May 17, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Fresh and frenetic off one of the one of the biggest wins in program history, Georgia Tech golf head coach Bruce Heppler on Saturday might have appeared to be – if you know him at all – in a position to gripe.
The No. 2/5 Yellow Jackets scorched everybody in the Raleigh NCAA regional (one of six), winning by 17 strokes over No. 8 Washington with a 27-under par score of 825. All five golfers finished in the top 15 in a field of 75; Ollie Schniederjans was second, Seth Reeves tied for third, Bo Andrews tied for sixth and Anders Albertson was eighth.
Yet Heppler’s quintet went four strokes over par on the back nine at the Lonnie Cooper Golf Course. You might think from afar – again, especially if you know Heppler — that the Jackets relaxed upon knowing that they had the thing wrapped up.
They shot 31-under par, after all, over the first 45 holes.
Would that be the attitude that you’d want your team taking into the NCAA championship May 23-28 at the Prairie Dunes Golf Club in Hutchinson, Kan.?
Where’d the killer instinct go?
Heppler, though, can keep it real.
While he admitted, eventually, that the Jackets may have taken their foot off the gas, the Tech coach also went out of his way in a phone call while rushing to catch a flight that Lonnie Cooper was tougher Saturday.
Tech missed by one stroke the day’s best round even though Schniederjans – a national player of the year candidate – had his worst round in a while with a one-over par 72 with bogeys at Nos. 15 and 18.
A glance at scorecards did not tell the entire story, and so some back story is appropriate for greater understanding.
“Sometimes after back-to-back low rounds it’s hard to come back and do it again,” Heppler said. “To follow up a low one with another is hard . . . the wind blew today. It was harder. It’s not [about being] relaxed. It’s just where you get in a situation where what are you supposed to do now?
“Maybe you start playing individually. It’s hard to keep the throttle down yet we almost had the low score again today.”
Texas A&M took that honor, if you want to call it that.
The Aggies fired a 284 to Tech’s 285. That led to a third-place finish. Washington lost a stroke to the Jackets with a 286, although Husky Jonathan Sanders didn’t back into the title with birdies at Nos. 15, 16 and 17 before a double bogey.
He went -1 over the final four holes where Schniederjans went +2.
Sanders’ cumulative score of 10-under par 203 beat Ollie’s 7-under 206.
Heppler even found a silver lining in that.
Schniederjans entered the round knowing that one of his chief competitors for national Player Of the Year honors, Stanford junior Patrick Rodgers, had a commanding lead in the Eugene, Ore., regional.
Maybe, just maybe, Ollie still has something to learn in college.
Schniederjans announced last week that he will return for his senior season, unlike Rodgers, who is turning pro, and Ollie went for it – perhaps too hard.
“[Sanders] made birdies, and made a double on the last hole. [Schniederjans] was playing his player-of-the-year round knowing Rodgers had a seven-stroke lead,” Heppler said. “You think the entire player of the year comes down to the last nine holes. It’s a lot for him to learn.
“There was as much pressure on him as any player in America; the better you play, the greater the pressure. Sometimes, you just try so hard.”
The Jackets tried plenty hard in Raleigh, where every golfer had a substantial hand in the outcome.
Recent graduate Richy Werenski scuffled late, going four-over on the back nine Saturday.
Yet his 66 in the first round helped in a dramatic way to start Tech rolling. Yesterday’s plus-two 73 counted toward the team score as well. As Heppler said, “He got us going.”
Albertson’s 73 was the Jackets’ throwaway score on Thursday, but he helped big with 67-71 from there.
Reeves went 69-69-69 and counted every day.
Bo Andrews, who graduated last weekend like Werenski and Reeves, didn’t score Saturday with a 74, yet his scores of 67 and 68 on Thursday and Friday did.
There is more to this team than meets the eye, and Andrews – a Raleigh native – is as good a case of proof as anyone.
He redshirted a few years ago when his sister was seriously ill, yet always seemed and seems to find a way to smile.
“Bo is a really good guy for the team. He was part of a really strong high school team. From a morale standpoint, and going to dinner and things like that . . . he’s funny, and he cares deeply about the team,” Heppler said about his chief peer-to-peer accountability and counselor chieftain.
“He cares immensely about the program, playing here, who’s gone before, and so I think he’s an unofficial captain kind of guy. He’s been around winning.”
That would be attachable to the Jackets.
Their sixth tournament win of the season puts them within one of the school record (2001, ’02) and if they match that the Jackets will, obviously, win it all for the second NCAA national title in school history (2007 women’s tennis; BTW, football titles and college indoor tennis titles are not counted by the NCAA).
Tech’s fifth regional win (’91, ’98, ’99, ’02) set program regional records for 54-hole score (825), widest margin of victory (17 strokes) and best single-round score (16-under 268 in the opening round).
The Jackets have weathered a storm from the unexpected defection of Shun Yat Hak, whose family decided after his freshman year that he should turn pro rather than return to Tech for this season.
Heppler is not surprised.
“You return four starters and a pretty good player from a team that was an NCAA semifinalist . . . but you can’t anticipate the year,” the coach said. “Ollie has had such a better year, Seth has had a better year, and Anders is starting to play well again. “
“You knew it was out there because of their ages, and the experience. Every guy has won [significant amateur or college] tournaments.”
If that happens to read like Heppler “expected” the Jackets to roll, don’t over think. Tech does expect success, but every time out, Heppler’s team goes about the process of earning what it gets.
There was no great celebration after Saturday’s regional win. The team rushed to the Triad Airport with hopes of catching a quick flight.
“We don’t do a lot of talking,” Heppler said. “No. We just signed scorecards, grabbed the scoreboard [to be mounted on wall in the golf office/clubhouse in the north end of Bobby Dodd stadium, and took off for the airport.”
The Jackets haven’t landed yet; they’re still on the fly.
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