.