June 12, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
On the verge of transitioning into the heaviest phase of their lives, Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson are making what looks like a perfect pit stop and Bruce Heppler will try to keep it light while on their pit crew one last time.
Albertson next week will become a professional golfer and Schniederjans won’t be far behind in making that move, but first they’re playing in the Palmer Cup Friday through Sunday. They’re on the squad that will try at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., to lead the United States past a team of collegians from Europe.
Heppler is coaching, and — befitting the distinctly different feel of this Ryder Cup-style competition — Georgia Tech’s head coach has made an interesting move that includes one of the two recent Yellow Jackets on the U.S. squad.
In Friday morning’s alternate shot foursomes, Schniederjans will pair with Lee McCoy, who just happens to play for the University of Georgia.
Really, this is not heavy. It’s supposed to be fun, and everybody keeps calling it an, “exhibition,” rather than a competition.
“I told [the U.S. players] in the meeting, `The only reason we have a coach is we have players,’ ” Heppler said. “These guys are really good. If you can figure out some personalities that might go together well in four-ball and alternate ball . . . I’m going with the theory that you like guys who like to spend a day together.
“Most of it is just directing the train. These are the best of the best, and that’s the reason they’re here.”
Schniederjans and Albertson just last week finished their careers as two of the most successful golfers in Tech history.
Ollie will turn pro after competing in the British Open next month, and Albertson will begin playing for a living next week although he’s not yet sure which tournament he’ll play first.
For both of them, the Palmer Cup is a move away from the idea of competing for an institution that is counting upon them.
Schniederjans is particularly excited. After deciding to return to Tech for his senior year, he unwittingly put a lot of pressure on himself over his final two semesters while simultaneously interviewing potential agents, researching off-season living arrangements and closing out school.
His struggles at the NCAA championship, where his final-round score of 78 did not count as the Jackets were the first team to miss the final cut to eight squads for match play, were as symbolic as surprising.
Ollie’s goal going forward is to go backward, to approach golf as the love of his life rather than as his life’s labor.
“I’m just going to try to be [relaxed] more often; you just kind of stop caring too much. Just be yourself and stop trying so hard,” he said. “I think I got a little too serious this past year. I think that happens to a lot of guys where you start feeling like playing is a job . . . instead of who you are.
“It’s easy to do that because it is your job, and your source of everything, really. But it’s still just golf. I have the luxury of not having a job. I love to play golf. I have played since I was 14, not because it was a job, but something I did after school.”
Schniederjans, the two-time ACC Player of the Year, went 3-1 for the U.S. squad that lost last year at the Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England.
This is the first go-round for Albertson, who finished his Tech career as one of just a handful of golfers to win two ACC titles and earn All-ACC honors four times.
Although Albertson like Schniederjans bogged down as the NCAAs wore on, he’s not approaching the Palmer Cup as a transition.
“I think it’s a great ending. It’s not a no-pressure event. I take it very seriously. It’s a great honor to be on the team, and represent the United States,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and to be here with Ollie and coach — it doesn’t get much better than that.
“Obviously, any time I play I play to win and I’m going to give everything I have for that. We didn’t come here to lose . . . There really hasn’t been any change since school has ended, except that a part of my life is over. I’ll never be on a team again with those guys, and that’s hard, but being with Ollie helps.”
While Albertson turns pro next week at a tournament to be determined, Schniederjans will play as an amateur in the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, Wash.
Heppler was invited by Ollie’s family to attend, but the coach will pass as the permit to renovate Tech’s golf facility was pulled this week and work should begin almost immediately on the facility.
“At this time I think it’s more important for me to be there,” the coach explained. “I was looking forward to spending the week with Ollie, but this is a big deal.”
Ollie will march on with his entire family in the gallery as he seeks to transition his mindset back toward where it was in simpler times.
“This one is really easy to do that. It’s not that hard of a challenge to enjoy this,” he said. “The challenge will be to see if I can relax in the U.S. Open. I’m really happy to be doing this. It’s great practice.
“We’re kind of having a family reunion . . . I’m just happy to be done with the NCAAs. I’m ready to play these tournaments. I’m just happy, amateur or pro, that I have the luxury of being able to play in these tournaments, travel . . . and turn pro after the [British] Open.”