July 7, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
There isn’t a sport that can drive you crazier faster and in more ways than golf.
The ability to be consistent with as many of your strokes as possible (there’s almost no way to always be consistent in all of them — think Lincoln’s theory on the frequency in which politicians can fool the public) while keeping even-keel in your emotions are vital in a game where the course literally can be changed on a daily basis.
That search for that perfect balance of physical and emotional control can take a lifetime and it’s why when one finds it, it’s so rewarding. Junior Vincent Whaley believes he has found that approach this summer and is reaping the benefits.
He began with back-to-back top-10 finishes (tying for ninth at the 75th Annual Monroe Invitational Championship in Pittsford, N.Y., then tying for eighth the following weekend at the 86th annual Southeastern Amateur, in Columbus, Ga.), before finishing tied for 39th at two-under 214 in this past weekend’s rain-shortened Dogwood Invitational at Druid Hills Golf Club.
Finding himself came in locking in and focusing on someone else.
“I’ve been working really hard on keeping my clubface as square as I can for as long as I can, kind of like how Dustin Johnson swings. I’ve been trying to focus on that,” said Whaley. “It feels really simple when it’s on and it’s working properly.
“I noticed after ACC, I didn’t play very well and I had to think back to when I did play well and I made the connection that I’m just trying to keep my foundation as square as I can for as long as I can,” he added. “Brennan Webb, our assistant coach, and I did a lot of work on that.”
Whaley, who finished what had been a rough weekend in the ACCs by stepping up and draining a crucial birdie putt on the extra hole that helped clinched the title for the Jackets over Clemson, also credits the experience of going through the recent season with the Yellow Jackets, in which they captured their eighth ACC championship in 10 years and 16th in the Bruce Heppler Era, then advanced to the NCAA Championships for the fifth time in six years, before finishing ninth.
“Ever since the National Championship, after going through that, nothing is nearly as big of a deal and doesn’t faze me as much,” he said. “As nervous as I’ve been, everything has just kind of calmed down. I’m hitting the ball really well, putting well. So it’s a quick start to the summer.”
At the Monroe, the first tournament since finishing the Tech season, Whaley started slowly, with a first-round 73, but then had superb second and fourth rounds (a -2, 68, on Friday, 70, and an even-par 70 on Sunday), to finish tied for ninth, shooting +3, 283.
“That was the first one back. I played there the year before so I knew the course really well. It was nice to play someplace familiar,” he said. “It’s a lot easier than Concession, so it was nice knowing that you just came off as hard of a course as you can possibly play.
“The first round I didn’t play that great but I’ve been struggling with the first round this entire season,” he added. “I had a good second round and then, just kind of mediocre the last two rounds. I didn’t put myself in a position to win. That was bad but it was nice to have a good finish.”
At the Southeastern, Whaley put himself in a better position, shooting a blazing 10-under over the first three days, including a -5 on Saturday, with six birdies (doubling his total of the first two days), and getting to tee off with the leaders the final two days, including with eventual winner, University of Oklahoma’s Grant Hirschman.
“I haven’t been in contention a whole lot since Ohio State, when I won there so it was really nice to be in contention,” said the McKinney, Texas, native, who finished his second season at Tech with a 1-over, 73.18 strokes per round average. “It’s a lot more fun. He was playing so well. I know him personally so we have a good time and it was good to see him playing at his best. It was a lot of fun. I wish I had played a little bit better and given him a little bit of a run, but it was good.”
At the Dogwood, Whaley was again able to put the slow start behind him, as he shot a four-under 68 in the first round, with six birdies (three on the front nine, three on the back). The second round proved problematic, specifically the first hole, where he double-bogeyed finishing with a two-over 74. Then the rain took over, as Friday’s round was cancelled and Saturday he finished with an Even par 72, to finish the abbreviated 54-hole event at -2, 214. He finished third among five competing Yellow Jackets — behind Chris Petefish (-7, 208, tied for 20) and Michael Hines (-6, 210, tied for 27) and ahead of Jacob Joiner (+2, 218, tied for 64) and James Clark (who in two rounds, was -1, 143, tied for 42).
It wasn’t the follow-up he’d wanted either to his early-season hot start or his 2014 appearance at the Dogwood, when he tied for 19th, with a 10-under, 278, but he is not looking back.
He’d prefer to look ahead and likes what he sees.
He’s shown he can win, having earned a share of the title at the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate, when he went shot-for-shot with teammate Anders Albertson — both shot five-under, 208 and even shot identical rounds of 71, 67 and 70 to win by two shots over Jackets teammate Ollie Schniederjans and SMU’s Bryson Dechambeau, as Georgia Tech -4, won the event by 16 shots — and now he’s shown himself that he can compete consistently. Now it’s a matter of doing it consistently.
To that end, there has been the opportunity to play with and observe Albertson and Schniederjans, which has helped him turn a corner.
“It’s huge,” said Whaley. “Knowing you’ve played all these qualifiers with the No. 1 Amateur in the world and Anders is such an elite player, knowing you’re not going to face anyone any better than they are, so it just kind of gives you that extra comfort knowing that you know you can do it.”
He hopes the sum of this, plus the success he’s had thus far this summer will give him a huge edge in continuing to improve his game. He appears to have found where he needs to be physically and is in the right frame of mind mentally.
It’s the mindset he took into the Dogwood and one he plans to sustain throughout the summer then back at Atlanta for his junior season.
“[My expectations] are about as high as they can be,” he said. “I definitely expect to contend and hopefully win. My wedges and my putting are the strong suits of my game right now. If I do everything well I have a good chance to win that final round. Just putting myself in the situation like I did at Southeastern only this time finish it off in that last round.”