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#TGW: Split Squad

March 13, 2015

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

– Georgia Tech golf and Ollie Schniederjans will have an opportunity to look into the future this weekend. Unfortunately, they’ll be do doing so from different venues.

The Yellow Jackets will be hitting Southwood Golf Club in Tallahassee, Fla., this weekend, playing in the annual Seminole Intercollegiate. It will be a rare look at life without their senior star, who has been with the team in every tournament since competing as an individual in the U.S. Collegiate Championship his freshman season.

Meanwhile Schniederjans, who on Monday was named one of 14 semifinalists for the 85th annual AAU James E. Sullivan Award, given to the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States for 2014, will be some 225 miles to the south, teeing it up in his first PGA Tour event, the Valspar Championship, being played at Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.

While the Jackets will certainly look different without Schniederjans on the course with them, the Seminole Intercollegiate offers a look at what life without him will be like next year, and provides a golden opportunity for some of the team’s younger players to gain valuable experience while also stating their case in helping fill the void his graduation will create.

“Obviously it will be a little different without Ollie at the tournament, but it’s what we’ve been trying to do all year long, just get guys who have never played before into golf tournaments,” said head coach Bruce Heppler. “The only way to improve is to get in and to play. So it’s another opportunity for some younger guys to work their way towards earning the right to go to the postseason. A lot of good teams, a good golf course. So it’s a good opportunity for them.

“I’m excited for Ollie. He’s earned it with some really good play. I’m happy for him,” Heppler added. “He gives us a chance to play another guy that hasn’t played very much, which come the end of the year is going to be more important than him playing in this one particular event. Again, it gives us a chance to play somebody else because he’s not here, which is what we need, more experience.”

The mantle of leadership now falls squarely on the shoulders of senior Anders Albertson, who on Wednesday was named one of five finalists for the prestigious Byron Nelson Award, given to the nation’s top graduating senior based on college golf career, academics and character.

Albertson, who was with the team on its previous trip to Tallahassee, in 2012, when the Jackets finished second, welcomes the challenge of leading the team into this loaded 17-team field, which includes nine teams in the current Golfweek/Sagarin top-50 — Florida State (No. 2), Georgia Tech (4), South Florida (8), South Carolina (14), Virginia (24), Florida (36), East Tennessee State (39), Louisville (45) and Troy (50) — and goes in with the usual high expectations.

“I want to beat everybody,” he said. “Obviously, Florida State is having a great year so far and it’s their home event. So I’m sure they’ll be a good test for us. We’re looking forward to competing against anyone who’s there.

“It will be a little bit different but we have expectations as a team and a program to win every time we play,” he added. “That’s why we go. So it’s kind of the next guy up attitude.”

Albertson is the perfect candidate to lead the Jackets into the Seminole Invitational, as he is the only member of the current team to have played in the 2012 event, tying for sixth, shooting a 5-under, 208.

“I’ve played this tournament before, so I’m familiar with the course,” he said. “I’ll just try to give them a little insight into their shot selection or mentally how to relax and be ready to go when we play on Friday.”

This weekend will help determine which players will be part of the Yellow Jackets’ squad at the ACC Championships, which begins on April 24, and which Georgia Tech has dominated, winning five times in the last six years, including last year.

Among those looking to earn a spot are senior Drew Czuchry and freshmen James Clark, Jacob Joiner, and Chris Petefish (sophomore Michael Hines will compete as an individual). The quintet is separated by fewer than two strokes on average — Petefish averages 71.44 strokes per round (behind only Schniederjans), Hines is next at 72.00, then Joiner, 72.42, but who also is one of three Jackets — with Albertson and Schniederjans — to shoot a season-low round of 65, doing so at the third round of the Warrior Princeville Makai Invitational, on March 5, 2014 – Czuchry, 72.67, and Clark, 72.89.

“They’ve been a little up and down one time it’s one guy, one time it’s another,” said Heppler. “That’s why young guys have to play, to where they can level that out and be more consistent. Chris Petefish is starting to play pretty well and so he’s working his way into what we’re doing and then the rest, we’re still kind of looking for 4 and 5 from about five guys. It’s still early in the year.”

But Heppler warned that early can become late very quickly.

“It’s early but it’s beginning to get late. We’re three events away from the ACC Tournament,” he said. “So it’s a little early in the spring but the year is moving on. We’re getting closer to figure out who are the guys that are going to play in the postseason.”

Schniederjans will be gone, but he’s not forgotten, as the Jackets expect to be sending good wishes and good luck texts to him — only after they’re done playing.

“I’m sure guys will check it out but we have to stay focused on what we have to do here,” said Albertson. “We, obviously, wish him the best and hope he plays really well, but he’s not here this week and we’ve got to coach up our guys and do the best we can. We’ll check in but we’ve got to take care of business in Tallahassee.”

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