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#TGW: Delayed Gratification

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Andy Ogletree was right there down the stretch Saturday, the ACC golf medal dancing at his fingertips shot after shot, and he just missed – by one stroke – perhaps for thinking too much.

He and the Yellow Jackets blew away the field by 15 shots, though, perhaps because they did not overthink on the way to tying the conference record with their 18th team title.

Their sixth tournament title of the year was a somewhat strange two days of golf sandwiched around an off day at Old North State Club in New London, N.C., because of Friday weather issues.

But as the Jackets dive into final exams this week these are good and fresh memories.

Take Luke Schniederjans. He earned his second ACC team title, and the junior captured the sixth ACC title for his family. Brother Ollie was part of three ACC championship golf teams, and brother Ben was a reserve pitcher on Tech’s ACC baseball tournament title team in 2014.

So, never mind Friday’s lousy weather, or that the forecast prompted tournament organizers to play 36 holes on Thursday and the final 18 on Saturday.

The Jackets didn’t worry, even though head coach Bruce Heppler said sleeping for two nights on a 17-stroke lead, “was unnerving. There are times in sports where you can get so far ahead the only news can be if you mess up. The expectations . . . that’s real pressure.”

Luke said he didn’t feel it. He just woke up Friday morning – after sleeping in – and then ate breakfast with his teammates, got in a little practice before weather hit, and joined his teammates to watch the movie “Flight” back at the house rented by Tech. The guys played a little ping-pong, did some homework, and waited. Patiently.

“It’s just really cool to win an ACC championship. It’s going to be some of the best memories,” he said. “To be honest, [the off day] didn’t make any difference for me. It didn’t feel too weird. We had a nice rest day. I think we were all really tired. Playing 36 holes of golf is mentally grueling if you’re going at it every shot.”

The Jackets apparently didn’t mind playing 36 holes the first day, or sleeping for two nights on the big lead over Duke, Virginia and Florida State even if it made Heppler – architect of 13 ACC titles, including 10 of the past 14 – more nervous.

It was normal for the Jackets, who set an ACC record with their 37-under par combined score of 827. That bettered the 831 logged by Tech in 2011 when Paul Haley II, Kyle Scott, John-Tyler Griffin, James White and Richy Werenski went on to finish second in stroke play the NCAA championship before falling 3-2 in match play to eventual champion Augusta State.

This Tech team rolled to a 15-stroke victory over Virginia. The Jackets tied Wake Forest with 18 team championships and repeated their ACC title. It is the second for juniors Ogletree, Schniederjans and Tyler Strafaci and sophomore Noah Norton, and the first for freshman Connor Howe.

Ogletree may have put too much thought into the final round after firing 66-65 on Thursday for a three-shot lead.

First, he played maintenance man.

The weather dropped a tree beside the house that the Jackets rented, and it blocked the street. They couldn’t get to the club Friday morning with that debris in the way. “[Assistant coach Drew] McGee and I got out there and helped the neighbors,” he said. “They had a chainsaw, and we just picked up the limbs,” to clear the road.

On Saturday, he shot 73 to finish one stroke behind FSU’s John Pak. They played together, and Ogletree couldn’t quite overcome a double bogey on No. 6, where his second shot hit a cart path and bounced out of bounds.

“I was nervous before I teed off, but I wasn’t nervous when I was playing. When you’re ahead, it’s hard to not think ahead. It’s hard to be aggressive when you’re going to hit because you’re not thinking about playing aggressive,” Ogletree said. “It was very awkward. I’ve played some 36-hole days before, but I’ve never played 36 and then waited a day and played 18.”

Overall, the Jackets played with clear minds after their 18-under par 270 in the second round Thursday created space.

On a gray, breezy and cool Saturday, Schniederjans fired 68 to finish in sixth place at 8-under par 208, Norton matched with 68 and Howe added an even-par 72 after going 72-68 on Thursday. Strafaci, whose opening-round 67 counted, shot 73.

Ogletree made a run at the title.

He found a green-side bunker on No. 16 – “there was no sand in the bunker; I thought he had no shot,” Heppler said.

Ogletree played a 58-degree wedge, but rather than opening the club face and carving a lot of sand, “I closed the face and played it like a chip shot” because there wasn’t much, if any, sand.

He stopped the ball within 18 inches of the hole, and putted in for par.

Pak birdied for a two-shot lead.

Ogletree had another fantastic chip shot into 17 for a par. Pak matched.

And another fantastic chip shot into 18, which he birded. Pak parred to win.

Call it all a learning experience.

“I think I kind of learned that it doesn’t really matter about the lead; you have to stick to your game plan,” he said. “I was just trying to make as many birdies as I can (Tech led the field by eight with 63 and led the field in eagles by two with four). Looking back, I probably should have been more aggressive in that third round.

“But I look at it as a positive. I think this tournament could help me more than if I’d won it.”

In the end, the Jackets won their 18th ACC golf title because they are talented and didn’t micro-manage or over-advise.

It didn’t matter that Norton shot 80 in the first round. There were no special pep talks.

“We all have trust in each other. In this game, crap happens,” Schniederjans said. “Noah follows up with 68, 68. Nobody’s going to try to make that into a big deal. We pretty much knew that if we just played, we were in good shape.”

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