July 20, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
– There has been a lot to Ollie Schniederjans’ golf career, and his travels have taken the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur far, wide and to multiple continents, but nothing compared with his summer golf trip to the British Isles and – Wimbledon.
How would you like to have lunch at the greatest tennis tournament in the world with golfing legend Ernie Els?
That’s what Ollie did before tying Els in a European Tour tournament soon after that.
Between representing the USA in the Palmer Cup (a college equivalent to the Ryder Cup), a qualifier for the British Open and an exemption into the Scottish Open, the Georgia Tech senior squeezed in a trip to Wimbledon.
Former Tech teammate Bo Andrews helped Schniederjans get tickets to the tennis tournament, as Andrews’ father works for the USTA.
And, boy, did Ollie work that connection to set up even more travel.
“I had lunch with Ernie at Wimbledon, and Paul Casey,” Schniederjans said Friday after a bit of practice at the Tech facility off 14th Street. “That was awesome, and he invited me to come down this off-season and play with him and [Nick] Faldo.”
Schniederjans has every intention of traveling in December to Els’ home in south Florida to learn from a couple multiple-major winners, and to scout.
One of the biggest reasons Schniederjans opted to return to Tech for his senior season after winning a school-record five tournaments as a junior and winding up a finalist for several national player-of-the-year awards was because he has a lot of planning to do before turning pro.
There is a chance that the Powder Springs native will move to south or central Florida when he turns to professional golf, and he has scouting to do before he relocates. He said wants to check out the lay of the land, so to speak.
He’s previously played in Scotland, Wales and Australia, but Ollie won’t wind up living in any of those places. “[Florida] might be a place that I end up,” he said.
Really, Schniederjans has been scouting all summer.
He gained an exemption in June into the Web.com Tour’s Air Capital Classic in Wichita, Kan., and tied for fifth place in his first professional event.
Without cashing a paycheck, Schniederjans learned there what is possible. The Classic winner, former Arkansas golfer and four-time All-America Sebastian Cappelen, was still playing college golf just weeks earlier.
Plus, Ollie got a bit of a feel for the difference between college and pro golf.
In the Scottish Open, he gained a far deeper understanding on the way to making the cut, and tying Els for 41st in a strong pre-British Open field with a one-under par 283 at Royal Aberdeen.
When he does go pro, Schniederjans will have a better idea what to expect than if he had spent this summer hanging out at a lake.
In his third round at the Scottish Open with Scottish golfer and former Ryder Cup competitor Stephen Gallacher as his playing partner, he played before crowds that far, far surpassed anything he’d seen in the Web.com event or in college golf.
“It was 10 times cooler,” he said. “[On Saturday] we played behind [Rory] McIroy and [Phil] Mickelson … huge crowds,” Schniederjans said. “I felt comfortable in my own skin. I wanted to show off.”
Bigger galleries were not the only differences in Schniederjans’ summer.
He went 3-1 in the Palmer Cup, although the USA lost in the competition that pits the top collegiate golfers from America against the top collegiate golfers from Europe.
That team format was not unfamiliar; Schniederjans previously played in the junior Ryder Cup.
After that, he did not fare well in a British Open qualifier at Sunningdale, where he shot 79-71. Earlier this summer, he played poorly in a U.S. Open qualifier (83-76) at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek on the heels of tying for medalist honors in the NCAA stroke play championship and then falling in a playoff.
“Golf was not kind to me that day [at Sunningdale], and I had all the bad breaks,” he said. “The worst four rounds I’ve played all year were in those two qualifiers. The U.S. Open (qualifier) was complete mental fatigue to where I didn’t even want to be there after the first few holes, and just gave in over the last 30 holes.
“This one [in England], I gave it my all. Game was a little off, maybe, and I didn’t have a good strategy for the course. And everything that could go wrong went wrong.”
Golf is not the same in England, particularly on links-style courses like those where the British Open is being staged. It was quite a learning experience.
“It’s a lot different. They have well-placed bunkers. You have to chip `em out [to the fairway], you can’t advance the ball. Then, there’s heather, like weeds. You basically either hit the fairway, or the first cut [of rough], or you’re in the heather. Then, the ground is very firm. There are random mounds everywhere.
“The biggest difference is [in the U.S.] you can hit a good shot and know it off the tee; you can stripe it down the middle and pick up your tee.
“There, you’re always watching your ball . . . you’ve got to stay short of the bunkers or carry them. Luck is more involved. It’s more of a game out there than executing over here. I love it. The only thing I don’t like is, but this is how sports is, you just have unfairness sometimes. That’s how life is, that’s how golf is … you have to embrace that, and be patient.”
A side trip to Wimbledon wasn’t bad.
“It was very cool. I got to watch some great tennis. It was like the Masters; it had the same kind of feel but for tennis,” he said. “I saw [eventual champion Novak] Djokovic play five sets in the quarterfinals.”
The Scottish Open served as quite the finale.
Schniederjans finished there last Sunday, and returned to the United States Monday.
His summer as been such a whirlwind that when Anders Albertson walked up to him as he practiced at the Tech facility on Sunday, it was the first time he’d seen his teammate in about six weeks.
“They heard I was over there and they knew I was the No. 1 ranked amateur [so he was invited to the Scottish Open),” Schniederjans said. “That was the best experience of the whole time, just playing with all those guys in a huge tour event was fantastic.”
Next up for Schniederjans is a trip West next week, then he’ll prepare in earnest for the U.S. Amateur, which is being played at the Atlanta Athletic Club Aug. 11-17.
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