Nov. 15, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Every athlete wants to finish on a high note.
A good final impression can make the period between seasons so much easier to deal with.
It’s hard to leave on a higher note than James White did from the fall golf season.
White spearheaded Georgia Tech’s runaway triumph in the United States Collegiate Championship, which was instrumental in the Jackets’ final No. 5 ranking in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (they were No. 6 in the Golfstat national rankings).
At the Collegiates, the junior from Acworth, Ga., shot a tournament-low 12-under 204, to earn his first collegiate victory. Included was an opening-round 62, reportedly a career-low.
“It wasn’t my career-low,” he politely pointed out. “I shot 61 in a tournament when I was 17 or 16, maybe. It was in a junior golf tournament. That’s my lowest for college and it’s the lowest score I’ve shot on [The Golf Club of Georgia].”
Of course, there was a difference this time, which Head Coach Bruce Heppler was happy to point out.
“The difference was this time he won the tournament,” said Heppler. “The 61 he didn’t play well enough to win the golf tournament. So this was a little better, I think.”
A lot of things were a little better during the fall for White, who was recognized as co-Amateur of the Month for October by the Southern Golf Association and who climbed 29 spots in the collegiate rankings from the start of the season to finish at 25.
Such a steep climb was unexpected after the first two events, especially the Ping/Golfweek Preview, where he was 15-over, shooting rounds of 74, 76 and 81.
That tournament is significant, however, as from that point on, White never shot higher than 72. He put together rounds of 71, 72 and 70 to finish at three-under and tie for eighth at the Brickyard Collegiate, then, at the U.S. Collegiate, shot the 62, followed by rounds of 70 and 72.
The consistency he displayed over the season’s final six rounds was satisfying and part of what he’d wanted to achieve.
“I felt like I needed to hit the ball a little bit more consistently and make better decisions mentally. It was probably more of a mental thing,” White said. “Making those decisions was a step in the right direction this fall.
“It’s something I’ve been working on and waiting for it to come around,” he added. “It feels like I’ve accomplished something to start out the new year.”
Heppler likes what he saw and believes that further progress is forthcoming. He’s counting on White to build on his results and remain focused, which means putting some of the accolades behind him.
“The key for James is to not get too far ahead of himself,” he said. “The hard part once you see yourself in newspapers and rankings and stuff is not to start running away with your imagination, but just to stay with the everyday process of getting better.”
White won’t let that become a problem, although he admits he has allowed himself to jump ahead some, having had thoughts about continuing Tech’s domination within the ACC, where the Jackets have taken the last two Conference championships.
“Definitely go for it. Don’t stop at two, right?” he said. “I guess we just like the course and we know how to prepare for it. Just do the same things that we’ve done every year since I’ve been here.”
Dominating the ACC, combined with his victory at the Collegiates should make for fun discussion when White goes home for the holidays, and talks with his father, Jim, who played at Clemson.
“I’ve got some bragging rights on my dad,” he said with a laugh. “His best finish in a college tournament, I think, may have been fifth at the ACCs.”
White also was quick to thank his dad for his influence in learning the game which he’s been playing since he was nine, and his support.
“It felt great to have my dad there and us be able to share in experiences because he’s been through the same kind of things and us talk about it,” he said. “So it’s been pretty special.”
The one time he did go against his dad’s wishes was in choosing a college.
“There was a lot of discussion about going to Clemson. That was until I came on a visit here and I was sold pretty instantly,” he recalled. “Coach [Heppler] really wanted me. He really thought a lot of me. I don’t know who wouldn’t want to play East Lake and Golf Club of Georgia every day. So I just went ahead and said ‘Sign me up.'”
Heppler still does think a lot of White, the winner of the team’s 2010 Watts Gunn Trophy, as most improved player, and has set an even loftier goal for him.
“For us to go where we want to go he needs to be someone who can contend from week-to-week, to win the individual thing,” he said, “Maybe he can figure out how to win the Bobby Jones Award for most outstanding player. That’s probably the next step. If he can do that then we’re going to have a good year.”
But until January, when the team resumes play, Heppler would prefer that White _– actually the whole team — limit his thoughts to things not related to golf.
“Right now, the key is to get away from it and let your mind rest, let your body rest up from that. Be a regular student and do well in school here the last five weeks,” he said. “They’ll get out after finals and have a month to really start the process of getting ready for the spring. So I’m really trying to encourage them to get away from the game a little bit now so that the enthusiasm comes back.”
For White that means time relaxing time with his dad…away from the golf course.
“We’ll go somewhere else,” he said. “Occasionally we’ll play a few rounds a year. But he always wants to play well when he goes out to play and I always want to play well when I go out to play. So it’s never the greatest time to just kind of relax.
“I think we’re going to go on a fishing trip pretty soon,” he said. “So that will be fun.”