Sept. 20, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
On a rare day where two rounds were contested, the Georgia Tech golf team made an unusual, ahem, adjustment Friday between the first and second laps of the DICK’S Sporting Goods Collegiate Challenge Cup to take the lead.
Course conditions were nearly the same, yet after lunch the third-ranked Yellow Jackets shaved 18 strokes off their morning work. Their 12-under-par 272 was by eight strokes the best round fired by any of 12 ACC and SEC squads all day, and a whole lot more impressive than that 6-over 290 in the morning.
It is curious what happened at the Golf Club of Tennessee outside of Nashville. Perhaps the Jackets are settling in, and growing comfortable with the roster churned that has marked the early season. Or, maybe they are coming to grips with head coach Bruce Heppler’s ways and means.
Did the Jackets (562) have Wheaties for lunch before taking a two-stroke lead over No. 6 Vanderbilt (564) into Saturday’s final round of stroke play, and Sunday’s ACC-SEC match play?
Whatever the case, senior Drew Czuchry — who barely played for Tech the previous three seasons — led the way with a 5-under 66 in the afternoon, followed by senior All American Ollie Schniederjans (67), sophomore Vincent Whaley (68) and freshman James Clark (71).
They improved by five, seven, 10 and five strokes, respectively, from morning to noon.
Czuchry double-bogeyed his 14th hole in the afternoon (the par-5 5th), and then closed with three birdies over his final four holes. He’s tied for third in the field of 60 golfers, three shots out of the lead.
Heppler described that as a display of, “some real attitude.”
That is in fact an ongoing project.
Heppler put seven of his nine golfers through a 54-hole qualifying tournament for this event, exempting seniors Schniederjans and Anders Albertson (69-73).
That’s how Czuchry, Whaley and Clark got there.
“It’s absolutely the best thing that could ever happen because you’ve got to learn to fight at home before you can go fight on the road,” the coach explained. “Right now, there probably isn’t a whole lot of difference in who goes [to tournaments].”
Czuchry blew away teammates in the first qualifier a few weeks ago. In the second, he opened with a 74 and then rallied with a 67.
Having an unpredictable roster should not be looked at as a harbinger for a down year.
The Jackets were NCAA runners-up in 2000 (after a playoff with Oklahoma State) with a squad that routinely sent current professionals Matt Kuchar and Bryce Molder out with a rotating cast in the other three spots.
“We won [tournaments] with five different lineups – maybe the best seven deep we’ve ever had,” Heppler said. “Bryce would go, and Matt would go and it almost didn’t matter who else went on the trip. “
“I don’t know that we have that ability yet. Those guys were older; it was all their sophomore and junior years, but that qualifying and fighting really produced a good golf team.”
Talent alone will not propel the Jackets to their eighth ACC title in 10 years next spring. They need to learn to co-exist. That becomes trickier since just five of nine players will compete in each tournament.
So, Heppler is working on that. He has his student-athletes live in dorms (the team is spread through three units) for reasons, and earlier this week, they all had a good chat.
“We spent 30 minutes on what being a good teammate means,” Heppler said. “It probably means if you made it [through qualifying], and the guy in the car didn’t, you might want to wait until you get home to call your mom and dad.
“You need to respect the guys who are hurting, and be careful with your excitement about going because the next time it might be you [who’s not] . . . Understand we’re all in this together. When we win, everybody gets a ring; it’s not just the five who happen to be at the tournament.
“If you’re the guy who doesn’t get to go, we don’t need to order pity party signs and slam around the dorm, close your door and not talk to anybody because then a [teammate] can’t even feel good about being successful. On both sides of that there is a way to respond to hopefully improve what is a really tough situation.”
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