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TGW: A Hands-Off Approach

April 9, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

This might seem like an odd time to coach less given that Georgia Tech’s golf team is entering the season’s hard push, yet Bruce Heppler’s been treating Anders Albertson a bit like an adjunct recently.

The junior linkster has carved out a nice career for the Yellow Jackets, but he’s scuffled seriously of late. The timing is less than ideal.

Tech will try April 25-27 to climb back upon its championship horse and win the ACC title after a poor final round last season ended their run at four straight conference crowns from 2009-2012.

First, the Jackets will play Saturday and Sunday in the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate at Ohio State in a rare – and purposeful – visit to the Midwest.

Then, there will be another rare outing when Tech April 19 plays the first Capital City Club Match Play Championship with Auburn, Florida State and Georgia.

Match play is largely limited at the collegiate level to the final eight teams in the NCAA tournament – after three days of stroke play.

Next up after the CCCMPC comes the ACCs as Tech will have been in action three consecutive weekends in yet another rarity.

Albertson can sure help, but perhaps he needs help in helping.

That’s a bit of a sticky subject, at least in Heppler’s view.

Even as Jackets were crumbling around him in the rain last spring at the ACCs in New London, N.C., Albertson won the whole thing individually.

That golfer has been missing lately, however.

Albertson in his last two events finished tied for 74th in an 81-player field at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters in Las Vegas, and tied for 53rd in a 75-man field in the Valspar Invitational in Palm City, Fla.

In those events, he finished ahead of a combined 29 golfers and behind 125. By contrast, his record before those outings – including a fall season where he was 301-33 — was 416-111.

So, Heppler’s looking the other way more or less. No need to apply a tourniquet. “You know what it’s like when somebody keeps asking, `Are you still sick? Are you still sick?’ You put a microscope to it,” the Tech coach said Wednesday after returning from Augusta National and watching his former players Matt Kuchar and Roberto Castro practice for the Masters (plus old-school Tech alums Stewart Cink and Larry Mize).

“Imagine going to work and your boss goes, `Are you still sick? Are you still sick?’ It’s like talking about your free-throw shooting. It just becomes a bigger deal and more pressure, and he’s thinking everybody on the staff is worrying about him . . . all you do is make things worse.”

This does not mean that Albertson has not re-doubled his efforts; it’s just that he’s ministering to his game largely on his terms with modest guidance from Golf Club of Georgia swing coach Jeff Paton and Tech assistant Brennan Webb (the mechanical half of the Jackets’ coaching duo).

Some of his issues, Albertson believes, have been psychological as his game management skills (and confidence) have gone askew.

A big chunk has been physical. That’s easier to work on, and may trickle down to help wage the psychological warfare that is the game of golf.

“It’s probably a combination of both,” Albertson said in the midst of Wednesday’s practice at GCoG. “Personally, I haven’t played too well in the last couple events.

“I’ve been working a lot on mechanics the last couple weeks, and looking forward to doing what I’ve practiced and taking it out to the course. Once I get out there, I won’t think about mechanics.”

Albertson and his teammates will have ample opportunity to work for real on their skills before the ACCs.

Not often do the Jackets compete three weekends consecutively, as they are about to, yet as always Heppler has a method to his scheduling.

After the ACCs comes the NCAA regionals, spread among six sites.

Two that Heppler considers likely destinations for his team are Raleigh – where the Jackets won a fall tournament by relative miles – and Chicago, where conditions are different than those Tech regularly encounters.

So, another trip to the Midwest was deemed to be in order, the coach believed, and that will land the Jackets at Ohio State this weekend. On OSU’s Scarlet Course, Tech will work in some of the mangy rough common in that part of the country.

“One of the things that we try to look at is competing relatively close to ACCs. You don’t want to go three weeks without putting a pencil to it [keeping score for real],” Heppler said. “It’s a great course, a good field, and . . . Midwest golf is a whole lot different than Southeastern golf.

“We’re playing some golf that we could ship to Chicago. The thick, bluegrass rough, and bent grass fairways . . . it’s completely different than Bermuda.”

Forever with an eye on recruiting, Heppler also is thinking of the golfers the program will lose in a couple months and – oddly enough – how their departures might attract another fine crop of hackers.

Seniors Seth Reeves, Bo Andrews and Richard Werenski will move on soon, and although the Jackets’ recruiting efforts already have lined up top fresh talent for next fall, the recruiting process never ends.

It’s not clear yet whether Reeves, Andrews and Werenski will immediately try their skills as professionals soon after their college careers end, but it’s a good bet that at least one of them will find his way to the Tour, whose four-tournament playoff in the fall will include a stop in Columbus, Ohio.

This weekend’s trip will afford that trio an early look at the Scarlet Course that could prove a key venue in attempting to earn a PGA Tour card for next year. Heppler keeps tabs.

Should a prospect with pro aspirations see this move, it certainly won’t hurt the coach’s perpetual goal of attracting more talent to The Flats. The coach is always hands-on in recruiting.

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