June 4, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
– While Bruce Heppler was ransacking his brain late Friday night trying to figure what he could have done to change what had happened to his team a few hours earlier for the second year in a row, I had a different mindset.
I’ll open a brain vein in a bit; first, some background:
Georgia Tech was dead even with two holes to go in its NCAA Golf Championship quarterfinal match. The Yellow Jackets then lost 3-2 to Augusta State for the second year in a row, and a very good team’s season ended short of expectation.
That’s quite something – the expectation to advance past the national quarters.
The Tech golf coach was flummoxed because, well, Heppler’s just about always dazed when he doesn’t get the result that he expects, and — truth be told — this team was built to win it all.
Three seniors, one very good junior, an occasionally precocious freshman, the nation’s top team scoring average against par, the nation’s lowest drop score average, a third straight title in a very good golf conference.
Yet it didn’t happen.
Heppler’s expectation will not change, though. He’s planning on winning another ACC title next year, and when the NCAAs hit the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles a year from now, his team will be in the mix, or . . . he’ll be flummoxed.
His DNA, his wiring, is part of the reason for hope. There are other, more tangible reasons for optimism, projections that you might better be able to relate to at home.
The brightest spot Friday was the freshman, Richard Werenski.
“It’s a bunch of people to replace who have played a lot of golf. You try not to worry about the names on the uniforms. There’s a standard. James will have played a lot of golf and made first-team All-American, and hopefully Richy grew up a lot.
“[Friday], hopefully he learned that you have to hang in there. He tended to get down [during the season]. We have two freshmen who have been in school, and [sophomore] Bo Andrews redshirted this year as his sister was ill. We felt it was best for Bo not to have all that going on.”
They enrolled early at Tech, as Werenski did a year earlier, and have already made headway toward qualifying for the U.S. Open.
Schniederjans, a high school teammate of White at Harrison, had a fairly remarkable career as a junior. Albertson, from Woodstock’s Etowah High, once made an eagle that landed on ESPN’s plays of the day.
Andrews played in six events as a freshman before redshirting.
Seth Reeves will be a sophomore next season. He won a mid-level tournament this season as an individual. Minghao Wang and William Miller figure to return to the team, and there is a strong, strong chance that Heppler will add a transfer who will challenge for a spot on the travel squad.
Beyond the skill level of players, work will be required to establish a psychological pecking order among individuals, not to mention a collective sense of place (confidence). Heppler’s track record for making that happen is world class.
“There are going to be some expectations on James to lead. He’s going to have to lead and teach,” the coach said. “Bo Andrews has some great leadership qualities, but sometimes that’s hard to show when you haven’t been playing a lot. You don’t know how that’s going to go.”
That’s not all that you don’t know.
If I knew it all, I wouldn’t be writing this. It was not my plan. I truly figured Tech would beat ASU Friday in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal match play, which sent Augusta State to its first NCAA title.
I hate that the script flipped.
As mentioned, Tech was dead even – John-Tyler Griffin having won his match, White having lost his and the three others were all square. Werenski finished out to force an extra hole. But Scott and Haley bogeyed No. 17, and neither made up the difference on 18. That was the match.
From what I’ve gleaned, and I refuse to research this in an official fashion, ASU returned four of five from its national championship team, and had a golfer fire a 71 Friday after shooting something like 76-82 the past couple days in stroke play.
Without even knowing the exact details, I know that sometimes you just can’t know. Or predict. Or make changes in the way you do your business to the point where it will affect the order of outcome.
Heppler was grilling himself after Friday’s match.
The fact that two Georgia teams, including you-know-who, are in the sport’s Final Four, and that a third team is one of the several that Tech trounced in the ACC tournament (Duke upset No. 1 seed UCLA Friday) does not help at all.
For a while Friday, as I kept checking the status of matters via internet, I was on edge. Then, I was flat-out ticked.
But between all that and my speaking with Heppler, I went to Summerfest in Virginia-Highland, in my neighborhood. I dressed up (not my idea) to a circus theme as per parade rules, and marched with my daughters and my wife.
Once at the park, I was pulled into review of the fact that that a second “neighbor” of sorts has cancer.
The first, my peer in age and in other ways, has been undergoing chemotherapy for about a month. He looks a wreck. He didn’t attend Friday; his wife, daughter and son did.
The second, a more distant acquaintance who a few years ago ran for Atlanta City Council, is off to a poor start with chemo. He’s in line for a marrow transplant this fall (“I have five siblings, and four are matches,” he said. “They’re fighting to be the one.”).
That guy – whose son is a summer baseball teammate of my son — is upset at the idea that his “hassles” might get in the way of him participating in a 100-mile bike ride of some sort out West. He vows that interference will not happen.
In sum, some perspective came into focus over the course of the evening.
Sometimes, crappy stuff gets in the way of dreams.
The world did not end Friday in Stillwater, Okla.
Tech survives. So will the golf program. With Heppler at the helm, I think it a matter of time before the Jackets win it all.
“I just don’t think you’re successful with the idea that next year is a rebuilding year. I don’t think that’s how you coach,” he said. “The goal in August is going to be in a position to go to Riviera. Hopefully, [next year’s players] see it as their turn. It will be my job to make sure that we take some of [the pressure] off.”
I told Bruce that I disagree with his premise that he could have done something different to alter Friday’s outcome. He had no choice in the pairings; they were done by virtue of players’ national ranking.
He had three seniors, all of whom had shown great psychological steel over time.
Ultimately, the players play. Augusta State’s did it a tad better Friday.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
For the record, I’m still ticked – if less so – about what happened. If you agree, or disagree, let me know about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.