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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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.