#TGW: Eye on the Prize

March 17, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

While he’s in this weird or at least rare mix zone between his present and future, Ollie Schniederjans is trying to make the most out of one world and at the same time prepare to take the most out of another.

Fresh off his first PGA start, the Georgia Tech senior has remained in Florida after firing 71-75 last Thursday and Friday in the PGA’s Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, and he’s looking forward to rejoining the Yellow Jackets for next week’s college version of the event.

This is spring break for all Jackets, student-athletes included.

He has fine memories of last year’s Valspar Invitational. He won there in the middle of a splendid spring run where he finished first, tied for first, first, second (in an NCAA regional) and then tied for medalist honors at the NCAA Championships before falling in a playoff.

Ollie competed against 442 other golfers in that span, and beat 440. Actually, he tied one of the other two in regulation.

That was a ridiculous run, and a big part of the reason he’s been the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur since last summer.

The Valspar win earned him an exemption into this year’s PGA Tour version of the same event, and Schniederjans cashed in as an amateur without cashing out.

He missed the cut by three strokes, yet feels that trial run helped ready him for life as a professional golfer. Now, he’s ready to play the Floridian, in Palm City, and tear it up again – with a better idea of what lies ahead.

“I definitely gained a lot,” he said Monday morning. “It was not as much about my game. I already knew that I need work, and that will continue. It was just the comfort of being around the scene and seeing how the tournaments are run, getting the exposure.

“It was my first week where I had my entire team together. My trainer, my family, my caddy, and from that standpoint I’m really glad I got to do that.”

Ollie has had his caddy, Lance Bailey, in line for several years. They met when Schniederjans, 21, was 12 and Bailey was club pro at Bentwater Golf Club near Acworth. They work (play) together a few times a year, though that will change.

Last week was the first time that his trainer of seven years worked an event.

That will become more common in a few months when Schniederjans turns professional. Before that happens, he’ll play the U.S. Open June 18-21 at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wis., one week after competing for the Bruce Heppler-coached U.S. team in the Palmer Cup June 12-14 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. He’ll also compete in The Open Championship at St. Andrews in late July.

Ollie’s trainer won’t always travel, but given Schniederjans’ unique physical circumstances, it’s likely to happen from time to time. Ollie swings really hard off the tee, and when taking into account practices as well as competition he swings often. That puts unique strains on his body. So . . .

“Whenever I feel like I’m going to be hitting a lot of golf balls, and I need an adjustment . . . he’s a chiropractor and a rehab trainer. Really, injury prevention is his main job. Always, I have something [physical to tend to].

“I haven’t hit too many golf balls recently, and I haven’t over-strained myself. It will be more when I’m playing four weeks in a row, off one week, and four weeks on – kind of like that.”

If all goes well, Ollie’s absence from the Tech team last weekend, when the Jackets finished fourth in the Seminole Invitational, will help him and the squad.

He likely would’ve made a difference in Tallahassee, where the Jackets deployed freshmen James Clark, Chris Petefish and Jacob Joiner in what by the standards ascribed to the nation’s No. 4 golf collegiate golf team would qualify as an uneven outing.

Schniederjans isn’t looking at this that way. He’s a big-picture kind of guy.

Although he kept tabs of his teammates’ scores as they were posting, Ollie didn’t join the Jackets. No need to be a distraction.

“I didn’t think it was weird [keeping track of teammates on-line for the first time in his career]; I just kind knew I would be doing it,” he said after missing the only start of his college career. “I think it was good for all the guys to get a chance to play.”

When Schniederjans says, “I’ve been living in the present,” that means he’s aiming to maximize the last of his time at Tech, with the Jackets in mind, while at the same time laying the groundwork for what he hopes will be a multi-decade career as a professional golfer.

While the Valspar was his first PGA start, he’s played in several other professional events, including one in January in Abu Dhabi.

From here to the U.S. Open, which he won an exemption into last summer upon winning the McCormack Medal as the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur, it will all be about college golf, for the last time. That also exempted him into the British Open.

It’s spring break at Tech, which helps explain why Ollie has stayed in Florida, and he’ll join his teammates Friday in Palm City. There, the Jackets will lock in on the here and now, jointly. They’ll be whole again.

Ollie feels whole, too, although he admits he has work to do as his play off the tee – the only real bugaboo he encountered last week at the Valspar Championship – needs more attention before the Valspar Invitational. There, the Jackets will play 36 holes next Monday and 18 Tuesday.

Absolutely, Ollie has his eye on his pro career.

The winner of the Valspar Championship last week, Jordan Spieth, was a freshman at Texas at the same time Schniederjans was a freshman at Tech. Spieth played just one year of college golf, and Ollie has beaten him several times.

Tech will have a great chance to measure itself next week. The top two teams in the country, No. 1 Illinois and No. 2 Florida State (which rallied almost miraculously to win the Seminole Invitational on its home course) will headline a super strong field that will include No. 7 LSU and many other ranked teams.

Ollie knows what, but he’s not thinking too hard about it.

For now, again, college golf is the focus. Eventually, Spieth – who unlike Schniederjans will not be able to say that he has a college degree — and others will enter the crosshairs permanently.

For now, it’s about Tech.

“I was still going through the process of trying to straighten it out [at the PGA event]. I don’t think anything was mental,” said Schniederjans, whose college record as a senior is 417-19. “I’ve been struggling with ball striking and I need to keep working. I’ve got plenty of rest; I feel good.

“But I’ve kept score in about nine rounds in the last five months. I just need to play . . . I don’t think we’re concerned about playing our best in [the Seminole Invitational]. I’m looking toward the postseason. I’m focused on our team for the national championship. I’m focused completely on our team now.”

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