Oct. 11, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Bruce Heppler has seen plenty of winning in his days as Georgia Tech golf’s head coach. But that hasn’t lessened his appreciation of it.
Sunday was one of those days he really appreciated.
The day started early when his Yellow Jackets held off a charge from Florida State then ran away from the field to win the Brickyard Collegiate Golf Championship. A few hours later former Jacket Bryce Molder captured the Frys.com Open on the sixth playoff hole. The wins were the first for Tech at the Brickyard and the first for Molder on the PGA Tour.
“It was pretty good for me to come back from one, and sit there and watch the other one,” said Heppler. “It’s great stuff to see guys that have played for you and put in the time and everything to have their dreams come true, it’s kind of why you coach.”
Neither victory came easy. The Yellow Jackets headed into Sunday’s final round with a 13-stroke lead after 36 holes, but halfway through the final round, the lead had been cut in half.
Heppler wasn’t surprised that the Seminoles, led by tournament individual champion Brooks Kopeka, made a run on his young team, comprised of one starter from last year, senior James White, and a slew of youngsters in freshman Anders Albertson, sophomore Richard Werenski, redshirt sophomore Seth Reeves, and redshirt senior William Miller.
“These guys had never won before. Sometimes you get so far ahead that all you can kind of do is mess up,” said Heppler. “The beginning of the course is very difficult. We had really played that part of it well the first two days. We got off to a slow start and Florida State, obviously, played really well on the front nine.
“I just tried to tell them at the turn ‘There are lots of birdies on the back side and we’re still ahead,'” he added. “Just keep playing like we’ve been playing. They responded in a big way.”
Tech found 12 of those birdies and holed two eagles to pull away and win by 17 shots. The Jackets finished 5-under on Sunday and completed the 54 holes at 16-under.
Werenski came up especially big late, shooting 4-under over the last five holes and putting the exclamation point on his final round 68, the day’s low round, by nailing an eagle on the par-5 18.
Albertson and Reeves combined to go 8-under down the stretch and were right on Werenski’s tail, both shooting 70.
All five of Tech’s players finished in the top 20, with Reeves and Albertson finishing in a tie for second overall, at seven-under, freshman Ollie Schniederjans, who played as an individual, tying for sixth at two-under, and Werenski and redshirt sophomore Bo Andrews, who also participated individually, tying for ninth at one-under.
The entire Tech contingent ranked in the top 20, with White finishing tied for 14th at two-over and redshirt senior William Miller tying for 20th at three-over.
“We had a lot of good play from everyone, which was encouraging,” said Heppler. “Obviously, to win by a pretty good margin as you’re trying to put a new team together is really positive. The first win is critical because it lets them know that without Kyle [Scott] and Paul [Haley] and J.T. [Griffin] they’re capable of winning as a group.”
Heppler got home in time to watch Molder, a four-time All-American and the 2000-01 Collegiate Golfer of the Year, bring home his first PGA win in dramatic style. He pulled even at 17-under with leader Briny Baird (a Tech golf letterman in 1991 and 1992) by birdieing 17 and 18 to force a playoff. On the sixth extra hole, Molder buried a six-foot birdie putt for the win. It was his first championship win in 348 PGA tournament starts.
“He stood up there and hit some great shots with a lot of pressure on him and came through,” said Heppler. “He kept mentioning about how tough it’s been and how nervous he is. It’s hard out there. I’m hoping that what he did, steps up there — and he had to hit second the whole time — hit those drives on that green should be something that he can draw on for a long time.”
Molder and the team will get to share stories about their triumphs next week at the team’s annual fundraiser.
“They can’t wait to see him,” said Heppler. “It’s like you see family members succeed and it’s obviously exciting. Kids have dreams of doing the same thing.”
The Jackets will next be competing Oct. 23-25, in the U.S. Collegiate Championship at The Golf Club of Georgia, in Alpharetta. That’s the tournament they won for the first time last year, blowing away the field by a club-record 28 shots. White won medalist, shooting a 12-under 204.
Heppler expects his team to come out confident and build on the Brickyard experience.
“I think it’s the same thing as the PGA Tour. There are places where guys go, they play places where they’ve been successful. That gives confidence,” he said. “You walk into a place where you’re comfortable and obviously we play out there a lot, it’s our home golf course. They played there last year, some of these guys. James and Richy were part of that. So one, they love the golf course, two, they love the membership and everything about it. So, getting to play at home in front of friends and family, obviously they’re going to be excited about that.”
Then there’s the part about being introduced as defending champions.
Said Heppler: “That doesn’t hurt.”