Nov. 14, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
Bruce Heppler was a relatively relaxed man the other day, although he still had plenty to say.
Georgia Tech’s golf coach is a different man in the offseason – or in this case the `tween fall and spring seasons – when players are all but turned loose to focus on the first half of the student-athlete label.
There are no tournaments to prepare for, there is a minimum of work being done on players’ games, and he and assistant Christian Newton spend more time on paperwork with some recruiting.
Heppler’s even coaching another sport, working as an assistant with his daughter’s basketball team.
In his 16th year as Tech’s coach, it seems fair to say that he’s in a better frame of mind now than in most previous fall-winter breaks because of the way the autumn season ended, with his squad ranked No. 5 in the nation in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.
When the Jackets won the United States Collegiate Championship Oct. 24-26 over a strong field at the Golf Club of Georgia, the winning was great yet Heppler is looking for greater payoff down the road in how success may have helped set his team up for the more important spring.
“Knowing that there’s not a scoreboard waiting for you probably relieves some of the stress,” said Heppler, whose teams won or shared seven ACC titles in his first 15 years. “Recruiting is [heaviest] in June, July and August, so this would be considered the downtime. [Winning the USCC] was a big deal.
“When you invite those kinds of teams [to the USCC] and have that kind of performance, and I sense a bounce in their steps. I think they thought they were a good team, but that eliminates any doubt. Hopefully, their vision of what they can accomplish in the spring has changed.”
Right now, the Jackets are largely focused on their schoolwork.
At this time of the school year, NCAA rules allow golf coaches eight hours of sport-related work a week as opposed to 20 during the seasons. No more than two hours a week can be spent on skill instruction. In Tech’s case, the bulk of those eight hours are currently spent in the weight room.
And even that has changed. Instead of pre-dawn workouts, the Jackets now lift at 1 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. They’re free to golf if they want. Some do; some don’t. Most of these guys were grinding on golf from about Jan. 15 through Oct. 26, including summer time spent honing skills and playing amateur tournaments.
“Why do Tiger [Woods] and Phil [Mickelson] not want the Tour Championship at the end of the season? Because they’re tired,” Heppler said. “They’re pretty worn out. We give them a chance for five or six weeks to be a regular student, maybe sleep until 7:30 in the morning, maybe take a nap in the afternoon or go to a group project instead of trying to figure out how to make it up.
“We play five or six tournaments in the spring before ACCs, but that’s spread out over several months. The fall is very condensed. You’re playing four times in about seven-and-a-half weeks. Now, they can take tests the way they want to, and if they’re behind they can catch up.”
Tech did not merely win the USCC; the Jackets dominated the 15-team field.
Junior James White took medalist honors by finishing five strokes clear of the field.
Scott, Griffin and Haley have just one more spring left in their college careers (Heppler’s squad will enroll two newcomers in January, and he and Newton are hoping to recruit at least one more new player by next fall).
Right now, they’re more interested in being college students rather than college golfers.
To a great degree, they put the brakes on their games at this time of year.
“I’ve never been too concerned about it because I think you want to get to where you have the itch again,” Heppler said. “If a guy completely shut it down, that would be fine with me because I think you need to re-charge your batteries.”