#TGW: School's Out
With spring semester in the rear-view mirror, Whaley and the Yellow Jackets have no worries but playing the best golf they can in post-season
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
- Vincent Whaley is like his Georgia Tech teammates and pleased that the Yellow Jackets will compete at the Stanford University Golf Club, yet he's also slightly in shock ahead of NCAA regionals Monday through Wednesday.
It's not the regionals that surprise him; Tech is ranked Nos. 21/23 and in the regionals for the 20th consecutive year.
He's bumfuzzled by his location in life, the fact that he graduated last Saturday with a degree in finance and that he'll never again be a student.
"Me and my roommate were talking about it when we were moving out ... every year seems like it goes faster and faster," Whaley said on a recent perfect day at Tech's Noonan Practice Facility. "This year felt like it was over in the blink of an eye.
"It feels like we just started [fall] qualifying, and now it's time to go to regionals and nationals ... Pretty big relief that I don't ever have to do school again. I can't really describe the feeling. You don't ever have to wake up anxious that you didn't do something. It's just like ... you're done!"
The Jackets don't want to finish in Stanford, Calif.
Whaley, junior James Clark, and freshmen Luke Schniederjans, Tyler Strafaci and Andy Ogletree aim to finish in the top five in a 13-team field and qualify for the NCAA Championship May 26-31 at Rich Harvest Farms, in Sugar Grove, Ill.
When last the Jackets traveled to California, in October, for the Cypress Point Classic, in Pebble Beach, they beat Georgia, 8.5-3.5, in match play, and then topped Stanford, 8-4, before falling to Southern California in the championship.
Georgia is currently ranked No. 23, and Stanford No. 4 nationally -- and the top seed in the Cardinal's regional. The Bulldogs are in another regional, but the Jackets are excited about their return trip to the West Coast.
Plus, Stanford is among the nicer courses among six NCAA regional sites, and trips to California -- especially when there's no schoolwork to worry about -- are always a treat.
"They just had a great time at Cypress Point, and it's in the same area," explained head coach Bruce Heppler. "I think it was just a pretty positive experience. We had a good three days. It's an hour-and-a-half away ...
"We came out Thursday, went to Giants game Thursday night, played one of the Olympic courses Friday, and we're going to play another [Saturday]."
After scuffling in the ACC Tournament a couple weeks ago, slipping to seventh place, the Jackets appear rejuvenated near the end of a quirky season.
Schniederjans won his first college golf tournament last fall, the Carpet Capital Collegiate, yet he played as an individual so his scores did not count toward Tech's team total. The Jackets tied for fifth.
Ogletree tied for 18th in the Maui Jim Intercollegiate, yet Tech finished sixth as Ogletree's scores of 69-70-72 did not count for the Jackets as he played as an individual. If he were scoring, Tech would've cut its team score by 13 strokes.
Whaley paced Tech with a 19th-place finish at the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate, on one of the team's home courses, but the Jackets' performance was surprisingly sluggish and Whaley was playing as an individual.
Junior Chris Petefish tied for 17th at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii in February, but he was playing as an individual, costing the Jackets 15 strokes as they tied for seventh.
Whaley, Clark, Schniederjans, Strafaci and Ogletree played together for the first of what will in the regional become six consecutive tournaments, and tied for third in the Puerto Rico Classic as Schniederjans won for the second time. The Jackets were unable to overcome their first round, when they fired a 6-over par score before going 4-under and 7-under in rounds 2 and 3.
Tech registered a tie for second and two outright second-place finishes in the Seminole Intercollegiate, Valspar Collegiate Invitational and Clemson Invitational, respectively, even though Schniederjans -- still Tech's lowest scoring player with a 72.0 average for the year -- turned in Tech's fourth-, fifth- and fifth-highest scores.
Then, at the ACCs, Tech went 288-296-299. That last round included one par score as Ogletree shot a 72. Schniederjans' 80 did not count.
"You can see the difference [with school out]," Heppler said. "The tired eyes go away, and that's a big responsibility, especially for younger guys. I think when we got to ACCs, they were tired ... They're refreshed."
Whaley's found new energy.
He's moved in with his parents, in Peachtree City, because he'll only be home 18-20 days between NCAAs and mid-August due to all the qualifying tournaments he'll be playing in addition to, hopefully, a handful of pro events and a turn on the PGA's McKenzie Tour in Canada before Web.com qualifying school in the fall.
"There's no point in getting a place yet," he said. "After Q school, depending on where I want to practice out of, I'll get a place. Maybe in Atlanta, maybe Alpharetta."
While excited about playing in California with his teammates, he's no less upbeat about finishing school and graduating from Tech. He'll miss certain parts of life on The Flats.
"Freshman year was the biggest adjustment, from school and I'd never practiced this much, studied [so much], and sophomore and junior year, I barely remember because they went by so fast. I won't miss school. I'll miss the guys on the team, being able to see them every day.
"When you've got guys on the team who are really good, you're always getting better in everything you do. When you're on your own, you kind of lose that."