Feb. 23, 2017
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Times turned tough on young Luke Schniederjans Monday afternoon, when Georgia Tech’s precocious freshman grew hot under the collar and lost his way around the Rio Mar River Course. So, he went into a cave or sorts.
It had been warm for a few days in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, like about 84 degrees, yet Schniederjans went cold as February. Four-under par through his first nine holes in the second round of the Puerto Rico Classic, he closed the final nine plus-five. In a way, Rio Mar closed him.
After swapping text messages with his family, including legendary former Tech golfer Ollie Schniederjans – who was in nearby Florida preparing for the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic – and junior Tech pitcher Ben Schniederjans, he showered, grabbed some dinner, swapped some more texts, and then hit it hard.
“I tried to get a lot of rest. I literally went to bed before 9,” he recalled. “All the heat was wearing on me. It was mid-80s, but in the winter it feels hotter.”
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Several sweet dreams and 65 special strokes later, Luke became a two-time college golf titleist. His seven-under par final round helped him climb past five other golfers to a 10-under par 206, one stroke better than Clemson’s Bryson Nimmer. Just like that, the youngest Schniederjans had a bookend to pair with his title from the season-opening Carpet Capital Classic in north Georgia.
“I had a good feeling going in,” he said. “I had just more experience because I had already experienced what the feelings and emotions are, and I could manage it better.”
Luke is clearly his own man, yet he takes cues from both bigger brothers, one of whom was a three-time golf All-American at Tech and is now rolling in his first full season on the PGA Tour with three top-10 finishes already.
Ollie doesn’t ram advice at his younger sibling so much as he calmly and collectedly counsels, much has he practices and plays. His top tip Monday: Get over it.
“He was pretty torn up last half of the second round,” golf coach Bruce Heppler said of Luke. “It helps that it’s coming from somebody besides me. [Ollie] said, ‘It’s alright to be torn up for about 15 minutes, but you’ve got another round to play.’ “
It’s a little bit funny that Heppler would invoke Ollie because he rarely brings him up around Luke. It’s a conscious move. There’s a lot to look back on from Ollie’s college career just a few years ago, not to mention his growing status as a pro.
“If [Luke] can withstand the burden of the shadow, then the resource that he has from his brother is incredible,” the coach said. “I’m sure he wants to be the best college golfer and all that, but his model is ranked No. 35 in FedEx Cup points . . . No question if he starts having this kind of success, people are going to want to start making comparisons.
“Right now, I don’t see him having a problem with the shadow. I told him when we recruited him, we’d very rarely bring up his brother.”
Luke did it himself Tuesday.
He was four-under through his first five holes before giving back a bogey. Then, he slipped into glide mode by chipping in from about 20 yards for an eagle at the par-5 11th, adding birdies at 12 and 15 and six straight pars to finish (he started the day on hole No. 4).
It was a day of better decisions.
“He actually played very well in Hawai’i [earlier this month], but made a bunch of superhero decisions,” Heppler said. “I think he learned a lot there in terms of what to take on and what not to take on. I think he’s learning that you don’t have to be a hero on every hole. Maybe that’s what happens when you have two bigger brothers on him all of his life.”
The best round of Luke’s young college career helped the 25th-ranked Yellow Jackets shoot a five-under par 859 and climb into a tie with NC State for third place, behind No. 16 Clemson (845) and No. 5 Georgia (856).
Tech played the two final rounds 11-under to help erase Sunday’s six-over 294. The Jackets had to count freshman Tyler Strafaci’s 80 that day because junior James Clark fired 81.
They rallied. Clark went three-under over the final two rounds, as Strafaci played even par. Freshman Andy Ogletree counted every day, shooting one-over, two-under and even-par rounds. Junior Chris Petefish counted on Sunday with a 73.
“That’s part of the challenge of playing first-time guys in tournaments,” Heppler said. “It takes a while to see which way to go. That’s a tough driving course where maybe one practice round isn’t enough.”
Luke figured it out.
Truth be told, there’s only so much Ollie, or Ben or anyone else can do to help him when he’s on the course, competing. His stroke average of 70.8 leads the team, and he’s ranked No. 35 nationally as an individual by Golfweek/Sagarin.
“He’s kind of helped me, but I think for the most part is you have to go through it yourself,” Luke said of his biggest brother. “There’s nothing you can really tell a person [out there].”