May 17, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Georgia Tech has a chance to right a wrong when they tee off at Golden Eagle Golf and Country Club Saturday morning.
At last year’s NCAA Regional in Norman, Oklahoma, the Yellow Jackets, ranked 12th in the nation, unexpectedly found themselves in a dogfight after 36 holes, trying just to qualify.
One of the teams with whom they were battling on the final day was host Oklahoma. Tech even carried a three-shot edge over the Sooners into the final day. But they had one of those days and would not advance, as they shot a collective 19-over par, finishing nine shots behind OU.
A calendar year later to the day, Tech is in a similar do-or-die position, although not with the host, but with a school from the region, the University of South Florida.
Talk about the ultimate mulligan.
The Jackets have their work cut out for them, as they’ll enter the day 15 shots back of leader North Florida, but, more important are tied with USF for the fifth and final spot, at -12. Eerily, should they focus too much on the Bulls, there’s Oklahoma again, hovering one shot behind them. The top five teams earn a berth at the NCAA Championships being held at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course in Milton, Ga., in 11 days.
“We’ve played into a situation where it’s all come down to 18 holes,” said Georgia Tech head coach Bruce Heppler. “Somebody will play well and they’ll go get it. Let’s hope it’s us.”
The Jackets, seeded second in the regional, shot a collective four-under on Friday, with Anders Albertson, Bo Andrews, Seth Reeves and Ollie Schneiderjans all shooting one-under-par 71, but the round was four shots higher than their opening round, when they left the course tied for fourth.
That leaves today’s final round, and a lot can happen in a round.
Heppler believes it’s not worth conjuring up last year’s hard lesson, learned by a team that had four players making their NCAA Tournament debut. This is a different team with its own unique identity and which will forge its own legacy — ideally starting over the final 18 holes.
“Two of them don’t even know what that was all about,” said Heppler about 2012’s final round. “Three of them do. They’re a year older and more grown up and better players. You would hope that having experienced it last year, when it was a great unknown, hopefully would be a big benefit.”
Two of those three are Albertson, who finished Friday with a team-best seven-under (137), tied for 10th, but only four shots out of the lead held by North Florida’s MJ Maguire, and Schneiderjans, who is tied for 23rd, at -3. Heppler’s counting on his sophomore duo to lead the charge.
“We need Ollie and Anders, certainly it’s important for those two guys to go play well,” he said. “Ollie’s been close every day.”
The third is Bo Andrews, who is only one shot behind Schneiderjans and who has shown a recent history of finishing strong in final rounds. The Jackets hope to see another one.
“Bo’s had some nice rounds,” said Heppler. “He had a 66 the last round at Old Memorial and he shot 61 at Crabapple a week ago. So he’s very capable of making some putts. Obviously, it’s got to come from somewhere.”
Heppler said he didn’t have any kind of motivational movies like “Gladiator,” “Rudy,” “Hoosiers,” or even “Tin Cup” on Friday night’s agenda to fire up the team. Nor was he planning on writing a “Win one for the Gipper” speech to deliver prior to Saturday’s tee time.
He felt that would be unnecessary. He’ll rely on the players’ motivation from within.
“We’re just going to go have a nice dinner and pack our bags,” he said. “I think sometimes in coaching golf less is more.
“They know,” he added. “The score’s everywhere and they look on line. They realize it’s time. Ollie’s been here for 2 1/2 years, Anders has and Seth has been here for four and Bo has been here for four. So it just comes down to some people feeling you have to go get it done. You have to go play well. Trying not mess up and just trying to play okay won’t get it done. It’ll be whoever goes out and takes it.”