Oct. 22, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
No matter how young Georgia Tech’s golf team roster is, there’s proof in the books that the Yellow Jackets can win. Perhaps if senior James White sticks to his book, Tech will be a repeat winner at the United States College Championship today through Tuesday at the Golf Club of Georgia.
After an uneven first couple years at Tech, White – with a big assist from head coach/psychologist Bruce Heppler got right about a year ago and ran away with the USCC title by five strokes as the Jackets boat-raced a talented field for a 27-stroke win.
Wrapping up the fall season in glorious fashion propelled Tech to its third straight ACC title in the spring, and launched White toward All-America honors.
He played well in amateur events early this summer, too, before trailing off and then failing to make the Jackets’ travel squad for the first tournament of this fall season.
A second, uh, pep talk from Heppler and a return to book-keeping has helped White turn back the right direction. He tied for 18th and then 14th in Tech’s past two events, including the Jackets’ lopsided win a couple weeks ago in the Brickyard in Macon.
For him, it’s a matter of going back to basics and that book.
Last year, he started playing better after both changing his mental approach to a few things (chiefly by not feeling sorry for himself or making excuses), and by keeping a journal. Sometime this summer, he said he stopped writing, “When I started having success and thinking I could handle it.”
“I just started back a journal again this past week. I did it [first] kind of leading into the summer of my junior year . . . holding myself accountable for thoughts on the golf course and off.”
White will be joined at the Golf Club of Georgia, where Tech is playing host to a 14-team field that includes 10 of the nation’s top 30-ranked squads, by every teammate. The top four daily scores from he, freshman Anders Albertson, redshirt sophomore Bo Andrews, redshirt sophomore Seth Reeves and senior Minghao Wang will count in the team competition.
Tech is abundantly familiar with the Golf Club of Georgia, of course, and that’s not the only reason White believes that he and the Jackets played so well in this event last fall.
“That’s the biggest thing, going to a course that I . . . probably played 200 or more times. It makes you feel very comfortable, and having the support never hurts. You know, I love having people come out and make you feel important.
“Not having to travel and change time zones … that’s a big deal, too. Not having to spend a whole day traveling through airports, dragging bags, getting in travel cars you don’t know … you can just relax.”
Perhaps White can relax more than he was able to when the season began.
His autumn began oddly when his flight back from the U.S. Amateur was delayed; he got into Atlanta at around 3 or 4 a.m., and then had to rush to the first day of class. Soon thereafter, he failed to qualify for the Jackets’ first tournament.
Before long, he had a déjà vu with Heppler. The coach basically told White to compartmentalize his life and man up.
“[Before the first Heppler super conference] I felt like if I had to study on the road, or didn’t get to study as much as I wanted, or there was something else distracting me from golf, then that was a disadvantage and it was unfair,” the linkster said. “Last fall, second tournament into my junior year, coach had a very confronting conversation with me, and I realized that I had to stop stressing out about stuff, stop making excuses for myself and just go give it my best.
“I kind of dipped back into that earlier this fall, and we had another conversation about it. Coach is huge for that. The message was … I just need to grow up. Just do it. Have a plan. When I go to the golf course, I’m focused completely on golf. When I walk away, even if I shoot 85, just forget about it. Go study, and then forget about that and go to the team dinner and have a good time.”
White has created a buzz phrase for himself, and he believes many of his thoughts apply to the entire team, especially now that the Jackets have won a tournament (the Brickyard two weeks ago).
“I love the quote, `You can’t out-perform your self-image.’ You’ve got to start by believing that you can do it, and it takes it to another level when you actually do it and then you can say, `Hey, I already did that,’ ” he said. “I’ve been able to settle down and collect my thoughts. Coach had that talk with me, and … I took a quote song from Nelly: `No matter if I’m up or down 10, I’m going to fight `til the end.’ “
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