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#STINGDAILY: Going the Distance

March 7, 2013

Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –

As he was packing Wednesday, Michael Hines was asked if trips like the one that has him and his Georgia Tech teammates playing today in Las Vegas influenced his decision to play collegiate golf for the 10th-ranked Yellow Jackets.

You know the answer. Here it is anyway:

“Oh, definitely,” said the precocious freshman from Kell High School. “I traveled west of Alabama one time in junior golf. In the last month, I was out in Hawai’i and now Las Vegas [both times with Tech]. It definitely attracted me.”

Coach Bruce Heppler dangles serious carrots on the recruiting trail. Part of the idea is to attract talent. There is another part of the master plan, however, and that goes beyond skill sets. Heppler is always in pursuit of serious gray matter.

There is a point in golf where taking one’s game to the next level(s) requires more than better mechanics. The game becomes more mental.

Leave it to Heppler to throw in a little extra radio interference. He scheduled this tournament after trips to Hawai’i and Puerto Rico in part because it can be brutal.

Beyond the fact that 12 of the nation’s top 13 teams (by ranking) will be in the field today through Sunday in the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, there is the fact that the course they’re playing is a test even when there are no other teams upon it.

The Southern Highlands Golf Club stretches more than 7,500 yards, and has tricks aplenty. The Jackets didn’t make that trip last season, yet for all the program’s successes in recent years, that place has ripped Tech several times. Many good walks have been spoiled out there for the Jackets.

So, here’s hoping Hines, fellow freshman Shun Yat Hak, junior Seth Reeves, and sophomores Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson packed more than their battle sticks. They’re going to need steel between their ears.

“It’s a great mark to evaluate your team halfway through the spring,” Heppler said. “It’s really an opportunity to look beyond the score. It’s an opportunity to really find out if a guy can hang in there or not.

“It’s a long six hours. The rounds are long, the golf course is set up really difficult, and it’s a great chance to look into a guy’s heart and soul. That’s why we continue to go there. If you don’t play well, you get run over . . . but we’ve never shied away from that.”

Heppler may have already learned more about Hines than he thought he knew.

Hak was the more highly-regarded and well-traveled freshman coming in (many considered him the top junior in the world), yet this is the fourth time Hines has made Tech’s travel team in seven events in the combined fall and spring schedules. This is Hak’s first travel squad trip, although he has played in three events as an individual.

Hines, in fact, is third on the squad in scoring. His average of 72.7 trails only Schniederjans (71.3) and Albertson (71.9).

He’s put together some good rounds, but in three of his four events so far (he competed once as an individual) he was largely un-done by one oblong round. At the PING-Golfweek Preview, he tied for 30th when a first-round 75 was in the way. At the Brickyard, a 77 in the second round slowed him. At the U.S.C.C., it was a first-round 76.

Last time out (he did not make the Puerto Rico travel squad), Hines went 71-71-73 to tie for 26th at one-under 215. That was his best finish, in the biggest field (116 golfers), at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawai’i.

“I definitely wanted to come in and have an impact. I haven’t played in all the tournaments, but I’ve contributed,” Hines said. “My game has gotten infinitely better. Coach Heppler really helps with the mental and how to play the game. Coming here, the guys’ swings are so good and it’s good to get their insight.”

Hines, who played for his father, Craig, at Kell (where his mother, Lauren, was his health teacher), has learned from teammates, particularly Schniederjans. They have had the same instructor in years past.

“I was very steep on my wedges, taking too deep a divot, and now I’m much more shallow,” he said. “My takeaway was pretty bad coming in, and with the help of Ollie my takeaway is much better.

“First semester it was a tough transition. I thought I was going to be able to handle it better than I did. I  had some tough classes. My english class just killed me. I learned to manage my schedule. This semester has been better . . . this is probably the most demanding course that we’ll play.”

Heppler will confirm that. He’s looking for more patience than usual from his golfers, which will be a bit odd since he’s typically not much of a time bider himself.

The Jackets may be better prepared than many teams for what are expected to be fast greens. The rest of the test may or may not be another matter. Hope Tech packed thinking caps.

“This is very much a U.S. Open-type experience,” the coach said. “You’ve got to drive it in the fairway, which we can do. I think the hardest thing for a young player in the U.S. Open-type experience is [course officials] hide the first six pins from you . . .

“There’s a way to play the golf course where you just wait, and wait and then you’ll have a chance to hit one in there. None of these guys have played out there. It will be new for everyone.”


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