Sept. 28, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
It might take a highly advanced or warped mind to suggest strong parallels between the sports of football and golf, yet as Georgia Tech tries to get back on track today in Bobby Dodd Stadium, perhaps the linksters might offer this lesson: lighten up.
A large lump of coal was dumped upon the football team last week in the Yellow Jackets’ overtime loss to Miami, the details of which will not be repeated here. No praise has been heaped upon them or their coaches in the near week since.
Middle Tennessee State may not titillate fans, but this is a week where the opponent may matter less than the Jackets’ gray matter. For reasons, their bruised mindset matters.
Now, to the golf team.
The Jackets tied for the championship earlier this week in the PING/Golfweek Preview, a hugely competitive fall tournament that featured 14 ranked teams in a 15-squad field.
That was nice, of course, but far more significant than most tournament wins enjoyed over the years by coach Bruce Heppler and his squads.
Simple; because the Jackets got their heads beat in the last time they played before that.
Tech’s performance in the season-opening Carpet Capital Collegiate near Dalton had been historically bad. The Jackets tied for 11th in the 15-team field, with just two teams finishing behind them.
Their first round score of 301 was the fourth-worst of the 45 competitive rounds shot by all the teams, and they finished 22-over par. They were 35 shots behind champion Texas, and 30 shots behind No. 2 Georgia.
Tech was, plain and simple, mental mush.
When they wrapped up their work Tuesday at the PING-Golfweek Preview, they were 5-over par (along with Cal), eight shots ahead of Texas, the defending national champion, and 14 shots ahead of No. 8 Georgia.
That’s a 43-shot swing on the Longhorns and a 44-shot swing on the Bulldogs in the span of consecutive events roughly two weeks apart.
Heppler’s not much for coaching mechanics. He’s big on psychology. Perhaps the football team could use a dose of Heppler.
“We played, arguably, one of the worst rounds we’ve played in a long time at The Farm (the 301 in the first round at the CCC a few weeks ago),” Heppler said. “It was a long trip home from Dalton, and the guys went back to work. They were pretty tore up.
“The biggest challenge the guys have had the last two years is the guys just try too hard. You have to be able to get out of your own way . . . you get in a tournament, and you’ve got to be your own best friend. You can’t just keep kicking yourself when you make a mistake. Some of these guys, if their caddies talked to them the way they talk to themselves, they’d fire them.”
For the record, collegiate golfers don’t have caddies; they do, however, work with them in the summer. You get the point.
Junior golfer Bo Andrews acknowledged the mental game earlier this week. He played very well at PING, and he wasn’t alone. All five of the Tech golfers shot at least one scoring round, and they all improved dramatically over the CCC (it was the collegiate debut of freshman Michael Hines, whose scored counted in Tuesday’s final round).
“We just really kind of got back to basics, and doing the things we do well which is putting and short game, and building each other up, pushing each other, trying to give each other confidence,” Andrews said.
“We as a team needed to get it together, help each other when we’re struggling because this is a team deal. We live together, work together, play together. I would say we panicked a little bit [in the CCC], and you start playing bad and you go away from your game plan and it snowballs.”
Today, MTSU offers Tech a chance to stop the snowball that began rolling downhill against the Hurricanes. The Blue Raiders will not be the stiffest test on the schedule, but they’re off to a solid start and perhaps they will be good for the Jackets and their collective psyche.
“Obviously, to go from 11th place to beating some of the best teams in the country is just fantastic,” Heppler said. “You tell them to try to build confidence from the process, but every now and then you need a little icing on the cake to re-affirm that the things that you’re doing and working on make sense.”
Blue Raiders = icing? Hey, it’s a theory.
Comments to email@example.com. Twitter @mwinkeljohn.