Sept. 26, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
This story first appeared in the August issue of Buzz magazine.
Ollie Schniederjans has known since long before he became the No. 1-ranked amateur golfer in the world that he would try to play professionally without knowing when. He knows now, and after deciding to stay at Georgia Tech for his senior season, he even has his caddie lined up.
Lance Bailey and his soon-to-be boss will form quite a pair.
The golfer has for a decade diligently and with utter purpose built up his game while his bag man practically fell into the sport.
Bailey, a former college baseball player, transitioned into the sport when he took a summer job as a golf cart boy late in his time at the University of South Carolina-Aiken only to never leave the game.
Schniederjans sees him as a perfect sidekick for when he goes pro next summer. They’ve already worked together many times, including the Scottish Open in July, and the U.S. Amateur at the Atlanta Athletic Club in August.
They met at the Bentwater Golf Club near Acworth, where Ollie took up the game at about age 12 when Bailey was a club pro.
Frequently, they played side by side and where the lad might swing a four iron, the elder would wield a seven blade for the very same shot.
An evolution has taken place to where now, “Ollie just bombs it,” and Bailey carries his clubs.
These days, it goes like this: Ollie, 21, handles the analytics and swings the sticks; Bailey, 45, handles the bag while throwing in a few words for balance.
“He has a great demeanor. He’s kind of like a part of my inner group, and I like to have that with me out [on the course],” Schniederjans said. “If I’m doing great, he doesn’t get too riled up and if I’m doing bad, he’s fine.
“He’s fun to be around. I love going to dinner with him after rounds. He has a great aura about him, and he’s a great caddy. He lets me be me and helps confirm yardages and so forth.”
Bailey didn’t plan this.
More than half a lifetime ago, he was a spunky, sparkplug of a second baseman and leadoff hitter — first at Walters State Community College in his native Tennessee, and then at USC-Aiken.
His eligibility ran out before he had graduated, however, so Bailey went looking for a job nearby. Golf to that point had been, “Something I did between football, basketball and baseball … something to fill the time.”
In short order, the Bristol, Tenn., native went from cart guy to inside guy to club manager.
He moved to the Atlanta area in 2001, wound up at Bentwater in `05 and now is a regional manager with Canongate Golf involved in oversight of four clubs.
Back in the day, Bailey was a sidekick of sorts as former Bentwater head teaching pro Mark Anderson began crafting the young Schniederjans’ game. Anderson now works in Brunswick, Ga.
“[Bailey] allowed me to use the course. He never coached,” Schniederjans said. “He was best friends with my coach. His situation is great. He can quit his job and be a full-time caddy without skipping a beat. That’s what he wants to do.”
Bailey is divorced, and, as Schniederjans suggests, ready to make the rounds.
He’s caddied on quite a few occasions for Ollie already, beginning with some of the bigger junior tournaments years ago, and up to and including this summer.
When Schniederjans tied for fifth in his first pro tournament (played as an amateur), the Web.com Tour’s Air Capital Classic, Bailey was on the bag. Ditto when Ollie tied Ernie Els and others for 41st in the Scottish Open.
Schniederjans’ prospects make him a good bet as a pro.
In his junior season at Tech, he won or tied for medalist honors a school-record five times. That included winning the ACC title, and does not include tying for honors in NCAA stroke play before falling in a playoff to Stanford’s Cameron Wilson.
The Harrison High graduate from Powder Springs was first-team All-America and one of three finalists for the Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus awards for collegiate player of the year.
Long ago on a golf course not so far away, a would-be looper saw something in the making.
“Ollie has incredible talent, and has worked his butt off,” Bailey said. “When he was 14, his mom knew that I had caddied quite a bit, and she asked if I could drive him for a Georgia qualifier at Orchard Hills down I-85 toward Alabama. He shot 64 and won by like four shots.
“He is very mentally tough. I’ve always said I’ve never seen a golfer hate a bogey as much as Ollie Schniederjans. When he misses a green, he says, `Now let’s see if I can get up and down.’ “
Beyond the story behind the Schniederjans-Bailey tandem, there is another about why they’re not already competing with the sport’s biggest boys.
Although he gave serious thought to turning pro after his superb junior season. Schniederjans ultimately returned to the plan he had all along: to graduate.
As several of his contemporaries and friends from the college freshman class of 2011 not only turned pro but have enjoyed early pro success like (former Texas standout) Jordan Spieth, (Alabama’s) Justin Thomas, and (Stanford’s) Patrick Rodgers, the temptation to call a career audible was real in late spring.
Ollie ultimately opted to practice patience and remain on The Flats.
“My success came a little bit later than theirs. Justin won the Haskins award his freshman year. Jordan was a top five player. Patrick Rodgers was Ben Hogan award finalist his freshman year,” Schniederjans said. “They didn’t have the same long-term focus that I have. They were more like, `Just get me out there.’
“I’m looking at golf as a long career for me, and I’m going to be doing things until I’m 50 or so. I’m in no rush, and I’ll always be happy to have the degree, and know I finished school. Mom will be happy about that, too.”
There was more to the decision.
Schniederjans has a caddie lined up, but has not yet made big-time decisions on where he will live and more. He figures to pique the minds of big-time consults.
He plans to travel to south Florida over Christmas break to scout the area, and while there he will play golf with former world No. 1 and four-time major champion Els and former No. 1 and six-time major champion Nick Faldo.
Els extended the invitation while at lunch with Schniederjans at Wimbledon in the middle of Ollie’s grand summer tour of the British Isles. That journey was pegged to his trip to participate in the Palmer Cup, where top American players fell to top British players in a Ryder Cup-style format.
Also while in England, Ollie tried and failed to qualify for the British Open, and was invited to play in the Scottish.
He’s looking forward to scouting the West Palm Beach area, and perhaps the Orlando area.
“It’s a long-term business decision to have my degree, sure, but also I have a lot of planning to do,” explained the management major. “I have to figure out who’s going to manage me, and where I’m going to live.
“I have to get all kinds of things lined up, and I still have my brother [sophomore Ben] here [playing baseball for the Yellow Jackets]. I have stuff that I want to stay and finish, and help Georgia Tech. I always was planning on staying four years.”
Plans can change, and while Schniederjans’ hasn’t, Bailey’s did over the summer.
He didn’t make the trip for the Palmer Cup, but when Schniederjans landed a late invitation into the Scottish, Bailey – who is divorced — jumped into action.
“It was always one of my dreams to go to Scotland. It was everything I thought it would be and more,” he recalled. “When I found out he was playing, I was like, `Uh-oh, I got to get going.’ I wanted to help him in any way I could. I’ve been telling people for years … he’s got something special.
“I can’t put my finger on it; it’s the way the ball sounds coming off the club, the way he handles himself. I don’t know how to put it. I do like my job, but at the same time Ollie is an unbelievable talent.”
Indeed, there is something about Ollie.
Plans may sometimes change, yet his remained the same after all.
He’s not at all sad to be staying at Georgia Tech for another year. The way he sees it, college isn’t a bad place to be, and if he has a senior year anything like his junior campaign, there may be all the more potential sponsors ready to line up and join his team before he ever swings a pro club.
“The biggest thing is for me to get everything out of what I’ve accomplished, I need more time to plan and get organized for what I’m going to do,” Schniederjans said. “It’s not like it’s too much of a burden for me to spend another year in college. I still can get a lot better, and it’s fun.”