Aug. 15, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– One day after watching former Georgia Tech star Matt Kuchar ride the round of his life to an Olympic bronze medal, current Yellow Jackets James Clark and Luke Schniederjans began trying to follow in his footsteps at the U.S. Amateur.
Kuchar won that prestigious title in 1997. He fired a career-best 63 Sunday as golf returned to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.
Clark, who will be a junior when class begins next Monday, and Schniederjans, a freshman, began the U.S. Amateur chase at the Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., each for the first time.
Just making the 312-golfer field is a big deal, and Clark was excited to take on the North course Monday afternoon.
“I’ve played both the North and South. The greens are really slopey, and they have different shelves. It makes you be creative around the greens,” he said. “You can roll balls, fly balls. That’s what makes golf really fun. It’s long and the rough sticks; it’s really penal.”
Schniederjans, whose brother Ollie put together one of the greatest careers in Tech history from 2011-15 on The Flats, punched his ticket to Michigan by winning the U.S. Amateur qualifier at Horseshoe Bend Country Club in July with rounds of 65-69.
He had a morning tee time on the South course at Oakland Hills, which has played host to six U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships and the 2004 Ryder Cup.
“It’s the strongest field in amateur golf. When you play big-stage courses, your game gets exposed,” Schniederjans said. “Some of the fairways in Detroit are all bentgrass as opposed to the Bermuda down south, but it doesn’t make too much of a difference.”
The U.S. Amateur format is unique relative to what junior golfers typically play, which is usually three or four rounds of stroke play.
Half the field will play the North course Monday and the other half the South. Tuesday, they’ll flip courses and the top 64 scorers remaining will advance to match play Wednesday-Sunday on the South course. Tiebreakers will be utilized if necessary, and there will be two rounds played on Thursday.
“It’s very different from the usual tournament,” said Clark, who last season played in all 11 events for the Jackets. “With the match play component, you’re going to be facing a different opponent each day, but really the low score still wins nine out of 10 times.
“People get caught up too much in who they’re playing. I know I have. That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to working on although I haven’t played too much match. Growing up in the States, we don’t play as much match play as the Europeans. It’s a different feel.”
The U.S. Amateur can hardly be considered a tune-up for anything, yet Clark is excited about returning to Tech to start a new season. The Jackets will be looking to rebound from a sub-par season with every player returning to join four freshmen.
“For sure. I think everybody has hit the re-set button. It’s going to be a totally new year,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I really think we’re going to play well.”
Schniederjans said he’s all packed up and ready to go, too, but he’s got work to do at Oakland Hills first. The finalists from the U.S. Amateur will earn bids to next year’s Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championships.
“Two people are going to play in three majors,” he said. “I feel like that aspect makes it big. I’m all set to go as soon as I get back.”