To hear Alpharetta’s Ollie Schniederjans tell it, over the past year or so he has changed almost everything about himself short of having a couple of consonants surgically removed from his last name.
On Saturday at the Players Championship, those changes finally revealed some rewards, as the world’s former top amateur out of Georgia Tech shot 65 and put himself in contention come the final round of this weighty event.
The same fellow who has missed seven of 13 cuts this season – including the previous two stops on his Florida swing – the same one whose world ranking has ballooned to its highest since he became a PGA Tour regular in 2017 (currently 239th) just shot his best round in about a year and a half. And now he’s auditioning for a starring role at the Players.
Or maybe he’s not really the same person, such has been the renovation he’s undergone since having a good, long talk with himself.
“I realized a year and a half ago that I didn't have the game I needed to be at the level I wanted to be at,” he said after his round here Saturday. “I was able to put together some good finishes, but these top players in the world are (finishing in the top 10) in half their tournaments and winning three times a year. And I didn't feel like I was in a place to play any golf course and do that, and ultimately that's the place I want to be.
“So I took some risk and made some changes to put myself long-term at that level. It's just nice, obviously, to finally have a round like today and just to feel like I do about my game, to feel like I have a chance out there to go low and get in contention in big tournaments. Last year I didn't feel like that.”
There came the realization he didn’t just want to be a subsistence golfer. He didn’t want to be out here merely trying to protect his playing privileges. There had to be more to this golf gig, especially for someone with the impressive amateur credentials he had built up at Tech.
The tipping point came last year as the one dependable constant of his game – his length off the tee – began to dissolve.
“I wasn't hitting it good enough. I couldn't work (the ball) both ways. I couldn't get it in the air real well. I lost a lot of (club-head) speed last year,” Schniederjans said.
Never know with a golfer. He could move one hand a millimeter on his grip think it a life-altering change. But Schniederjans describes something far more drastic than that, the drastic nature of it seen in his results this season as he struggled to rewire muscle memory. His top finish in 2018-19 entering the Players: A T-33 at the Waste Management in Arizona.
Schniederjans deconstructed his swing, and built it back up piece by piece in an attempt to give his ball flight a little height and needed variety. To further that cause, he gave himself over to the swing whisperer, Butch Harmon. He just casts a glance your way and your scoring average drops.
Schniederjans began working with a new physical trainer to apply a better body to the mechanics of his rebuilding swing.
He got a new caddie, picking up Zach Johnson’s former long-time guy, Damon Green. “He's been out here for a long time, caddied for a Hall of Fame career and won majors and a bunch of tournaments out here. So obviously he's a huge asset to me,” Schniederjans said.
There certainly was risk to making big changes in mid-career. Change is a little scary at this level.
“It's just a journey, and you experiment a lot and you try a lot of things to see how you can be the best you can be,” Schniederjans said. “It's been risk because I've made some big changes to how I go about my golf swing and how I move my body or use my hands. That's hard to compete when you're going through things like that.
“I knew I wasn't in a place where I was going to be competing at the highest level for a little bit of time. But I've gotten to a point where I don't have to think about too much, and a lot of good things are happening in my swing. I have a good formula to get better every day.”
So, now comes the part of the program where the reward is supposed to kick in.
You hole out from 71 yards for eagle on the par-5 9th on Saturday, you roll in three birdie putts of more than 16 feet and take only 24 all day, and you start to feel like maybe this reach for something better is paying off.
“I just feel good out there,” Schniederjans said. “I feel like I have a chance to play well and to score well.
“Just to be out there feeling like I can rip the driver down the middle on 18, or hit that wedge on 17 (just clearing the water on that island green) and turn it over and hit cuts and do everything I need to do out there. I feel like I have a chance to play at the highest level.”
He has put himself in splendid position to show that off Sunday at the Players.
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