Schniederjans: Trials and tribulations of No. 1 amateur

By Ryan LavnerJune 1, 2015, 12:46 pm

BRADENTON, Fla. – Ollie Schniederjans knew what to expect his senior year of college. He wishes he’d handled it better.

The relentless hype and the world’s No. 1 ranking … the distractions of lining up representation and sponsorship and a place to live … the anxiousness watching his early-20s peers – his friends – win a major and cash huge checks and boost their profile … the soul-searching and the frustration … the sit-down meeting and the humbling discoveries … and then, finally, the recommitment to what got him here.

Schniederjans braced himself for a year unlike any other, and he still was flattened by it.

“You never know how somebody is going to react when the light is on,” Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said. “You can’t hide anymore. And by staying in school, he was the guy.”

A lot has transpired since last year’s NCAA Championship, when Schniederjans rolled into Prairie Dunes with five wins in his last six starts, and then lost in a playoff at nationals.

His profile couldn’t get any higher. Fair or not, his senior year could only disappoint, unless he won six times or swept every postseason award. He was set up to fail.

Last spring was exhilarating, but it also was exhausting. Burned out over the summer, he played in only a pair of amateur events as he tried to conserve energy for what was ahead. After all, he had returned to school, in part, to experience what it was like to be the No. 1 player on the planet, to enter every tournament as the favorite, to be nitpicked to death if or when the wins stopped coming with regularity.

“You have to be mentally strong to handle that,” Heppler said, “because it’s a whole lot easier to climb the mountain than to stay there.”

Ollie Schniederjans

PLAYING WITH THAT LEVEL of expectation can’t be taught on the circuit. It’s learned only during a year in the spotlight.

There were warning signs in the fall that this would be a trying year. There was the internal and external pressure, sure, but Schniederjans’ long game, his most trusted asset, started to betray him, too. Even though he won his first start and had top-sixes in his other four tournaments, he wasn’t in control. He was “bomb-spraying it,” and once he played a demanding course he knew he’d get exposed.  

His game was sagging, senioritis was kicking in, the number of off-course distractions was increasing, and he felt the tug of everyone – agents, equipment reps, friends, family, media.

“It was a slow boil,” Tech assistant coach Brennan Webb said. “You could feel it coming. He was a different guy.”

“When you’re in control of your game,” Schniederjans says, “you can handle that, but this year it was definitely a lot to handle. Very frustrating. And when you get frustrated you start to think about what other people think and the unrealistic expectations. But if your game isn’t there, it’s just not going to happen.

“Golf was always my safe haven and so under control, and it felt so foreign to me.”

And the more he struggled, the more he pulled away from the team.

Heppler gave Schniederjans plenty of autonomy, more than he’s given any player in his nearly 30-year coaching career, and maybe that was a mistake. Instead of allowing Schniederjans to sort out his career options away from school, maybe, Heppler says, he should have reined him in, made him more a part of the day-to-day process, kept him from drifting away.

“It’s like the horse in the Kentucky Derby that keeps running into the gate,” Heppler said. “It was like, 'Let me go run, let me go run.'”

Georgia Tech golf? No, Schniederjans wasn’t much interested in it anymore, not like he was his first three years, anyway. He shut down, checked out, closed himself off, and it got to a point where he didn’t want to participate in team workouts or attend the Yellow Jacket Celebration, activities he had loved for five years.

“I was done with it,” he said.

The pro stuff was overwhelming, with so many details and decisions, and the temptation was never greater. On TV every weekend Schniederjans saw Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers – all close friends, all part of that vaunted high school Class of 2011 – making an impact on Tour.

And he was the one star who chose to stay back.

“It made me really antsy,” Schniederjans said. “I know for sure, 100 percent, that if I’m playing well I can do the exact same thing. It doesn’t change my belief.”

But reaching that level of excellence has seemed unattainable at times this spring.

He missed the cut at the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship in March, when his ball-striking disappeared, and he didn’t fare much better a few weeks later at a college event at The Floridian. He failed to break par all three rounds, closed with 82 and finished 17 over par, in a tie for 63rd (out of 73), his worst performance since his second college start.

