May 13, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Somewhere in Anders Albertson’s dorm room stands a Barbie roller-backpack.
It’s not any kind of tie to his days growing up with three younger sisters. It’s more of a symbol of his growing up days on the golf course with his five Georgia Tech teammates.
The backpack, originally bought by teammate Bo Andrews, has come to serve as incentive among teammates. Win or roll it to class.
“It’s one of the interesting things we have, if you lose, you have to take it to class,” said Albertson, ACC Men’s Golfer for the month of April following his win in the ACC Championships. “If you really want to get somebody you play for that. How many shots you lose by is how many days you have to carry it around.”
That’s the kind of ultra-competitive yet fun-loving spirit that fuels Georgia Tech as it heads to the NCAA Regional being held Thursday through Saturday at the Golden Eagle Golf and Country Club in Tallahassee, Fla.
The Jackets, who finished fourth at the ACC Tournament, ending a run of four straight conference championships, will be led by a pair of sophomores, Albertson and his close friend Ollie Schneiderjans, a duo Heppler compares to “The Odd Couple.”
But unlike Felix Unger (played in this case by Albertson) and Oscar Madison (played by Schneiderjans), they don’t drive each other crazy. They simply drive each other.
“It’s a really interesting relationship because they’re outrageously competitive,” said Heppler. “There’s never any jealousy, they always pull for each other because it’s more about Georgia Tech than themselves.
“There could be tension between the two of them because they both want the same thing and that is to be the best player on the team,” he added. “But you just don’t see it because they’ve been raised the right way. It’s like Ollie said, ‘I couldn’t have been happier for anyone else besides myself to win the ACC Tournament because I know what Anders puts into it.’ They have a tremendous amount of respect for each other because they’re very passionate about their work and what they do. They came in early together and they’ve been kind of attached at the hip ever since. I think it’s benefited both of them tremendously.”
Albertson won for the first time in nearly three years at the ACC Championships, winning the tournament by five shots by shooting a tournament-record 201 (one stroke better than Wake Forest’s Webb Simpson in 2008) at Old North State Club in New London, N.C.). The score was the lowest score by a Yellow Jacket in six years and the sixth-lowest score in school history. It marked the ninth top-10 finish of the season for Albertson, who is ranked 24th in the nation in Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the highest of any Jacket. Five Yellow Jackets hold spots in the top 200.
Schneiderjans, ranked 29th according to Sagarin — second on the team — with five top-10 finishes, was in the hunt for most of ACCs weekend, starting the final day three shots back before fading on the back nine, when blustery weather made playing a battle of attrition. (Andrews (112), who won his first tournament at the Gary Koch Invitational in early April, Shun Yat Hak (139) and Seth Reeves (194) also made the cut).
That fourth place in the ACCs could actually do more for the team’s psyche than last year’s victory.
“I hope so,” said Heppler. “That was kind of the thought process is that now there’s more. I think they probably left there knowing there’s more to do than maybe they understood last year that there is more to do. But then, again, last year we took four guys to a Regional who had never played in one. Now Bo’s played in one and Ollie and Anders have. So I think we’ll have some more experience as far as that goes, too.”
“We were a No. 2 seed and the top five make it, so we kind of expected to make it and then we kind of found ourselves in a dogfight the last day with a host team, it was their home course, playing in conditions that they’re used to. I think we were kind of out of our element,” said Albertson. “No matter what seed you are, you have to expect to play your best to make it through the Regional. So I think we’re going to be in the right mindset this year going into it and know that no matter what seed we are, nothing’s given to you and that we’re going to go out there and give it everything we have.”
The Tallahassee Regional is loaded, as in addition to the No. 7 Yellow Jackets, there is No. 4 Washington, and No. 14 Florida State, the host, among the seven top-50 teams and three conference champions.
“It’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” said Schneiderjans. “If we’re playing well, we know we can beat any of them. We know what it’s going to take. So we just have to worry about us playing well and if we play good for us, we’ll beat the other guys.”
Should the Jackets win — or at least rank in the top five — they’ll advance to the NCAA Championships, which will be held May 28 through June 2 at the Capital City Club – Crabapple Course in Milton, Ga.
“I think we have built up a little comfort here and if we can make it back here I really like our chances just because we have so many guys that are familiar with the course,” said Albertson. “It’s hard to look ahead. So we’re going to take care of business there and then move on after that.”
“It’s huge. There’s a lot of pressure for us to be at this Tournament,” said Schneiderjans. “I mean we’re hosting the event. It’s pretty pathetic if you’re a top-10 team hosting the National Championship and you don’t make it. So the pressure’s on. It’s a challenge.”
It’s a challenge that Heppler has done his best to avoid.
“You start thinking about those kinds of things it can get to be probably a little too big a deal,” he said. “I know they’re aware of it but I’ve really not tried to address it at all. I don’t see the benefit in that. If I were to use it it would be as a motivational thing and I don’t have to do that at all. These guys work hard. They don’t need to be motivated to do anything.”
Heppler did find inspiration, coincidentally, in the words of Simpson, now on the PGA.
“His philosophy is he leaves himself some room emotionally so at the end of the round something good might happen,” said Heppler, “Maybe birdie the last two holes rather than getting so frustrated and so discouraged that when you get to the end you make a couple of bogeys and make it worse. We’ve tried to use that as a mantra this year. Just be in a place emotionally at the end to where a putt might go in at the end or you eagle a par-5 and kind of save the day and save your round. Hopefully, when you talk about those kinds of things and work on it, that slowly creeps into how they think and what they’re doing when they’re out there.”
Of course, there is always the Barbie backpack.