Jan. 30, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Hawaii in February.
It’s the perfect place to work on your golf game — it’s a pretty good place to work on just about anything, really — and that’s exactly what the Georgia Tech golf team will be doing for three days, starting on Wednesday.
Beginning at around 12:30 p.m. local time (5:30 p.m. in Atlanta), the top five players of the 5th-ranked Yellow Jackets will tee it up at the 21st Annual Amer Ari Invitational, at the Waikoloa King’s Course, in Hilo, Hawaii. (Fans can get live scoring updates HERE).
It’s the first opportunity to play since Tech’s statement victory at the U.S. Collegiate Championship last fall and is being used as a first step in getting ready for the spring season.
“We’re just trying to knock the rust off,” said Griffin, a redshirt senior from Wilson, N.C., who carried a team-low a 71.2 stroke average in the fall, and finished ranked as the ninth-best player in the nation according to Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.
“We haven’t been able to play so it will be nice to get in some warm weather and be able to hit some shots. We don’t really expect too much out of it because we’ve been in the snow. It’s just one of those tournaments to get the wheels rolling a little bit, try to get a little better for the end of the year.”
For the seniors, it’s the beginning of the end of collegiate careers, which leaves them with mixed emotions.
“I’m pretty excited about the last college stint. I’m also a little nervous about it,” said Scott, a Johannesburg, South Africa, native, who tied for second on the team with White at 72.3 strokes per round in 12 fall events, and was No. 29 in the nation according to Golfweek/Sagarin. “The big world’s coming up after this semester. It’s lot to think about but I’m just going to play the best golf that I can.”
“Obviously it goes by pretty quick,” added Haley, a redshirt senior from Dallas, Texas, who finished the fall averaging 73.0 strokes per round, and had three top-10 finishes, including a seventh at the U.S. Collegiate. “This spring you really want to make the most of it. I only have one class. Hopefully I can put all my time and effort into golf for the most part and hopefully have a good spring.”
The Jackets will be joined in Hawaii by seven programs in the top 25, including top-ranked Oklahoma State, No. 2 UCLA, No. 11 Texas, No. 13 Stanford, No. 22 USC, No. 23 Texas Tech, and No. 24 Washington. Also participating are Arizona State, Oregon State, TCU, Cal-Davis, Colorado, Hawaii-Manoa, San Jose State, Oregon, San Francisco and Florida State, as well as D-II entries Western Washington and the host, Hawaii-Hilo.
While the Jackets weren’t helped by icy weather, which caused them to lag behind their usual amount of course time, the team is counting on their commitment to physical fitness and a positive mental outlook built on their strong finish last season, when they won the ACC Championship for the second straight year and fourth time in five years, and the victory at the Collegiates, the first in school history.
Head coach Bruce Heppler’s team is hungry to continue to earn firsts — in tournaments and in team history — all the way into May and June. That starts Wednesday.
“I think that everybody understands that we can win,” said Griffin. “Last year we kind of knew we were good but the NCAAs, we finished third in stroke play. We felt like we could win but we weren’t sure if we could. Now we know we can.”
“I think we just take a lot of confidence as a group,” added Haley. “We lost Chesson [Hadley], but Richy [Werenski] has been playing really well and hopefully we can build on what we did last year. We have a lot of confidence from it.”
Coming from Atlanta, where the weather just peaked over 60 to Hawaii, where the forecast calls for temps in the 70s (although showers could be an issue) required as much preparation for the environment as for the tournament itself. But the senior Jackets, who went on a similar trip last year, are ready and know what to pack.
“A football,” said Griffin, with a laugh. “We’re going to take a ball and play on the beach.”
“Definitely my swimming trunks, spend some time in the sea,” said Scott. “Unfortunately, I hurt my back on the beach last year playing football, so I think I might take a skip on the football on the beach. I’ll be a spectator this year.”
“I want to bring the putter, man,” he said. “We’re going over there to win.”