Golf prepared to defend ACC championship

As one of the most consistent and successful athletic program on campus in the last 15 years, the golf program has won 15 ACC championships since 1985, including five out of the last six. 20-year head coach Bruce Hepler has won the ACC Coach of the Year award eight times.

They are the current defending ACC champions and have advanced to the NCAA Championship Match Play round — a stage that only eight teams reach — four out of the last five years. The team has consistently been ranked in the top ten nationally over the last ten years and has produced numerous PGA Tour professionals.

Last year, the Jackets won the ACC championship and their respective NCAA Regional and finished fifth overall in stroke play at the NCAA Championship before losing to Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals.

After losing key contributors in Bo Andrews, Seth Reeves and Richard Werenski to graduation, Heppler was able replenish the talent pool with four talented and highly rated freshmen: Jacob Joiner, Chris Petefish, Michael Pisciotta and James Clark. Led by star seniors Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson, the Jackets were ranked third in the nation to begin the season.

“College golf is very open this year,” Schniederjans said. “There are no great teams that are better than everyone else like there have been for the past few years.”

According to the Powder Spring native, despite the team’s turnover, the goal is still to win the ACC championship again and contend for the national title.

The first tournament of the season found the Yellow Jackets near Dalton, Georgia, competing in the Carpet City Collegiate. Schniederjans, who holds the honor of being the top ranked amateur golfer in the world, won the event by two strokes, and the team finished second overall to South Carolina by just a one stroke margin. It was the sixth career individual victory for the Harrison High School graduate, tying him for third most in
Tech history.

After strong showings in Tennessee and Alabama, the Jackets came back home to host the United States Collegiate Championship at the Golf Club of Georgia, just down the road in Alpharetta.

“It’s nice because it’s the closest event we have to home,” Albertson said. “It’s really cool to see other Tech athletes and classmates I’ve done projects with come out and see you play.”

After a poor start, Petefish rallied the team to a seventh place finish with a four-under-par 68 in the final round, while Schniederjans finished tied for sixth

Tech closed the fall season in style with an emphatic win at the Warrior Princeville Makai Invitational in Hawaii. The Jackets ran away with the team competition, winning by a whopping 15 strokes as Schniederjans turned in yet another impressive second place finish and Albertson shot his career-best 54 hole total to finish tied
for fourth.

It was the best team performance of the season according to Schniederjans.

“We finished the fall well by taking care of business and shooting low scores,” Schniederjans said. “It was a great team effort overall. Everybody stepped up at some point.”

After the strong finish to the fall season, the team returned in the spring by tying for second place in the Puerto Rico Classic, as Albertson and Schniederjans finished tied for 11th individually. The team is currently ranked fourth in the nation by the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA) and sixth in the nation by Golfweek Magazine.

There are many bright spots to point out with this team, but all conversations inevitably turn to Schniederjans and Albertson. The dynamic duo will be graduating in May and turning professional in the summer. As Albertson is finishing his Tech career strong and looks forward to the professional life, Schniederjans has already had a taste of the pros, having played in the Scottish Open last summer and in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January. The No. 1 ranked amateur went up against the likes of the No. 1 ranked professional, Rory McIlroy, in addition to Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer. He said that he wasn’t overwhelmed by all the
big names.

“I don’t get caught up in that. I think they’re just regular guys trying to play professional golf just like I am,” Schniederjans said.

He added that it helped his comfort level to have a couple of professional events under his belt because “you feel like you fit in more than you did when you’re the new kid on the block.”

Playing a sport that requires miles of open space for a university in the middle of Atlanta has its obvious downsides. The current practice facility consists of a small space on 14th Street, jammed between Atlantic Station apartments and the local CBS TV station. The team has to drive a minimum of 30 minutes, often through heavy traffic, to practice on an actual course.

“Things really aren’t very convenient right now, especially if you’re having a tough weather day,” Schniederjans said.

After watching the football program receive a brand new practice facility, the basketball team receive a beautifully renovated arena and practice facility and the baseball team receive a newly renovated clubhouse, Coach Heppler and his players were finally rewarded with the promise of a much needed expanded practice facility by President Peterson.

According to Albertson, the new facility will include a practice range surrounded by a par-three course, which will incorporate putting and chipping greens with different types of grasses. There will be a clubhouse and two hitting bays, with doors that will open to allow players to hit from indoors to the range outside (ideal for inclement weather).

As one would expect from a prestigious Institute of Technology, the facility will include innovative technology such as TrackMan indoor simulators to monitor swing paths, ball flights, and spin rates and a putting studio with similar technology to capture stroke paths, club face angles, and more. There will also be a brand new locker room and club
repair room.

“Not only will it be great to have our own resources that we don’t have to share with the membership of another course, but it’s going to be huge for recruiting,” Albertson said. “Sometimes kids just want to see cool things, and that’s what they make their decision off of.”

Though the new facility will undoubtedly become a huge recruiting point for Coach Heppler, he has done an incredible job of recruiting and developing his players without it. Now in his 20th year on the Flats, Heppler has coached at least two All-ACC players in 16 of the last 17 years and had four All-ACC players from Tech in the same year twice. He has also had two All-Americans in 14 of the last 16 years and three players, Kuchar, Molder and Matteson, have won national player of the year awards.

“Coach Heppler was the reason I came to school here, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more in a coach,” Albertson said. “Just the values he has and the way he runs the program, it’s no coincidence that we’re successful year in and year out and that he has the most guys on the PGA Tour of any college coach currently.”

Only one coach has won more ACC Coach of the Year awards and only two coaches have won more ACC titles than Heppler. The success extends off the course and into the classroom: every senior has graduated under Heppler’s tutelage, 12 different Heppler players have been named Academic All-Americans and Tech golf has achieved a perfect Academic Progress Report score of 1000 for eight straight years.

“It’s an honor to play for someone who has a great reputation like that,” Albertson said.

In 2013, Coach Heppler was formally recognized for his tremendous accomplishments by being inducted into the GCAA
Hall of Fame. This spring includes tournaments in Florida, Tennessee and Ohio before the ACC Championships take place in North Carolina the weekend before the finals. After the finals come the NCAA Regionals, followed by the NCAA Championships in
Bradenton, Florida.

“[Coach Heppler]’s been very close to a couple of national championships,” Albertson said. “We want to do everything we can for him and go out on a great note.”

If this year is anything like the past dozen, Tech fans will see the Yellow Jackets competing for the national championship in Bradenton. Regardless of that result and the results in between, the entire Institute should take huge pride in the fact that Tech has one of the most elite golf programs in the country.