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Owning His Game

May 14, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

As Georgia Tech tees off today in an NCAA golf regional, the Yellow Jackets will roll out ACC Player of the Year Ollie, who by himself would serve as a shining explaining how this program has come to be elite.

Do not think, however, that this team is simply Ollie and the Acolytes.

Four scores will count each day from Thursday-Saturday, and without Seth Reeves, the Jackets are not ranked No. 2 nationally in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index and No. 5 by Golfstat.

Schniederjans has won a school-record five events this school year, including three stacked back-to-back-to-back. He has become top shelf, and is a bona-fide candidate for national player of the year honors.

The Jackets are the top seed at the Lonnie Poole Golf Course in Raleigh, N.C., nearly as much for the rebound of Reeves, who has won two tournaments this season while in a year’s time going from not making Tech’s postseason squad to a role as the Jackets’ No. 2 man.

His bounce-back began one year ago – mere weeks after he bottomed out.

In April of 2013, Reeves did not make Tech’s travel team prior to the ACC Championship. Given head coach Bruce Heppler’s tendency to move forward into NCAA regional and (usually) national play with the same five-some that handles the ACCs, Reeves was crushed.

Four years in the program, one as a redshirt, and he had no postseason to his credit.

Reeves is quite a thinker, and he went to Heppler and assistant Brennan Webb not only to unload his thoughts but seek theirs.

The result was a revelation that has driven him to a No. 23 national ranking (Schniederjans is No. 3). Their advice was simple: Go be Seth Reeves.

“I kind of went to them for help because I was pretty discouraged about not getting picked to the postseason team, but Coach (Heppler) has always been there for me and the same with Coach Webb,” he said. “I sat down with Coach and Coach Webb and realized that I had to take ownership of my game and the way I want to play.

“I wanted to make postseason because I had never done it before, and after their advice, I have played the way I need to play.”

Heppler chooses his travel squad in a variety of ways.

Typically, there will be 108-hole playoffs early in the season (the fall) and sometimes into the spring. The five top scorers get on the bus.

Sometimes, two or three players will have a 54-hole playoff for one or two spots.

Other times, as before last year’s ACCs, Heppler will pick the fifth golfer based on national rankings. At the time, Reeves was slotted below freshman Michael Hines, so Hines went to the ACCs.

“The last tournament of the year [before ACCs] was sort of a qualifier for three of us, and I played really bad,” he recalled. “[Heppler] took the highest five ranked guys . . . I had separated myself on the wrong end of the deal, and I don’t think we had time for qualifying.

“I was the odd man out. I had assumed that I had zero percent chance of making regionals or nationals. I was off the team, basically.”

Hines, who redshirted this season, struggled in the ACCs, where the Jackets slipped to fourth place on the final day after winning four consecutive conference titles previously.

Concerned about Hines’ state of mind, and encouraged by the prospect of the Reeves-Heppler-Webb council meeting producing a better brand of golfer, the head coach arranged a 54-hole playoff between Hines and Reeves to pick the fifth regional competitor.

They played one round each at the Atlanta Athletic Club, the Capital City Club’s Crabapple course and the Golf Club of Georgia.

Reeves had traveled this path before; two years earlier Schniederjans beat him in a 54-hole playoff to earn the final spot for the 2012 ACCs.

A change had taken place, however. For Reeves, there would be no more trying to play like someone else, nor fold the playing styles of others into his own game.

He beat Hines, helped Tech pass through a brutal regional in Tallahassee, and finished 13th in stroke play at the NCAA championships to earn All-America honors for a squad that lost in the national match play semifinals to eventual champion Alabama.

It came down to that ownership. Reeves has assets, and the lanky, left-handed Duluth native went about playing to his strengths.

Heppler and Webb had set him straight. “The golf swing is very complex and there are so many different ways to play. I was always searching for a better way to play and I was constantly tweaking and changing things,” Reeves explained. “My game is a long game. I’m not going to be the most accurate because I hit it so long, maybe sort of similar to Bubba Watson.

“[Heppler and Webb] said, `It’s OK to seek advice, but you have to own your game.’ I have to play the way that is best for me, and make decisions that are best for me. Walking out of there I felt at ease. For the longest time, I just didn’t trust my game. Then, I was told to trust myself and my instincts.”

Last summer brought more positive results.

With his second career win at the Southeastern Amateur, and a tie for seventh in the stroke play portion of the Western Amateur (where he advanced to the match play quarterfinals), the Reeves roll was underway.

After tying for 27th in the stroke play portion of the U.S. Amateur, he beat Walker Cup member Jordan Niebrugge in the first round before bowing out.

There were other solid summer performances as well – all reinforcing his modified mindset and approach.

“From [NCAA regionals] on, I won a tournament over the summer and had some solid finishes, and played well at Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur and those are two of the best tournaments in the world,” said the recent business management graduate.

“I realized that I have the game to play with anybody. It’s kind of a relaxed confidence. I’ve started to play more like I’m capable of playing. I’m not there yet. I have a lot more.”

Tech will take it.

Reeves’ 71.13 stroke average this school year is second on the team to Schniederjans’ 69.73. His record of 675-125 (.844) also trails only Schniederjans (755-65, .921).

After opening the fall season with back-to-back 74s in the Carpet Capital Collegiate, Reeves fired a 67 – the first of seven consecutive competitive rounds under par. In consecutive outings, he won the Tar Heel Intercollegiate and tied for medalist honors at the Brickyard Collegiate.

In his past two outings, he finished third at the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate at Ohio State (Schniederjans won), and tied for seventh at the ACCs (Schniederjans won, Anders Albertson finished second) even after opening with a 74.

“Yeah, it’s funny . . . I think I’ve played pretty well but because of what Ollie’s doing, it’s kind of been nice to not get noticed,” Reeves said. “I’m not doing anything crazy. For me, it’s just been a year of confidence.”

It has been a year, exactly.

As Reeves, Schniederjans, Albertson, Bo Andrews and Richard Werenski go about the task of finishing in the top five of the Raleigh regional in order to qualify for NCAAs May 23-28 at the Prairie Dunes Golf Club in Hutchinson, Kan., Reeves does not find himself amazed by himself.

Yet he marvels over the abilities of Heppler – the ACC Coach of the Year — to help straighten the steering wheel.

“I think what makes Coach such a good coach, and why he’s in the Hall of Fame is because he has the ability to realize what each person needs at that moment because golf is such a mental sport,” Reeves said. “Coach sees an opportunity to build someone up.

“There are some guys who need to have a talking to and Coach needs to get onto them about something. And there are players more like me who – I’m hard enough on myself. I don’t need Coach to get on me; I need him to encourage me. For him to be able to distinguish is pretty remarkable.”

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