Check this out
Ollie Schniederjans knows what it’s like to wait. To show patience. To trust one’s abilities.
It’s what he did when he first got to college, trying to settle into an intimidating, hectic city (Atlanta) and a challenging curriculum at a respected institution, Georgia Tech.
It’s what he did as a first-year pro in 2015, falling painfully short of the Web.com Tour Finals when he missed the cut in his final start. And what he did in committing to the Web.com Tour in 2016, when those players he’d competed against shoulder to shoulder for years were excelling on a bigger stage.
Who will be the next player to step out in a big way from golf’s heralded high school class of 2011? There are plenty of candidates. Daniel Berger has won twice. There’s Patrick Rodgers, the former Stanford standout. Emiliano Grillo could win again if he tames his putting. And don’t be surprised if it’s Schniederjans, the young man whose hometown Atlanta Journal-Constitution once described him as having both a game and name that “are abnormally long.”
And now, it’s Schniederjans time
Schniederjans has been studying hard and taking detailed notes, just as he has at the other levels. And now, perhaps, it’s his time.
“I feel very prepared, for sure, to win,” said Schniederjans, 24. He’d never been much of a goal-setter, but this season he set a few. “One of my goals is to win at least twice this year – not just once, but to back it up and do it twice. I think that I put myself in position probably four times last year where I had a solid chance to win the tournament with nine holes left. And if I can try to double that, make it eight times, and get it done (win) twice . . . I think that would be very do-able for me.”
A year ago, in the fall portion of the PGA Tour’s wraparound season, Schniederjans’ game was a disorganized mess. His first three starts as a member resulted in three missed cuts. He was trying to learn to hit the ball higher but couldn’t crack an egg.
Schniederjans would do what he always does through tough times. He absorbs. He assesses. He learns. He adjusts. He viewed his struggles as a blessing. Why? Because it returned him to the style of golf he knew, a safe haven, hitting low, piercing, left-to-right lasers and attacking golf courses.
“You just learn from everything you go through,” Schniederjans said. “For me, I was just like a kid again. I was able to go play golf again. I felt I hadn’t done that for eight months.”
Adds his manager, Excel’s Jon Heaton, “At every level he has faced some adversity but ended up figuring it out. That’s been pretty consistent for Ollie.”
No doubt Schniederjans, the former No. 1 amateur in the world, knows how to play. He was a slow starter at Georgia Tech who didn’t win tournaments until his junior season. Eventually, he became an All-American. In summer 2015, before turning pro, he made the cut in two majors (U.S. Open and British Open, tying for 12th in the latter), becoming only the third amateur since 1960 to do so – the others being Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Slowly, Schniederjans seems to be finding his way on the PGA Tour. Settling in. Getting comfortable. That rookie season that started so roughly? It finished strongly with a runner-up showing at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., where he shot 64 and learned a great deal in his fifth top-10 of the season. Performing so well on a Sunday, when the distractions are high and the blood pumps faster, was a significant sign of growth.
“Sundays … it’s all about how hard you make it for yourself,” Schniederjans said. “Golf is the same for 72 holes, and every shot you hit on Thursday matters just as much as they do on Sunday. Sundays can be the most exciting … and the most challenging.”
He had struggled at times to finish tournaments, but that sparkling final round at Wyndham (bogey-free) was everything he had sought. He lost to Henrik Stenson but had no regrets.
“I’m getting used to being there,” Schniederjans said. “It’s something I’ll build off when I’m in that position again.”
Jordan Spieth has been the PGA Tour’s rocket ship, and 2016-17 belonged to Justin Thomas, who won five times including a major and the FedEx Cup. Both are 24. Xander Schauffele, also 24, emerged from nowhere to win the Greenbrier and the Tour Championship.
‘This guy is the real deal.’
Who’ll be next to stand up and stand out? Schniederjans is worth watching.
“First time I played with him, he was still in school,” said Tour player Cameron Tringale, a fellow Georgia Tech grad, “and I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is the real deal.’ I knew he had a reputation as being good, but he was better than I thought. He has length, and he showed great touch around the greens. I don’t see any leaks there.”
Schniederjans averaged 300.7 yards off the tee in 2016-17 but could stand to hit more fairways (he ranked 185th) and make more putts (he ranked 109th in strokes gained: putting). At Wyndham he went to a more traditional two-hand grip instead of using the Claw, and even finished some putts using only his left arm, which is a drill he uses. (“I feel real solid with it on the short ones,” he said.)
Ollie grew up playing just about everything. Baseball, basketball, football. Even rollerblade hockey. Ollie’s father, the third of four Ollies in the Schniederjans family (all have different middle names), remembers bringing his oldest son on vacation from Powder Springs, Ga., to Fripp Island, S.C., one summer. All three of his boys are good athletes. Ben is a right-handed pitcher at Georgia Tech, and Luke, the youngest, plays golf for the Yellow Jackets. He won twice as a freshman.
Their father was surprised when Ollie IV asked him to pack more than his baseball gear that summer. He said, “Dad, will you take me out golfing? I want to play a round of golf, and I want you to keep score.”
“The whole trip back,” said Ollie III, laughing, “he had all these questions about golf. He pounded me with questions. And it was a five-hour trip.”
Very focused, very analytical
Ollie shot 40 in a nine-hole event a few weeks later, and his dad knew this might be something Ollie could pursue.
“It’s all he ever talked about it. I’d drop him off at the course (Bentwater Golf Club in Acworth) at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning, and I’d pick him up at 7 at night,” he said. “He’s very focused on the specifics of his game. He’s always been that way, very analytical. He’ll debrief himself over a tournament and focus on what he needs to work on, break it down, work on those things. Then he’ll come back at it.”
Schniederjans may be on a different timetable than some of his peers, but he’s confident he’ll get where he wants to go.
“Those guys are doing unbelievable things,” he said, pointing mainly to Spieth and Thomas. “I want to have my own path and timing. I’m giving it all I got, working really hard on every aspect of my game, and I think that I can put myself in their position. I’m capable of doing that.”
In just one year he went from a young pro who couldn’t make a cut early on to one who is piling up top-25 finishes. He started the new season with three finishes of T-23 or better. As he readied to head off to Mexico for the OHL Classic, Schniederjans said he never has felt better, or more confident, about his game.
“No matter how bad it ever gets, or how bad it has ever gotten, I still have that belief that I always figure it out,” he said. “I continue to have a long-term perspective and belief.”
Very often, steady wins the race.
(Note: This story is one in a series reviewing the year in golf. It appears in the November 2017 issue of Golfweek.)