#TGW: The Big Black Button

Clark has finished eighth, 17th and third in Tech's last three events.
April 19, 2017

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

- James Clark is playing the best golf of his college career, which is great for Georgia Tech as the Yellow Jackets prepare to travel to the ACC Championship this weekend, and he's doing it by steering clear of the big, red button.

He's replaced it with black.

In tying for eighth, finishing 17th and tying for third in Tech's past three events, the junior from Columbus has run out the best stretch of his college career, matching the top-20 and top-10 finishes from his first two seasons combined.

The skill set was there. Its elevation is about mind control, about not letting a bad shot scramble the hard wiring to prompt poor decisions and more bum shots.

Golf looks to be played on grass, but it's engineered by gray matter.

"That's one of the parts of my game that I don't think has been going right, especially when I hit the panic button," Clark explained. "I tend to stay down when things don't go right. It's one thing to struggle, and how am I going to get overcome it?"

Clark's been in the lineup for all but three events at Tech, each of those in his freshman year, and several times his results would be largely spoiled by one high round among three. It's happened this year, too.

For whatever reason, the little, white ball ricochets off the sandwich lady's cart, bells and whistles clamor in the head, and more crud happens to the ball.

You know you're good, and therefore become dazed upon a bad play.

"Most of those rounds come in the first day, and I tended to put a lot of pressure because I know I've played well, and I've got a chance to win this week, and I think I have this expectation of doing really well, and something would happen, and I would get down," Clark explained. "Expectations come into play."



A while back, head coach Bruce Heppler had a suggestion to take expectations out of play, at least between the ropes: create a trigger to slow down when your noggin starts racing. "He talked about something as a visual reminder," Clark recalled. "He left it up to me come up with something. He suggested a dot."

Clark went bigger than that, desecrating the back of his golf glove.

"I needed something visually to kind of make myself hit the re-set button, and put the stake in the ground and keep going, "he said. "So, what I've done is put on my glove -- there's a white circle with a Titleist logo -- and I've colored in the circle with a black Sharpie."

The black is there to remind Clark to keep from going dark when storm clouds appear to be gathering.

"It's a mental reminder for me that we've got 54 holes of golf to play," he said. "If I hit a bad shot, it's not going to affect the overall grand scheme of things. That's really helped me play 54 holes of good golf.

"It's a pretty big enough area where I can see it. And it's tangible, and I can kind of think about it without thinking about it."

The Jackets are in a good place. In the last three events, the Seminole Invitational, the Valspar Collegiate and the Clemson Invitational, they've finished second, second and second.

They're knocking on the door.

After spending the fall sorting through a variety of chemistry issues, Clark, senior Vincent Whaley, and freshmen Luke Schniederjans, Andy Ogletree and Tyler Strafaci are gearing for success, having played as a unit in the last three tournaments.

For Clark, it's about the new black button and composure.

"As competitors, we think we're better than those [bad] shots, so we tend to show it off that we hit a bad shot that we think we're better than that. It's bad body language," he said. "[Teammates] can see it, for sure.

"I think we had a lot of individuals in the fall, and I think in this past couple months ... we've started to have practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the range and that has helped. Before, a lot of it was practice on your own. The range has helped tremendously."