June 22, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Left to their own devices, college students can be unpredictable, to say the least, and difficult to track down, especially during the summer.
The members of the Georgia Tech golf team are proving to be an unpredictable bunch, as there’s no telling where they’re going to pop up, but they’re not hard to track down.
Just look for a city or town in the United States with a major amateur golf event and chances are you’re going to find a Yellow Jacket. (Jackets fans also can follow James White, who is in Scotland, playing in the British Amateur Championship and the Palmer Cup by clicking here).
“We’re all playing at the highest level amateur events or qualifying for some USGA events. Some of us spread out a little bit, some maybe stay closer to home,” said junior Seth Reeves. “We’re on our own. We just kind of travel around the country to play the top-level amateur events and try to do well there. It’s a little different because we’re on our own. This is a prime time for golf for us. So we’re just trying to do our best all-around.”
Beginning in early June at the Palmetto Amateur in Aiken, S.C., and continuing through the U.S. Amateur August 14-19 in Denver, Colo., members of the team will be participating in tournaments around the country to which they’ve been invited or for which they’ve qualified.
Reeves, redshirt junior Bo Andrews, sophomore Ollie Schniederjans (all scheduled to play in six events this summer — seven should they qualify for the U.S. Amateurs) and incoming freshman Shun Yat (aka Jason) Hak, are in Rumford, R.I., this weekend, playing the Northeast Amateur.
Head coach Bruce Heppler sees plenty of advantages to the team getting out and about, even if he won’t necessarily get to see them, as he’s hot on the recruiting trail.
“A little bit of space between is probably a good thing, to let them go off and do some stuff on their own,” said Heppler, whose team won its fourth straight ACC Championship in April, and whose recruiting efforts helped land Hak, the nation’s top-ranked junior golfer. “They have to learn to do that anyway, so we don’t really get out and watch them. We’ll probably attend the U.S. Amateur in August, but that’s as much about recruiting as it is watching them. It’s really just a function of them going off and doing their thing and we do ours and we come back in August and hopefully everybody’s a little bit better.
“The reality is you can never have enough experience,” he added. “It’s another chance to learn something. It’s putting themselves in different experiences and different environments and different weather, different grasses, different conditions. The only way you can learn how to play is to play in tournaments.”
Reeves learned plenty on June 12, by qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Public Links (to be held in Midway, Utah, July 9-14). He earned one of two spots in a three-way playoff with Georgia freshman Sepp Straka and Florida State grad student Kyle Cobb, at the Mystery Valley Golf Club in Lithonia, Ga. In the playoff, he had to overcome rainy weather, which delayed proceedings, then drain an eight-foot putt in night-time conditions just to stay alive against Cobb — after his putt, play was halted due to darkness. The next day, he made another eight-footer to win the final spot.
“Those two clutch putts were really big for my confidence,” he said. “I could have played better in the qualifiers and not even have to go to the playoff, but I just stayed really patient and I got some unbelievable playoff experience that I’m really grateful for. It was nice that when I needed to make a putt I made the putt. It was a clutch performance. I made probably some of the biggest putts I’ve ever made, with the circumstance that ‘If I miss this I’m not going to Utah.'”
But improvement during summer play isn’t solely measured in wins and losses.
“I won last summer, I haven’t won yet this summer, but I know, just from playing on my own these last couple weeks that my game’s completely changed with another year. I’m a much better player,” said Reeves. “We take what we’ve learned that whole year at school and apply it on our own. It’s fun to see the difference from last year’s summer to this year’s summer.
“I know, like Ollie [Schniederjans], we all played last week and he didn’t play very well last week but he hit unbelievable,” he added. “He said he’s so close. He may not have had a great finish, but a lot of times in golf it’s just like, ‘I’m doing everything right. It’s coming.’ Summer is where you really see it. We get to take a step back and are like, ‘Oh, man, I’m such a different player now from last year.'”
Improving mentally as well as the physically at these high-level events is an important goal.
“You always try to improve your attitude and mental game, basically try to be your best friend out there,” said Andrews. “You want to maintain the good things that you’re doing. It also gives you a chance to explore things and see if you can improve on things you’ve wanted to work on. At the same time, you’ve got guys playing well around you, so you better keep up and better play well.
The ultimate goal is to play in the U.S. Amateur, but it’s not the only goal.
It IS summer, a time to do more than just work.
“We want to keep sharp, but you’ve got to enjoy it and have some fun,” said Andrews. “Enjoy being out there and competing at the same time. That’s what it’s all about.”
“It’s a blast,” added Reeves. “It’s so much fun to go play amazing courses and see the different sights of the country. Because all of us are at pretty much the same level, there’s always a teammate or two or three or four at a tournament. We’ll play a practice round together, then practice after the round and just kind of hang out, go to dinner, maybe go see a movie or something. I’ve never been to Rhode Island and it’s just fun to be in a different place with your teammates.”