“When you get it back, you wonder why it was ever so hard,” he said. “And then when it’s hard, you wonder why it was ever so easy. You can’t explain it. It’s just a place you’re in.”

Heppler had seen enough, so he called a meeting in his office. He wanted to revisit the reasons why Schniederjans even came back to school.

Because he wanted to be under the microscope.

Because he wanted to help the young players (two freshmen) on the team.

Because he wanted to give back to the program.

Because he wanted to make sure the team didn’t fall off the map, having lost three seniors from the 2013-14 squad.

They discussed all of that, and at the end Heppler asked him: How have you done in those areas?

“Terrible,” Schniederjans replied.

He was stressed out. He wasn’t having fun. He felt like he had to be perfect, that his entire life depended one swing and one result. And he wasn’t helping the younger players, mostly because he wasn’t around.

“At that moment,” he said, “I basically rejoined the team. It was like I was a freshman again.”

Ollie Schniederjans

THE PRO STUFF? It's not going anywhere – he passed it off for his mom to handle. Now he’s engaged with the team. He’s here. He’s present.

He’s smarter, too, because he hasn’t been tested like this since his turbulent freshman year.

More than learning how to cope with poor performances, he has learned about himself, about who truly cares about him, about what he’s susceptible to, what he needs to avoid as a pro.

“Getting out of the present, caring too much about what other people think,” he said. “When you think you’re invincible, that’s when you’re in trouble. And I think I thought I was invincible when my game was under control. That’s when it all fell apart. It’s humbling.”

In many ways, this year felt like his first out of college.

Many college players leave school when their stock is at its highest, then have unrealistic expectations for their games and fail. Schniederjans, though, isn’t making the leap to professional golf on a tear.

“I don’t feel like I’ll put too much pressure on myself going out,” he said.

“I don’t know if he’s as confident as he was a year ago,” Heppler said. “I don’t think he’s as self-assured. That’s just the nature of it.”

But these past few months, the team has seen signs of the old Ollie.

At NCAA regionals in San Diego, he stood in the 18th fairway with only a 7-iron left into the finishing par 5. He asked how the team stood.

“We’re fine,” Webb said, and he added that Schniederjans needed a birdie for another top-seven, an eagle for a top-five.

“I’ve had plenty of top-seven finishes in my life,” he said. “I just want to make sure that the team is fine.”

That reply brought a smile to Webb’s face, after he had watched his star player lose his way over the past few months, when he seemed to care only about keeping his No. 1 amateur ranking and earning Player of the Year and winning the Hogan Award.

“That’s not why he’s here or why he came back,” Webb said.

Through three rounds here at Concession, Schniederjans is tied for 36th. Not great by his lofty standards, and a few months ago that would have sent himinto a tailspin. Now, a few minutes after signing his card, he’s back to laughing with his teammates, back to being the guy everyone likes to be around.

This isn’t to suggest that Schniederjans has been awful this season. His last four starts entering NCAAs: sixth, third, fourth and seventh. In fact, he’s still ranked ninth in the country, and he’s finished in the top seven in 11 of his last 13 college events (and 21 of his last 25).

“So I haven’t been a complete piece of crap this year,” he said, smiling. “I haven’t had a complete meltdown.”

Indeed, Schinederjans’ best stuff is still better than any other player’s at this level. During the second round, on the 580-yard 17th, he hit a pair of towering 2-irons, the latter stopping on a dime, about 15 feet away.

“That’s the first Ollie shot I’ve seen in a while,” Webb said.  

After years of going it alone, Schniederjans wants another set of eyes. He looks forward to working more with swing coach Sean Foley, whom he has seen a few times over the past six months. Now down to No. 8 in the world, he still has exemptions into both summer Opens, and he plans to turn pro after St. Andrews. After that he hopes to play four events on sponsor exemptions, and then get a fresh slate of seven invites for the 2015-16 Tour season.

Depending on his team’s position, his college career may wrap up today at Concession. He’s inarguably one of the best players in school history, with six wins and a stack of awards. More important are his life lessons after a year in the spotlight.

“I realized that, at the end of the day, I just want to play well,” he said. “Nothing is more fun than the feeling when you walk off the course and think, Wow, that was a good round of golf. I’m getting back to that.”

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.