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#TGW: Mind Over Matter

June 11, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

Ollie Schniederjans hoped to play in his first professional golf tournament this week, beginning today at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. That would have been a gas.

Too bad he was gassed.

Georgia Tech’s rising senior was worn out last Monday when he tried to qualify for the Open. He’ll have to wait a week to debut among pros – as an amateur.

Schniederjans could hardly think straight last week when he tried the Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek Course in Roswell. His rounds of 83 and 76 left him nowhere near close to being one of the two golfers (pro Henrik Norlander and amateur Smylie Kaufman) to qualify out of that sectional for Open play.

If he were likened to a wagon, Ollie lost a wheel or two as mind won out over matter; his body was OK, but his brain was nearly broke.

You compete for the Yellow Jackets five times in seven weeks, add all the psychological pressure of three postseason starts, and chances are you’re going to wind up thinking sideways.

“Definitely. Yeah. Absolutely. Physically, I’m OK, but burned out from the intense competitions. You’re mentally and emotionally just tired of grinding every day,” he said Wednesday. “You’re in constant competition mode. It’s intense, intense competition. It requires a lot of focus, a lot of mental energy.”

Schneiderjans won or tied for medalist honors in four of those five outings, including the ACC Championship. He tied for honors in NCAA stroke play (although he lost in a playoff), and finished second in the NCAA regional.

 On the other end of the light, breezy beauty of his shots; there was the weight of serious gray matter invested in the process of making so many of them.

After the Yellow Jackets were eliminated in the first round of match play by Oklahoma State on May 27, a Tuesday, Schniederjans – who halved his match with his OSU opponent – still felt he had what it would take to stripe ‘em in that Open qualifier the following Monday (June 2).

He’s good at giving himself time off between competitions, to clear cobwebs.

But there wasn’t time to truly get away from the game and re-energize.

Soon into Settindown, Schniederjans knew it.

Ollie is among the last people you will ever hear admit that he didn’t sufficiently take into account coming conditions, but it did not take long in Roswell last Monday for him to realize that his tank was on empty.

In 39 rounds as a college junior, his highest score was a 76. Over his final five events for the Jackets, he never fired higher than 73 and he averaged 68.33 in that span while shooting 40-under par in 15 rounds.

Then, the wheels fell off at Settindown, as he finished 15-over par over two rounds, 17 strokes behind Kaufman.  

You look at 83-76 and wonder: was he due a break from the game?

Well, probably, but there wasn’t much he could have done about it if he wanted to try to qualify for the Open. The Jackets’ spring schedule, which was chocked full over the final 10 weeks or so, didn’t allow it.

 “I was just completely spent mentally,” he said. “The fourth hole, I realized I had 32 holes of grinding to do, and I just didn’t want to do it.”

Schneiderjans had a backup plan in the event that he did not qualify for the U.S. Open. He was so burned out between the ears, however, that he scrapped that.

After the Settindown debacle, he sat down and decided to cancel out of this week’s Sunnehanna Open, a top amateur event in Pennsylvania.

“I needed to de-compress. It’s to the point where I was having headaches,” Schniederjans said. “I was supposed to play this weekend, but I withdrew because I realized how much I needed to de-compress. You can’t just lackadaisically go through it.

“I withdrew and I’m recovering. I’m not tired of working on my game and working out; it’s just the mental grind.”

There is not much chance of over-resting.

Schniederjans will debut on the pro tour – as an amateur – next week in the Tour’s Air Capital Open. He earned an exemption into that by winning the United States Collegiate Championship last fall at the Golf Club of Georgia.

Coincidentally, he will pick up his competitive career where it left off – in Kansas. The Air Capital Open will be at the Crestview Country Club in Wichita.

The persnickety weather conditions and unique terrain will be familiar, and so will be some of Ollie’s other surroundings.

He’s going to share a house with former Alabama golfer Justin Thomas, a good friend who turned pro after two seasons with the Crimson Tide.

Also, his caddy (college players have to carry their own clubs) is to be Lance Bailey. He was the head pro at Bentwater Country Club, where Schniederjans grew up learning to play in Acworth.

“After Kansas, I came back and tried to de-compress and . . . I was kind of de-compressing during the qualifier; I was still in de-compression mode,” Schniederjans said. “I’ve had some really good workouts and practices.

“It’s been really nice to do some things I want to do practice-wise. I’m looking forward to it, and it will be different in that I don’t really know how it will be run.”

Spoken like a young man nearly gassed up again, and ready to go back on the run. 

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