Dec. 19, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Golf may seem like an afterthought with the holiday chill in the air, yet Bruce Heppler is nearly as busy as ever, and Georgia Tech’s head coach will remain that way right through the end of the school year and beyond.
After recently being named head coach of the 2015 U.S. Palmer Cup squad of collegians that will compete June 12-14 against a squad of European-born collegiate players, he’s keeping tabs on the Yellow Jackets as they enter amateur golf events between semesters. He’s watching others, too.
The first six players on the 10-member U.S. squad will be picked in April based on the Golf Coaches Association’s Palmer Cup rankings, where Tech senior Ollie Schniederjans currently ranks No. 1.
A GCAA committee will pick the next three, and one of them has to be a non-Division I golfer. Heppler will have the final selection before the Cup is contested in June at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
Heppler has done this before. He coached the U.S. squad in 2003 at Cassique in Kiawah Island, S.C. Some formats have changed, although the prestigious event is still match play much like the Ryder Cup. Tech’s coach is already looking ahead.
“You’re coaching with guys you don’t have. You probably recruited most of them, but didn’t get them,” Heppler said with a chuckle. “You don’t have same kind of relationship as guys you work with every day.
“It’s different. It’s pretty emotional … you try to figure out whose games match up, who it seems they match up with. I’ll know most of them from being around, see who sits with who at dinner. Guys from same school may or may not be a good thing.”
Heppler is abundantly familiar with Schniederjans, although it’s unclear if he will still have the amateur status required to participate in the Palmer Cup.
There are plenty of other names high on the rankings list who are not foreign.
The University of Georgia’s Lee McCoy is presently in the No. 2 spot, Vanderbilt’s Hunter Stewart and Carson Jacob are Nos. 4 and 6, respectively, and Alabama’s Robby Shelton is at No. 5.
The Yellow Jackets and Heppler have competed often against Alabama and Vanderbilt, and he knows of plenty other golfers in the top 25, including Virginia’s Denny McCarthy (No. 8), and Kennesaw State’s Jimmy Beck (12). Fifteen of the top 25 players are from programs in the Southeast, including seven in the ACC.
Florida State’s Rowin Caron, of The Netherlands, is No. 1 in the European rankings, with several more familiar golfers high in those rankings. Kennesaw State’s Teremoana Beaucousin of France is No. 15.
Heppler and Tech assistant Brennan Webb are now deep into recruiting for their squad, and will be near Miami at the highly-regarded Orange Bowl Junior Dec. 28-30.
The Jackets will return to work a bit later than usual next semester, as they played later than usual in the fall in winning the Warrior Princeville Makai Invitational Nov. 3-5 in Hawai’i.
That replaced Tech’s usual January trip to the Big Island, and with practice to begin Jan. 30 rather than soon after students return to school early in the month, Schniederjans – the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur — is planning to play a European Tour event in Dubai before getting into the spring schedule with the Jackets.
“We’ll have eight hours a week with the guys until that time,” Heppler said. “So they’ll be lifting, working out, and there will be a couple hours a week of skill instruction. Usually, qualifying would start that first weekend of the semester.”
Heppler and Webb are presently focused foremost on Tech, where the Jackets’ successes have led to his appointment as coach of the Palmer Cup squad again.
In Heppler’s first 19 years, the Jackets won or shared 10 ACC titles with 11 top-8 finishes in the NCAA Championships, including three runner-up spots. Tech has won seven of the last nine conference titles.
With a solid spring, senior Anders Albertson might be able to play his way into a Palmer Cup spot, and that would be fine with Heppler, because it would help the Jackets along the way. That would also help inasmuch as he’d have one more golfer that he knows better than most.
Albertson turned in his best tournament of the fall at the Warrior. He finished in fourth place, one stroke behind Schneiderjans, who tied for second.
When the time comes – the Palmer Cup will be less than two weeks after the NCAA Championships in Bradenton, Fla. – Heppler won’t have a whole lot of time to put the squad together.
“I’ll probably make a few phone calls [after the squad is selected], and I’ll see the players at tournaments,” he said. “We’ll meet in Chicago, and they will have an event to play with sponsors, and then a full-blown practice day.
“That’s kind of it. They could pick a lot of people to coach the team. Our sport is full of more good coaches than ever before. Maybe Anders can have a good spring. To be picked [as head coach] is a reflection of our program. It’s an honor to represent.”
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