Aug. 11, 2017
The Good Word | by Matt Winkeljohn
It’s not necessarily uncommon for Bruce Heppler to be out west this time of year, as Georgia Tech’s golf coach might be found in any corner of the country recruiting right up until students begin the fall semester.
Usually, there’s no heavy lifting in his work, yet he’s in for something different on this journey. Heppler is going to caddy for sophomore Andy Ogletree in the U.S. Amateur at the Riviera Country Club in Palisades, Calif., Monday-Sunday outside Los Angeles.
Unlike in most amateur golf tournaments, players are not allowed to carry their own bags at the U.S. Amateur.
The head coach has no plans to tell Ogletree what to do, what clubs to use, which shots to shape, but rather simply carry his bag and offer support.
“I’ll just try to watch him and encourage him, and they kind of like that for some reason,” Heppler said. “A lot of it will be caddy stuff: see if there are different elevations . . . if he hits a really good shot, step that off and use it as information.
“Make your own decision, and I’ll just try to be positive for 36 holes and not worry about what the cut’s going to be.”
The U.S. Amateur marks the end of a busy summer for Heppler, who amidst recruiting, spent time in Utah at a family reunion, and to check in on his son, Zakary, as he begins his second semester at Brigham Young, and his daughter, Moriah, who will be a freshman at Dixie State Community College in St. George, Utah, about four hours from BYU.
“This was a pleasure trip. I was also in Salt Lake City for U.S. Junior Amateur qualifiers [recruiting],” the coach said. “[Moriah] is going to go to Dixie State for a year and we’ll see what happens. It’s where my parents live, and my brother lives and my sister lives.
“She has a goal to serve a [Mormon] mission like her brother, and then come home next summer and possibly go to Brigham Young next year.”
It will be interesting to see how the U.S. Amateur goes for Heppler. He might be in for some pretty serious work at Riviera depending on how well Ogletree plays.
The field of 312 golfers will play 18 holes each on Monday and another 18 on Tuesday to pare the field to 64. Often, a tiebreaker is required to set the match-play field.
Then, there will be a round of match play on Wednesday, when the field will be cut to 32, and two rounds of match play on Thursday, and single rounds of match play on Friday and Saturday. Sunday’s championship will be 36 holes, and Heppler might stay to the end even if Ogletree doesn’t make it.
Tech assistant coach Drew McGee will be at the U.S. Amateur, too, because this might as well be a team trip given that half of the Yellow Jackets’ roster earned spots in the field.
Ogletree will be joined by classmates Luke Schniederjans and Tyler Strafaci, seniors Jacob Joiner and Chris Petefish and incoming freshman Noah Norton.
“Drew’s going to be going out and try to support them,” Heppler said. “I would probably stay to the end if he’s the last guy standing. It will be very challenging.”
This will not be the first time Heppler has done this. He caddied in past U.S. Amateurs for Petefish and former Jacket Ollie Schniederjans.
No matter the results, the head coach is excited about the upcoming season as several Tech players have had very fine summers.
Fall classes begin on Aug. 21 at Tech, and the golfers will begin qualifying almost right away for the season-opening Carpet Capital Collegiate.
“I think they see what they want to do, and this is a good thing . . . I assume there have been conversations all summer about being better than last year,” Heppler said. “Luke said, `Coach, we’re going to be freaking awesome.’ That was really convincing. It would be nice to get off to a great start.
“You don’t want to go to the ACC Tournament not [having won] a tournament all year. It just changes you [when the team wins a tournament]. There’s no more `Are we good enough to do this?’ We continue to try to play a top 5 schedule. There’s a little more confidence and conviction that we can be good.”