Posted: 9:41 am Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
By Ken Sugiura
Georgia Tech golfer Ollie Schniederjans will need to make a move Tuesday morning at the U.S. Amateur championship to advance to the 64-player match play field and keep alive his hopes of earning the national championship.
Schniederjans, one of four players in the field with Tech ties at the tournament at the Atlanta Athletic Club, ended the first day tied for 105th out of the 312-player field at 2-over 73, two shots back of the cut line.
Bo Andrews, who finished his Tech career in June, led the contingent with a 1-under 71, good for a tie for 24th place.
For Schniederjans, on the line is the final note of what has been a most memorable summer, his last before he turns professional at the end of his collegiate career.
He came within one shaky nine-hole stretch of potentially winning a professional event in June. He played in a British Open qualifier. Most notably, he was invited to play in the Scottish Open, where he made the cut, watched the World Cup in a hotel lobby with Lee Westwood and finished tied for 41st. In between, he was courted by management companies seeking to represent him when he turns professional, spent a day at Wimbledon (where he lunched with Ernie Els) and spent two weeks in southern California.
It did not dull his eagerness to keep climbing.
“I haven’t done anything too great,” said Schniederjans, who won or tied for first in five college events last season and finished second in the NCAA championship. “I still have plenty to prove and I’m very motivated.”
1. Through an exemption earned by winning the U.S. Collegiate Championship last fall at the Golf Club of Georgia, Schniederjans finished in a tie for fifth at the Air Capital Classic in Tulsa, Okla., five shots back of the leader. (The tournament is on the Web.com tour, a training ground for the PGA Tour.) A poor opening nine in the second round, when he was four over with five bogeys, torpedoed his chances, even with back-to-back 65’s on the weekend.
“I would say, overall, for the week, not anything too special for me, just some solid, average golf when my game is decent,” he said.
2. He represented the U.S. in the Palmer Cup, a Ryder Cup-style event for top college golfers in the U.S. and Europe. The Americans were fairly waxed at Walton Heath Golf Club in Walton on the Hill, England, but Schniederjans was 3-1, winning both of his singles matches.
“Getting to know the other top U.S. players and learning from them and hanging out with them was fun,” Schniederjans said.
3. The day after the Palmer Cup, Schniederjans attempted to make the British Open at a qualifier, falling short with a tie for 33rd.
4. The invitation into the Scottish Open extended his stay, which enabled him to visit London and spend a day at Wimbledon with his mother. He got tickets for Court 1 and had lunch with Ernie Els, an appointment set up through what Schniederjans called a “connection.” A big tennis fan, Schniederjans got to see Novak Djokovic win a five-set quarterfinal.
5. Schniederjans’ goal at the Scottish was to make the cut, which he did. Along the way, he
Played a few holes of a practice round with Phil Mickelson (“He was like, Hey, do you mind if I join you guys? We were like, Yeah, come join.”);
Played in a Saturday grouping with Stephen Gallacher, a Scotsman who drew one of the biggest galleries in the field (“that was really fun”);
Was ferried to and from the course in brand-new Audi and Mercedes-Benz courtesy cars;
Watched the World Cup with Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood in the hotel lounge;
Dressed and relaxed in the players lounge with the other golfers (“It’s just beautiful. They have a buffet, amazing food, an open bar.”);
Shared a post-tournament conversation with Spanish pro Miguel Angel Jimenez on the players lounge patio;
Made five birdies in a row, including one in which he drove a 350-yard par-4 to 10 feet.;
Finished tied for 41st with, among other, Els.
Els, by the way, chatted with Schniederjans at the tournament and invited him down to Florida to play a couple rounds. Being the No. 1-ranked amateur golfer in the world has its privileges. (The pro golfers knew who he was, he said, “because a lot of their management companies were recruiting me so they used them to be, like, Hey, go talk to him, or, We need him.”)
Even if Schniederjans doesn’t win at the Atlanta Athletic Club this week, which he called “a huge deal to me” and would bring an invitation to next year’s Masters, a considerable prize is still at stake.
So long as he retains his top spot in the world amateur rankings, he will earn spots in next year’s U.S. Open and British Open. (The only way he would lose it is if Alabama’s Robby Shelton were to win the U.S. Amateur, Schniederjans said.)
Schniederjans faced a decision to turn professional either after Tech’s season or at the end of the summer but decided to return for his senior season. His record this summer would indicate that he probably would be ready to do so right now.
More than enjoying the perks of a tour player for a week, that may have been his most significant takeaway from the Scottish Open. Schniederjans lamented leaving “a ton of shots” on the course and felt like he could have contended with a better week of play. He didn’t feel like a starstruck kid among his heroes. He didn’t feel overly nervous.
Said Schniederjans, “I felt totally like I belonged the whole week.”