HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Ollie Schniederjans spoke in near darkness Saturday night as thunder rumbled and lightning flashed in the distance.
“It’s an NCAA Championship, it’s 36 holes, and it’s just so mentally and physically draining,” the Georgia Tech junior said. “It’s just a really long day. It’s a roller coaster mentally, physically, emotionally.”
Though 36-hole days are common in college golf, the Yellow Jackets have played only one doubleheader this season, back in September.
They had no choice Saturday, as more than eight hours of weather delays Friday led to a marathon day at Prairie Dunes. They began at 7 a.m. local time and didn’t stop until play was called at 8:30 p.m.
By day’s end only six teams had completed all 36 holes at this NCAA Championship, and they just so happen to be the top six ranked teams in the country.
The best of the bunch is No. 3 Stanford, which shot 13-under 257 – the best round of the day, so far, by 10 shots – to rocket 12 places and sit atop the leaderboard. Alabama is the next-best in the clubhouse, after a second-round, 2-under 278.
Leading Stanford's charge was senior Cameron Wilson, who holed out twice on his back nine en route to a 7-under 63, just one shot off the course record.
No fatigue there, apparently.
“Cam’s round was just off the charts,” said Cardinal coach Conrad Ray. “He kept the gas pedal down. Sometimes when you’re 5 or 6 under at the national championship you have a tendency to ease up, but he stuck his chest out and put up a great round."
Said teammate Patrick Rodgers: “He’s the real deal, and he showed it on a big stage. He’s a heck of a player.”
And a player unfazed by one of the most grueling days in college golf.
Players in the afternoon wave had anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes between their first and second rounds. That’s actually more than during their 36-hole days in the regular season, when they grab a boxed lunch at the turn and head directly to the first tee.
At least here players were able to sit down for lunch, roll a few putts and then begin their second round. What they encountered in the afternoon, however, was basically a different golf course, after the grounds crew cut and rolled the greens directly ahead of the lead group.
Throughout the day players snacked on bananas and protein bars, almonds and granola. The wife of an Alabama coach made each player a few PB&Js. Stanford freshman Maverick McNealy opted for ham and cheese.
“I try and make sure I’m as focused and diligent on my final six holes as my first six,” Rodgers said. “But it’s easy to be focused when the guys are playing so well ahead of me."
Said Schniederjans: “You had to be especially patient and aware of what your body is going through. That’s 10 straight hours of grind.”
It remains to be seen whether the taxing day will affect his team’s chances of advancing. The Yellow Jackets dropped four shots on the final two holes, tumbling down the leaderboard. Currently, they sit outside the top-eight bubble (T-10), but 24 teams have yet to finish their second round.
The original schedule called for the low eight teams after 54 holes of stroke-play qualifying to advance to match play, but with the weather forecast for Sunday and Monday looking iffy, at best, tournament officials are exploring other options.
There is a possibility that officials would make the match-play cut after 36 holes, not 54, though the move would be incredibly unpopular among coaches. Essentially, they would have prepared their teams for eight months to play two stop-and-start rounds.
Even without another weather delay all 30 teams will not be able to complete two rounds by Sunday night. So another scenario involves canceling the newly added fourth and final round of stroke play, which would be for only the low 40 individuals.
Instead, they would just play the third round of stroke play on Monday in order to determine both the match-play bracket and individual champion, as has been the case over the past five years. So much, of course, is dependent on the weather.
A revised plan will be announced sometime Sunday. For now, though, Schniederjans was relieved just to be done, his marathon day over.
After all, he said with a smile, “it’s a five-hour difference in when I set my alarm.”