Feb. 1, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
As Vincent Whaley prepares to play his first tournament for Georgia Tech as a scoring golfer, he is an easy answer for those tempted to play a game of, “Which one of these does not belong?”
The freshman from McKinney, Texas, will join Bo Andrews, Seth Reeves, Ollie Schneiderjans and Anders Albertson as the Yellow Jackets open the spring season Thursday-Saturday in the Amer Ari Invitational.
Andrews and Reeves are redshirt seniors, and Schniederjans and Albertson are juniors who originally enrolled in Tech a semester early.
They’ve been around a while.
Let’s take a look at the new guy.
The Jackets made the long trip to Waikoloa, Hawai’i on Saturday with a true freshman in tow in part because senior Richy Werenski opted not to go through qualifying a couple weeks ago when he was uncertain that he could walk six rounds with a broken little toe.
Plus, Whaley is a bit unlike many of coach Bruce Heppler’s freshmen.
He neither entered Tech early, nor opted to redshirt even when it was obvious from the start last fall that competition for playing time this school year would be stiff.
Freshman Chris Petefish enrolled last month out of high school, and will compete no sooner than the fall.
Early enrollment benefits a student-athlete athletically and academically, but Whaley wants nothing to do with the sideline.
Unable to crack the lineup last fall, he nonetheless opted to play a couple tournaments as an individual and keep trying to crack the rotation.
Now, thanks in part to Werenski’s accident, he has.
“I’ve never had a habit of playing guys as individuals, but he was pretty adamant that he was going to try to graduate in four years,” Heppler said of entering Whaley in a couple fall tournaments. “He wanted to play, and saw this has a chance to be a pretty special team; he didn’t want to redshirt.”
Heppler made three coaches picks for this tournament, choosing his top three – or low three – golfers from the fall: Schniederjans, Albertson and Reeves.
The other two spots were determined by the six-round qualifier, which everybody played, a couple weeks ago.
Andrews won, and Hines finished second as he edged Czuchry to make Drew’s decision to redshirt more likely. They beat the rest of the team, too.
It was not a freshman move to snag the spot; Whaley’s rally to finish second in the qualifier belied his youth as he shot 41 on the front side at the Golf Club of Georgia on the final day of six, yet . . .
“He shot 32 on the back and . . . birdied the last hole to get a spot,” Heppler said. “He was pretty calm, normally if a freshman shoots 41 on the front it turns into 82.”
Tech has started its spring season in Hawai’i for years for several reasons.
Most obviously, it’s easier to kick off the spring there earlier than on the Mainland because the weather is more likely to cooperate. That enables Heppler to, “stretch out,” the spring season a little bit.
That is more important because the ACCs usually precede immediately spring exam week.
Also, the trip works as an autumn incentive for Tech golfers as Heppler typically will give a pass to The Islands to his top golfers coming out of the fall – sans the standard qualifying process.
The Hawai’i trip works as a recruiting tool as well, and not just because prospects seem to like the idea of playing there as collegians.
“Historically that is where the [PGA] Tour has started,” Heppler said. “If they’re successful, that’s where they’ll end up.”
Whaley apparently acts a bit like he expected to end up in Hawai’i.
Schniederjans has been and remains a sponge even as he has risen to No. 1 in the U.S. Palmer Cup rankings.
He’s impressed by his young teammate, and while it might not be right to say that he is simultaneously frustrated by Whaley, there is perplexion.
“I’ve already told him some things about how to get ready for Hawaii, some shots he’ll need and some strategy,” Ollie said. “I wish the younger guys would ask more questions. Hines never says a word. They just don’t ask enough questions. When I was in their situation, I was asking a ton of questions.”
Whaley, though, is a bit different.
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