May 19, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Atlanta drivers are an adventurous and often scary group for those living in the city, never mind out-of-town visitors.
The Georgia Tech golf team is hoping to show just how scary Atlanta drivers can be this weekend when it hosts the NCAA Tournament’s Southeast Regional. The action commences Thursday morning at the Capital City Club at Crabapple, one of six NCAA Tournament regionals taking place.
“I think we have five guys that drive the ball really well,” said head coach Bruce Heppler. “If you can find your ball a bunch of times in the fairway then you have a chance to do something on the green. I think probably the strength of these guys is the golf from the tee box.”
The ACC champion Yellow Jackets are the third-seed in the powerful Southeast, which, including Georgia Tech, features seven conference champions and eight of the top 50 teams in the latest Golfstat rankings. In order of seeding, the region features Oklahoma State, the Big 12 champion and top seed, Pac-10 champ Arizona State, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Arkansas, Wake Forest, Mississippi, Furman, the Southern Conference champ, Brigham Young, Georgia Southern, Big South champ Coastal Carolina, Sun Belt Conference champion South Alabama, and Colonial Athletic Association champion Towson.
It’s a challenging group that will test the team’s mettle.
“I think Oklahoma State, certainly is the best team in the country,” said Heppler. “Based on what they’ve achieved this year and then the Pac-10, with Arizona State, that conference is maybe as good a conference as there’s ever been. They’ve got a very talented team and played well at the NCAAs last year with almost the same guys. So they’re very good. I think if you go down through there, South Alabama wins its conference, all the way through, everybody has a resume.”
The Jackets, who will be making their 13th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and 19th in 21 years, added to their resume by winning the ACC Tournament, last month at The Old North State Club in New London, N.C.
Led by a trio of All-ACC performers — senior Chesson Hadley, who won the ACC individual title with a 10-under, 206 score (he was third on the team this season, averaging 73.95 strokes), junior John-Tyler Griffin, who averaged a team-low 72.21 strokes (fifth in the ACC), and sophomore James White, whose 72.32 was second on the team and sixth in the conference — the Jackets will look to ride the momentum of their ACC triumph.
Throw in red-shirt junior Paul Haley, who tied for fourth at the ACCs with a 6-under 210, and Heppler believes Tech can continue its ride.
“I think that everybody has gotten better,” he said. “What you hope is that everybody’s moving in a direction where they can play some of their best golf as a group.
“I think they look around at each other and go, ‘I think we’re capable of doing something together,'” he continued. “I think when you start over with teams every year, until you really play well together there’s some wonderment as to what they can specifically do as a group. I think they feel good about what they’re doing.”
Hadley played some of his best golf at the ACC Championship, making a nice finish to something of an up-and-down season. An encore would benefit the Jackets this weekend.
“If he plays near the lead at the last two tournaments then we’re going to do really well,” said Heppler, whose squad has now won four conference titles in five years. “He’s the only guy on our team that’s won a college tournament, he’s the only guy that’s been an All-American, and there’s been times this year when he hasn’t even been in the lineup. If he’s playing on or near the lead this week and that leads on to Chattanooga, then I think we’re a pretty good golf team.”
But while Hadley’s upward ark in postseason makes the team stronger, the squad is hardly reliant on him.
“We’re not a one-man band,” said Heppler. “I think we’re more of a five-man band just trying to put it together every day.
“The facts are, when you start a tournament, the chances of all five guys playing well doesn’t happen very often,” he added. “But at least now, we have five guys that have played well at different parts of the year and you just hope that four out of five have a good week. The chances of that happening are much better now because they’ve all done that and individually they should feel like they’re capable of having a good individual finish, which leads to, obviously, a good team finish.”