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The Georgia Tech Golf team opens its 2012 spring semester at the Amer Ari Invitational in Waikoloa, Hawai'i next week. Here is an interview with head coach Bruce Heppler and freshman Ollie Schniederjans.
If a consistently high level of success over a long period of time is the measure of a great program, then Georgia Tech's golf program under Bruce Heppler would certainly meet the standard. His peers recognized this in 2013 when they inducted him into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame.
Tech is currently on a run unprecedented in school history and perhaps unmatched by any other in Division I - seven Atlantic Coast Conference titles in the last nine years and four trips to match play at the NCAA Championship in the last five.
Heppler has guided the Yellow Jackets to the NCAA Championship every year since 1998, and helped author 11 top-8 finishes in the Finals, including three runner-up showings.
In 2014, Tech advanced to match play at the NCAA Championship for the fourth time in the six years the format has been used, and is one of only two programs that have advanced to match play four times.
During his tenure, Tech has won or shared 10 Atlantic Coast Conference titles. Only two ACC coaches have led their teams to more ACC titles than has Heppler. The Yellow Jackets have captured or shared 44 team titles overall.
He was named ACC Coach of the Year in 2014 for the eighth time, more than any coach in ACC history except one, and was a finalist for the GCAA's Dave Williams national coach of the year award.
Since 2000, the Yellow Jackets have finished in the top 10 of the final Golfstat rankings 11 times, and in the final Golfweek/Sagarin top 10 twelve times. Tech has not finished lower than 14th in either ranking in any year.
Heppler has recruited and developed his share of star players as well. The Yellow Jackets have had at least a pair of All-Atlantic Coast Conference honorees in 16 of the last 17 years, and landed four members of the team on the squad twice (2005, 2011). Tech has had at least two players earn All-America honors 14 of the last 16 years, and Ollie Schniederjans became the Jackets' 20th first-team selection in 2014. Three of his players, Matt Kuchar, Bryce Molder and Troy Matteson, have been named national players of the year.
Seven of his Tech players are members of the PGA Tour, including Roberto Castro, Chesson Hadley, Matt Kuchar, Troy Matteson, Bryce Molder, Nicholas Thompson and Cameron Tringale, while Paul Haley and Matt Weibring, have status on the Web.com Tour. Several others are playing professionally either in the United States, Canada or abroad.
During the summer of 2003, Heppler served as the head coach of the United States' Palmer Cup team, which faced off with a team of European collegiate players in Kiawah Island, S.C. Kuchar, Molder, Castro, Hadley, Tringale and White have all played for the USA in Palmer Cup competition, and Ollie Schniederjans will join that team this summer.
Kuchar, Molder, Thompson and Tringale have represented the United States in the Walker Cup matches. Twice, in 1998 and 2013, five or more of the Heppler's active Tech players have qualified to play in the U.S. Amateur. Six of Tech's seven returning players this year competed in the 2013 Amateur in Brookline, Mass., an unprecedented feat.
On the conference level since 1985, when the Yellow Jackets won their first ACC Championship, Tech has earned more NCAA Championship berths than any team except Clemson. The Jackets have earned more top-10, more top-5 and more top-2 finishes in NCAA Championship competition than any other ACC team. Tech also has had more All-America selections (58) than any other ACC team during the same period except the Tigers.
His players have been just as successful in the classroom. Tech's golf program has been recognized with a perfect Academic Progress Report score of 1000 for eight straight years, and every senior has graduated.
Twelve different players under Heppler have been named All-America Scholars by the Golf Coaches Association of America, which requires a minimum 3.2 GPA and participation in at least 75 percent of a team's events. Two, All-Americans Bryce Molder and Roberto Castro, have received the NCAA's Top VIII Award, an honor given to eight student-athletes from all sports each year and recognizes those who excel in their sport and in the classroom, and exhibit high character, leadership and service to others.
It didn't take long for Heppler to restore the glory to Tech's golf program following a couple of lean years in the mid-1990s. After recruiting future All-Americans Kuchar and Molder, Heppler had the Yellow Jackets back in the NCAA Tournament in his third season, where they finished third, just four shots off the lead. Tech also was ranked No. 1 in the nation during the course of the year and won the NCAA East Regional.
Even better things were to come as Tech captured the first of its ACC titles under Heppler in 1999. In 2000 the Yellow Jackets came the closest to an NCAA Championship in their history, tying for first after 72 holes with Oklahoma State before losing a one-hole playoff. On the year, Tech captured four team titles and finished in the top four in each event it entered.
During the 2001 campaign, the Jackets won their second ACC crown in three years, the second under Heppler, captured a school-record-tying five tournament wins during the year and finished fourth in the NCAA Championship. For his efforts, Heppler was named ACC Coach of the Year and guided three All-Americans in Molder, who was also the consensus National Player of the Year, Matteson and Kris Mikkelsen.
In 2002, Heppler led the Yellow Jackets to arguably the best season in school history, as Tech captured seven team titles and finished second at the NCAA Championship. In the process, Heppler earned National and ACC Coach of the Year honors. During the year, the Jackets won the school's eighth ACC title, while placing all five starters on GCAA All-America teams. Under Heppler's tutelage, Matteson became the third Tech player to win the national individual title.
Tech has dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference in recent years, winning five of the last six titles and the last three in a row. The Yellow Jackets have been to the NCAA Tournament every year since 1998, and only once in that time failed to advance out of a regional. In the three years the NCAA has conducted the current medal/match play format for the championship, Tech has advanced to match play twice.
A 53-year-old native of St. George, Utah, Heppler has demonstrated his strength as a recruiter by attracting both National Players of the Year during 1997-98 and the ACC Players of the Year for 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. His first recruit at Tech was Kuchar, who won the 1997 U.S. Amateur Championship and was named the ACC Player of the Year and the Fred Haskins National Player of the Year in 1998. Molder was the Jack Nicklaus Player of the Year in 1998 and in 2001, along with being named the ACC Player of the Year in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Heppler, a dean's list student at Brigham Young, earned his bachelor's degree in accounting from BYU in 1985, and later received his master's degree in sport management from Massachusetts in 1988. He played golf for one year at Dixie Junior College in St. George before transferring to Brigham Young.
He became a certified public accountant in 1985 and spent one year in the firm of Huber and Associates in Salt Lake City, then began his collegiate coaching career in 1987 as the men and women's golf coach at Amherst. He then spent two years as an administrative assistant at UNLV, becoming the assistant men's golf coach at UNLV in 1989. He spent two years in that role before moving to Oklahoma State in 1991.
"Georgia Tech is a great fit for me," said Heppler. "This is one of the five or six best programs right now if you look around at college golf's successful teams since the '90s. We have a lot of alumni on the PGA Tour, which is great for the school. Young people can see they have a chance to be player of the year or win a national championship here. It's a great school academically, which is a real draw with the general pool of talent out there interested in playing college golf."
Heppler is married to the former Traci Schull of Southbury, Conn., and they have a son, Zakary, and a daughter, Moriah. Heppler is actively involved with Atlanta Alliance for Children and is a member of the Golf Coaches Association of America.
Name: Bruce Heppler
Head Coach: 1998 NCAA Championship, third place; 2000 NCAA Championship, second place; 2001 NCAA Championship, fourth place; 2002 NCAA Championship, second place; 2004 NCAA Championship, fifth place; 2005 NCAA Championship, second place; Advanced to NCAA Match Play in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014; 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2014 NCAA Regional Champions; 1999, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 ACC Champions; 2002 NCAA Individual Champion (Troy Matteson); 43 tournament titles in all