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#TGW: Every Day is Labor Day

Sept. 8, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Monday was like every day for Bruce Heppler, which is to say laborious, as Georgia Tech’s golf coach is perhaps busier these days than ever.

His 21st season as head coach of the Yellow Jackets is right around the corner, and he’s preparing his team – one of the youngest he’s had — for the Carpet Capital Collegiate without a wingman.

Assistant coach Brennan Webb was hired two weeks ago as head coach at Middle Tennessee State and there’s no time to hire an assistant now, and probably won’t be until the semester break — if then.

So he toils daily from well before sunup to long after the sun sets at trying to set a roster whose componentry looks odd as Anders Albertson and Ollie Schniederjans will be absent for the first time in four years.

All they did was win three ACC titles between them while picking up All-ACC honors four times each to go along with five combined All-America honors.

Albertson made the travel team for every event in his four years, and Schniederjans missed just one tournament when he used a sponsor’s exemption to play his first PGA event at the same time back in the spring.

Drew Czuchry graduated as well. So Heppler is trying to shape a travel squad for the trip to The Farm Club, in Rocky Face, near Dalton, Friday-Sunday.

Freshmen Tyler Joiner and Tye Waller have been competing with sophomores James Clark, Jacob Joiner, Chris Petefish and Michael Pisciotta, and juniors Vincent Whaley and Michael Hines to see who’s who and what’s what.

Heppler has rarely faced so many decisions, on and off the course.

“Not since my second year . . . this is the first time in 18 years that we have not had at least one All-America player returning,” he said. “Not even an all-conference player.

“You have to pit them against each other a lot to challenge them. We’ll do a lot of qualifying. We’ll do a lot of encouraging. The schedule is not easy. There has not been a lot of time for bonding, except at 5:45 in the morning at workouts.”

Qualifying, in fact, will take six rounds.

So why has there not been as much time for the coach to connect with players?

It’s kind of funny that Heppler says, “we,” will do a lot of encouraging because really, it’s, “he.” Webb has moved on, and the golf team’s part-time administrative assistant is no longer with the program.

Heppler is a one-man show, and there’s a lot more going on in his life.

The re-shaping of Tech’s practice facility off 14th Ave., which began early in the summer, has hit snags, and he’s frequently tasked with decisions on that front.

Additionally, the golf program’s fund-raising push is in full-court press mode this time of year, and finally but not last or least, Heppler is keenly involved in athletic director Mike Bobinski’s department-wide, long-range strategic planning project.

The goal of the many hours of meetings and endless brainstorming is to reshape Tech’s athletic mission statements and operating procedures.

“I think today was the ninth straight day of 4:45 a.m. to 11 p.m.,” he said recently.

Heppler knew Albertson, Schniederjans and Czuchry would graduate.

He had modest warning that Webb would depart, and the practice facility hang-ups were largely unpredictable.

Where the plan when dirt started turning early in the summer was to have the facility in play by this fall, the revised plan in light of issues encountered — some relating to watershed management issues — Heppler hopes the Jackets can utilize the re-made track by March.

Even for that to happen, sod needs to go in soon or it will be too late, and the sod can’t go in until certain problems and the permits related to them are resolved. Actually, this is a simplified summary statement.

In some ways, the roster management is easiest. It’s certainly most enjoyable.

Whaley and Petefish found footing in the second semester last year, and Clark and especially Hines otherwise have the most experience among the Jackets.

Albertson and Whaley tied for medalist honors at Ohio State late last spring, and Whaley birdied both playoff holes in the ACC championship to help Tech defeat Clemson for the eight conference title in the past 10 years.

Whaley also was Tech’s low man in the NCAA tournament, and the Texan put together a solid summer with three top-15 finishes.

“Maybe they’ll surprise me,” Heppler said. “Basically, two spots will be filled by people who have not even played college golf.”

Actually, Jacob Joiner and Pisciotta have competed, although just a little.

Jacob’s brother, Tyler, and Waller are trying to work their way into the mix.

“If you can make qualifying meaningful, there’s potential here,” Heppler said. “Some of them will really run with it. They couldn’t beat Anders and Ollie, or Seth [Reeves] or whomever [in recent years], and worked really hard this summer.

“They’re the same in that they all struggled initially to be on their own [in college]. Vince had a nice summer . . . Petefish was solid. James played well, won the Eastern Am.”

Perhaps sibling rivalry will stoke the Jackets’ collective fires.

The Joiner brothers have been going at it.

“They’re very competitive with each other,” the coach said. “Neither wants to lose to the other guy. Maybe that will juice them up. They’re completely different kids. I don’t know that one would listen to the other. They’ve kind of got their own way of doing things.”

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