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#TGW: Back on the Thick of It

May 19, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

– It won’t really count as a send-off, but when the Georgia Tech men’s golf team meets today with the media at the Golf Club of Georgia before departing for the NCAA Championships that will be later in the week, the Yellow Jackets will be afforded more local attention than they’re accustomed to receiving.

Perhaps suggesting that it is a shame that the Jackets are not more roundly acclaimed than they are would be a stretch, but this has been for years the consistently most successful athletic program on The Flats.

Tech has won seven of the past nine ACC titles, and has found itself in the national mix in almost all those years.

Head coach Bruce Heppler has helmed 10 of the 15 outright or shared ACC titlist teams produced by Tech, and last fall he was inducted into his sport’s Hall of Fame.

Three times he has sent a team up to finish as the NCAA runner-up, and this squad – ranked No. 5 nationally by Golfstat and No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index – has a shot and ending that, “drought.”

Make no mistake, Heppler is as interested as can be in bringing home the big trophy, but he’s not obsessed with it.

There is, as just about always in sport, some good fortune involved, and the Jackets have been on the wrong end of that before. Last season, Cal was the No. 1 team in the land from wire-to-wire, but Bears were eliminated by Illinois in the semi-finals of match play.

Few predicted in 2010 or ’11 that tiny Augusta State was a bona fide candidate to win it all, that that’s what happened both times and the Jaguars – who play Division II in all other sports — eliminated Tech in match play both times. That was storybook stuff; the Jaguars beat Georgia in the finals in ’11, picking off the state’s top two programs on the way to their second straight national title.

Heppler has been on the other side. When he was an assistant at Oklahoma State in 1995, the Cowboys won the national title.

There is more to the Jackets’ lives than winning this title, and now is a good time to remember that. There is no need for additional pressure. Plenty will be out in Hutchinson, Kan., at the Prairie Dunes Golf Club Friday, May 28.

“There are a lot of people that want [a national title]. I was part of one as an assistant coach, and it didn’t change my life,” Heppler said Saturday after the Jackets won the NCAA regional by 17 strokes over No. 8 Washington. “Four of these five [Tech players] will be Academic All-Americans; three just graduated.

“My perspective is you just do the best you can every day, and if it’s your turn it’s your turn.”

The Jackets epitomize the word “team,” and junior Ollie Schniederjans – who finished second in the Raleigh Regional before attending national ceremonies Sunday evening for the Ben Hogan national player of the year award, knows it.

“We obviously have a great chance, and it’s obviously the one that matters,” he said of the NCAAs.

Recent graduate Bo Andrews may be the Jackets’ top cheerleader.

“I think that we all support each other, and see each other playing well,” he said. “When we’re playing well, and you don’t see it, you feel it.”

There is something to be said for chemistry in all sports.

It can be difficult to recruit, of course, but Heppler is proof that it is not impossible. The Jackets worry chiefly about themselves as golf is primarily an individual sport, but they feel for each other as well.

That may serve them well out in the Midwest.

“This group is working on the `we’ and not the `I,'” Heppler explained. “They don’t say anything; I can tell. I can watch their reactions. Anders [Albertson] doesn’t count [among scorers in Thursday’s first round at the ACCs]. He had to get over the disappointment of the two-over [round], and shoot four-under and even.

“That’s when you have a really good team, when you have five guys who can compete. We’re in a good place. We’re ready and excited to go to Prairie Dunes. “

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