One stroke changes Schniederjans' career path

RSS

Every shot matters in golf – that cliché is resonating with Ollie Schniederjans this week.

After a series of close calls over the past month, the supremely talented 22-year-old’s path to the PGA Tour just became a bit more circuitous. 

Schniederjans, the former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world who turned pro after the Open Championship following a stellar career at Georgia Tech, missed the cut by one shot at the Wyndham Championship, which left him four-and-a-half points shy of qualifying for the Web.com Tour Finals, which would have given him a shot to earn one of 25 PGA Tour cards.

And it all boiled down to one stroke.

If he finished one shot better at the Canadian Open – where was five back heading into the final round in his pro debut – then he would have had enough points to qualify for the Finals. 

If he finished one shot better at the Quicken Loans National – where he had a two-shot lead through 31 holes – then he would have enough points. 

If he finished one shot better at the Wyndham – where he was inside the cut line heading to his 36th hole – then he would have had enough points. 

Heck, if he finished one shot better at the Open Championship – where he tied for 12th as an amateur – then he would be exempt at Royal Troon next year.   

Cruel game. 

“Everything I put in and all those weeks and the grind and the stress, and then to miss it by one, is just brutal,” Schniederjans said by phone Tuesday.

The Wyndham was the final blow. 

Playing on sponsor exemptions this summer, he began the week with 99 non-members points and basically needed to make the cut in Greensboro to continue his season. (The equivalent of a T-66 finish would have been enough.) After an opening 71 in easy conditions, he was 4 under for his second round and safely inside the cut line when he lined up his second shot on the ninth hole, his 18th of the day. He caught a flier from the first cut, his ball sailed over the green, and he had no shot to get the ball close. The bogey capped a Friday 67 and put him on the cut line at 2 under. 

Schniederjans looked safe for the weekend – and for a spot in the Finals – until Roberto Castro, another Georgia Tech alum, stuffed his final approach to a foot in the last group of the day. That single-handedly moved the cut back to 3 under, and Schniederjans was out.

But there’s more: Erik Compton withdrew prior to the start of the third round, citing a sore left ankle. Had he withdrawn before the end of the second round, the 36-hole cut would have moved back to 2 under and allowed 19 players – including Schniederjans – to move on. 

“I was devastated,” he said. “I was crushed.” 

Now, instead of a shot to earn his PGA Tour card through the four-event series, he has three weeks off and no status on any major tour. 

“I was going to be so ready for the Finals,” he said. “Those courses are so perfect for me.” 

He does have options, however. 

Represented by Tiger Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg of Excel Sports, Schniederjans hopes to play as many as three upcoming events on the European Tour, as well as a few tournaments this fall as the new PGA Tour wraparound season gets underway. He will also attempt Web.com Tour Q-School, which begins in mid-November. If he can earn status, he will try and follow good friend Patrick Rodgers’ path, picking and choosing between the PGA and Web.com tours in 2016. 

“I’m just motivated now to put all this behind me and win something,” he said. “I know I can compete and win out there.”

Even with the disappointment of this past weekend, Schniederjans is pleased to be in a different place mentally than he was even a few months ago. Struggling with his long game this spring, he said that he couldn’t keep his ball on the map and would lose five balls per round when playing the hazard-filled courses in Florida. 

His game clicked in June at the Palmer Cup, and a few tweaks to his swing under the guidance of coach Sean Foley – a squarer clubface, a lower left arm, more leg drive – produced the kind of results that he was accustomed to seeing, including a low, push draw that comes off the face like a laser.

“I was completely lost and now it’s so under control,” he said. “The golf is a lot less stressful.”

Good thing, because Schniederjans’ situation was plenty stressful.

After back-to-back top-25s to begin his pro career, he thought he’d have more than enough points to qualify for the Finals. (He was told 95 points was the previous high.) Then came the missed cut in Reno, where he was “mentally exhausted” having played five weeks in a row, with a pro announcement sandwiched in between. And then the crushing missed cut in Greensboro, his last chance. 

“I think it’s something I’ll never forget,” he said. “It’s just amazing. It’s definitely a lesson for everyone, how important every single shot is. That’s real. One shot anywhere could have changed my entire following year.”