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On A Roll

May 3, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

There’s mojo, and then there’s whatever Paul Haley has. Let’s review:

• The Georgia Tech senior has been steady over the past couple seasons, but was fast approaching the end of his college golf career without a tournament win to his name. What happens? He takes medalist honors in his last-ever regular season event (The Yellow Jacket Classic) and then wins the ACC title.

• Monday, he was named outright ACC golfer of the month for April.

• It’s finals week at Tech, but he has none.

• Sunday, he graduates, taking a degree in management.

• Monday or Tuesday, he’ll move back home to Dallas, Texas, and soon decide whether to play amateurs for a while, or turn pro this summer.

That is a roll, not unlike the 15-footer he dropped on the 54th and final hole of the ACC Championship 10 days ago to win by a single stroke over teammate Kyle Scott – who’d eagled the previous hole and birdied No. 18/54.

Ah, it’s good to be Paul Haley right now. You don’t do what he’s done without skills, yet he says brainpower is the key to his glide.

“Oh, it’s probably 100 percent mental,” Haley said Tuesday as he took a break from practicing short work. “You kind of get things rolling and the confidence builds. I’ve been able to take confidence from the practice range to the course.”

To be sure, practice has been a big part of Haley’s success, but one could make the argument that his approach to practice has most benefitted his game. It’s helped his brain.

The guy is a maestro with a wedge or high iron in his hands. What’s the old saying in sport? Practice the most the skills at which you excel the least?

Somebody said that.

Haley, though, recently went the other way and found a psychological payoff.

“I really got wrapped up in my golf swing, and that kind of hindered me because I’m really good around the greens; that’s the strength of my game,” he said. “The last couple months I’ve completely gotten away from hitting balls and I’ve just really focused on my short game because that’s where the scoring clubs are.”

Score he has, and it’s not like the long ball has been hurting Haley of late even though he’s over-working his short game.

“The second I did that it was like my ball-striking got better without even working on it,” he said. “I think it’s a combination of practicing inside 100 yards and when you do that it takes a lot of pressure off your tee-to-green game because you don’t have to hit 16 greens to shoot under par.

“My ball-striking stats at the ACCs were good but they weren’t off the charts. But my up-and-downs around the greens were probably 85-90 percent. If I feel like I can get it up and down from a trash can, that’s going to take a lot of pressure off my long game.”

This re-vamped mindset showed up on the next-to-last hole in the ACC championships. He had just a one shot lead over Scott, and, “you look from the tee box and there’s water all down the left and you pretty much know if you go right you’re not going to get par.”

After making the mistake of allowing those thoughts to creep into his head before teeing off, Haley stepped back, re-calibrated, and instead dwelled on the notion that no harm was about to come.

You know how it turned out; he won.

“I try to separate myself from thinking about what I’m going to shoot and think instead about what I can do to get ready,” he said. “If I do everything I can to get ready for a tournament, the odds are it’s not going to be that bad.”

Tech’s odds are on the rise.

The Jackets will learn Monday what NCAA regional they will play in. They’re on a collective roll that has become like a tsunami as they’ve plowed to wins by 17 and 20 strokes in their last two outings. More often than not, the Jackets are playing offensive golf rather than defensive.

“You almost feel left out if you shoot a 73 or 74 because our team is so good,” Haley said. “So nobody is really worried about playing bad anymore. That’s how you get a strong team . . . and we proved it last week with 33-under par.

“Everybody is feeding off each other. J.T. [John-Tyler Griffin] and Kyle have been playing great all year, James [White] has won twice. Richie [Richard Werenski] played well in spurts, and everybody realizes how good we are. Proof came last week. James finished No. 4 (among the Jackets), and he’s been playing No. 1 pretty much all year.”

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