Nov. 12, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
In this, the one time of the year when most college golfers go days or even weeks without touching a club, there is a different state of mind at Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets’ offseason (there really isn’t extended down time in the summer as golfers typically play in a half dozen or more amateur events) feels like a warm and fuzzy country song relative to the blues of 2011.
Last year, it was miserable.
In ’11, the Yellow Jackets frittered away a sizable lead in the final event of the fall season to not only slip out of the lead in the United States Collegiate Championship, but skid to fourth place. It was perhaps the most startling last-round nosedive in coach Bruce Heppler’s time on The Flats.
That left for a couple months of fretting.
Last month was a very different story, and that makes this month and next different stories.
Tech rallied over the final couple holes at the U.S.C.C. to overtake the same team – UCLA – that blew past the Jackets a year earlier.
Where a year ago they were left with too much time on their hands to try to figure out what happened and look anxiously forward to getting back into competition to prove to themselves – and others – that what happened was a fluke, now there is peace of mind.
“It’s just exciting to finish like that. You can feel really good after that. It feels like you earned the break,” said sophomore Ollie Schniederjans, whose eagle on the 18th hole stole the U.S.C.C. title for Tech. “It was like we were just cooped up last season, and we couldn’t do anything about it. We had to just deal with what we did there.”
It is not known whether Schniederjans is keeping his vow to not touch his clubs until Dec. 1, when he plans to take up some personal – not team – practice.
Not every golfer completely avoids his weapons in the downtime. Sophomore Anders Albertson, for example, will compete Sunday-Tuesday in the Western Refining All-America Classic, a tournament in El Paso for returning All-America players.
Others dabble with the sticks here and there.
Even Albertson, though, has dialed back and zeroed in on schoolwork and working out – all with a more clear head than in ’11.
“It’s totally different than last season. We came off a terrible last round, and nobody was in a good mood. It was kind of a drag,” Albertson said. “Everybody is definitely more excited, pumped up. Coach is definitely in a much better mood.
“The conversation was so different [after the U.S.C.C.]. It couldn’t have been more opposite. This year, he’s excited. He searches a lot for reasons when we don’t perform . . . he kind of goes into the, ‘Why? Mode.’ “
Heppler is a tinkerer by nature, and that’s not a reference to him swing coaching. He’s 99 percent about mindset, about state of mind. Psychology, thy pupil is Tech’s golf coach.
“Last year he went into deep-thinking mode, and that’s not fun for anybody,” Schniederjans said. “He’s consumed with all these things he wants to figure out. This year, he said, ‘We just did exactly what I wanted to see. I can relax my mind, and we can start the spring season fresh.’ “
The Jackets did not start last spring with clear heads, and they finished in a funk. They put together a good but not great run with the fine sense of timing to make their one win the ACC Tournament – their fourth straight.
Then, the Jackets closed out by failing to advance out of the NCAA regional. That never happens.
The spring season, whose practice always begins immediately on the other side of the holidays, began less with players looking forward than it did with the specter of doubt created by the fall finish.
When players went back to work, it was, well, work. Given the present circumstances, the game figures to be more like a game, more fun.
“It’s very exciting to get that feeling again,” Albertson said when asked if closing a fall season in fabulous fashion (the Jackets tied for the PING/Golfweek Preview title, finished second in the Brickyard and then won the U.S.C.C.) makes the start of spring practice more appealing.
“This fall, I feel like we played really well as a team but I don’t feel like everybody played as well as they can, which I think is very promising. It’s exciting to see what we can do when everybody comes together.”
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