OOLTEWAH, TENN.—On the backs of__Kyle Scott and Paul Haley, the team's No. 4 and 5 players, Georgia Tech jumped from tied for 10th to third place with a six-under 282 during the second round of the NCAA Championship at The Honors Course. The two each shot 69s to put the Yellow Jackets, 10 strokes back of leader Florida State, into position to advance to match play with a solid third round Thursday, although coach__Bruce Heppler knows there's too much golf still to be played to become complacent.
"There's no being comfortable here," he said Wednesday. "You've got to try and win the tournament. We've set out to try and not watch the scoreboard. We've told the guys that [assistant coach Christian Newton] and I will keep score and we'll let them know if they're playing on Friday or not."
The Yellow Jackets entered nationals a bit under the radar, despite having won their second straight ACC title and fourth in five years. While coming in third at the Southeast Regional outside of Atlanta, a final-round 272 was the tournament's low score and nearly allowed them to get within four strokes of victorious Oklahoma State.
In anticipation for NCAAs, Heppler took his team to The Honors Course for a couple rounds in early May (with the course within 100 miles of campus, the team could have a practice session under NCAA rules). Aside from the players becoming comfortable with the zoysa grass, they also got a chance to see that the course, while difficult, could yield sub-par scores.
"Everyone is remembering the massacre in 1996," said Heppler, referring to the last NCAA Championship held here, when red numbers were almost nonexistent. "And I thought it was an advantage to shoot some under par rounds so when they got here [for the championship] they thought they could play good. If all you heard was what happened before, you're thinking 75 is a good score. I think all five guys played well up here those two days to think they could shoot under par rounds. And you look at what the results were and that's happening to everybody."
For even more practice in zoysa, Heppler had his team play East Lake GC, Atlanta Athletic Club and Peachtree the week between regionals and nationals.
Having their No. 4 and 5 golfers playing so well has made the week less stressful for the entire team, as has the fact that senior Chesson Hadley finally seems to have overcome his struggles with the putter. A lesson from teammate James White a few days prior to ACCs helped things click, as the former All-American claimed medalist honors at the conference championship, after having had only two top-20 finishes all season, then finished T-8 at the regional.