May 31, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
Having seen up close many great moments in sport, I added another to the list Friday afternoon when Ollie Schniederjans untied my gut – and not just mine – when he played a lob wedge from 110 yards to 30 inches and putted in to win his match on the 19th hole.
Thank you, Ollie, for invigorating my soul and making me jog my memory. I feel privileged to have been a witness from yards away your great moment of disassociation.
With those playoff shots on No. 1 at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple course, Schniederjans did more than give the Yellow Jackets a 3-2 win over UNLV and send Tech to today’s NCAA semifinals against No. 2 Alabama (10:45 a.m.).
He lifted himself almost out of his body, and carried his teammates, coaches, family members, Tech fans and yours truly to a wonderfully different – and very rare – place.
You should have seen the Jackets jump when that ball dropped. The screaming, chest-bumping, high-fiving and so forth nearly ran the risk of calling trainer Jay Shoop into action. This was not typical golf. It was vintage sport.
It was the land of dreams, minds-eye screen plays, and boundless joy tinged by a sense of utter amazement.
Tech is in the Final Four.
Not even Schniederjans, who tends toward rock steady and has a pretty remarkable record in similar situations, could believe it when he finished off UNLV’s Kevin Penner one-up.
“You know you’re going to have that putt, and then you get over it and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’m about to hit it,’ ” he said. “You’re all built up to hit it, and now you’re set up over the put and you actually hit it and . . . when I hit made the putt, I didn’t even know what happened.
There was a waking black out. And then . . .
“I was like, ‘Oh, shoot; I did it!’ ” the man of the moment recalled. “I was so in the zone on the putt that when I made it . . . I guess it took a moment to come to reality, and then I picked it up and just lost it.”
The young lad from Woodstock lost it in a crowd, actually, because his teammates – all of whom had gathered since their matches were complete as the Jackets rallied from a 2-1 deficit – swarmed him.
Then, Ollie walked to the back of the green, put his towel over his head, and wept as fans, media, players and coaches zigged and zagged for a few frantic moments.
Or he nearly wept. Not certain about that.
“This sport isn’t a team sport [typically] so what we experienced is very rare. It’s not like this happens every tournament,” Schniederjans said, still in a semi-daze. “This is a match-play setting, which you don’t get much in college golf. Maybe in a stroke play tournament you can come down to the last hole, but it’s rare.
“In basketball, buzzer beaters seem to happen almost every other game. When it does happen here, it’s even more emotional and intense than any other sport. The USCC was pretty emotional. This one, it’s the national championship so it doesn’t get more than this.”
Ah, yes, the USCC.
Tech won the United States Collegiate Championship last fall after Schniederjans, in the last group of the tournament, made a miracle.
The Jackets were a stroke behind UCLA at The Golf Club of Georgia. He was 220 yards out, needing to carve a stroke to force a playoff.
He did better than that. Ollie absolutely piped a 5-iron to within a yard or so, and dropped the put for an eagle that pushed the Jackets past the Bruins for the title.
On Friday, “I was just praying, come on, give us a chance because we deserve to be here,” said teammate Seth Reeves. “Everybody has had a great feeling all week, and honestly everything in my head was USCC in the fall.
“I don’t know what Ollie would say, but coach does always say for the good things, ‘backslash/file/save,’ and for Ollie to hit that shot at USCC – 5 iron to 3 feet and make eagle when he had to win by one – I think his composure was tremendous again.”
Here we go again with the Hepplerisms.
Tech’s coach, Bruce Heppler, is an absolute gem.
He doesn’t coach much technique; most college golfers rely on their private coaches for that, and in Tech’s case assistant Brennan Webb does some of that kind of tweaking.
Heppler recruits, raises money (about $250,000 a year) to supplement what the GTAA gives the golf program, and manages minds.
He has a lot of messages. The man is absolutely huge on burning onto the brain what goes well, and erasing what does not. Carry forward what may help; jettison what won’t.
“I was running in from 17 . . . and since I don’t have a cart and can’t ride in one, I ran up here and somebody said [Ollie] hit to 3 feet. I watched the other kid miss, and Ollie make it,” said Heppler, who was still back in the No. 1 fairway as this epic ended.
Players get chauffered in carts once they finish play if they have to play extra holes or if – as happened Friday, there is a reason to high-tail it to watch a teammate – so Albertson, with whom Heppler had walked, made it from his closeout on No. 17 to Ollie’s deal at No. 1 faster than the coach.
The boss was fine with the outcome.
“I did get to watch him hit a 5 iron from 220 at our tournament in October to a foot and a half to beat UCLA by one so I’ve seen it, kinda,” Heppler said with an enormous smile. “Backslash/file/save, or backslash/file/delete. That’s what you do with your good ones and your bad ones. It’s computer stuff.”
That is exactly what happened Friday.
I had to jog my memory to think of an analogous situation.
The closest I came was the 1986 PGA championship, when I was in the 18th fairway as media closed in behind the golfers at Inverness in Toledo, and Bob Tway holed a bunker shot to gut Greg Norman. It was my first golf tournament as a collegian.
That, though, was both a charge and a choke. Norman had a four-stroke lead with eight to go, and already that year had given away the Masters and the U.S. Open.
Penner did not choke Friday. In fact, he made an enormous putt of at least 40 feet on No. 17 to square his match with Schniederjans.
Ollie simply gutted it out and made one more play than Penner at the right time to help the Jackets overcome a 2-1 deficit as he added to wins by Bo Andrews and Albertson.
Penner’s approach shot settled just shy of the green at No. 1, not more than 20 feet from the pin. Penner’s chip came to within two feet. It was a really nice shot, but not enough to offset Schniederjan’s approach.
Ollie, in fact, was so confident in his upcoming putt that he conceded Penner’s putt and the UNLV player scooped up the ball with his wedge without marking.
Schniederjans’ approach had put him in position to do what he’s done.
And he remembered what he’d done. The USCC came up in his thought process – backslash/file/save.
“Yeah, definitely,” Ollie said. “On 18, I just remembered times where it felt like that, times where it came down to the last hole, like U.S. Open qualifiers or U.S. Amateurs, or USCC, and I’ve done amazing every time.
“I just feel super calm and I have a huge belief in myself. When it landed, it hopped on line and I thought it was going to go in. When it didn’t, I was kind of bummed but I thought it was a tap-in. It wasn’t a tap-in, it was about two and a half feet, exactly like USCC.”
Show up! Tech starts going off at 10:45, and Alabama has a bunch of fans at this tournament, matching or surpassing the Jackets’ contingent. If you’ve never been to a college golf tournament, this will be a different deal.
Scoring is difficult to keep up with other than what is in front of you although there are scattered scoreboards. Use this link if you have a smart phone or iPad to keep tabs.
This is an awesome event, but bring your anti-anxiety meds to Milton, just north of Alpharetta. The stress levels are utterly insane.
Here is the address of the place for GPS purposes: 13802 New Providence Road, Milton, GA 30004.