When he tees it up on the par-4 fifth hole at Capital City Club-Crabapple, Ollie Schniederjans knows better than to leave it on the left side of the fairway if the pin is on the left side of the green.
His Georgia Tech teammate Seth Reeves salivates at No. 7, a dogleg right 379-yard par-4 hole where he likes to bomb it over the trees.
“Yesterday, I drove the green,” he said Thursday.
In short, the two Yellow Jackets and their teammates have stores of knowledge of the private club in Milton and no lack of comfort in maneuvering around the layout. They believe it will prove most useful when Tech plays in the NCAA Championship beginning Tuesday.
Said Schniederjans, “I think we’re really confident at this course. I honestly don’t think there’s a better course on the planet that we could be at for our team.”
Tech and Georgia are two of 30 teams that will compete for the NCAA title at Capital City’s Crabapple course, which borders Cherokee County in the northern tip of Fulton County. This will be the first time that a Georgia course has been the host to the championship. The format is three rounds of stroke play, after which the top eight teams will compete in match play, with the final June 2. No. 12-seed Georgia is playing for its third title. No. 7-seed Tech will pursue its first championship on a course that is as comfortable as a favorite pair of blue jeans.
Schniederjans estimated he has played Crabapple between 15 and 20 times, making him a relative novice compared with Reeves, who figured he has 25 to 30 rounds to his credit. The Capital City Club, which called on Tech to serve as host institution in making a bid to host the tournament, has been accommodating in allowing Tech players to practice on the course when it’s been available, Tech coach Bruce Heppler said.
“They just think they’re going to play good (at Capital City),” Heppler said.
Schniederjans compared that familiarity with Tech’s disaster at the 2012 NCAA regional in Norman, Okla. Playing in high winds on unfamiliar topography, Schniederjans said he was still trying to figure out the course during the final round, when the Jackets ballooned and failed to advance out of regionals for the second time in the past 22 appearances.
“This way, we won’t have any surprises,” Schniederjans said.
The familiarity is combined with a record of success. Last September, the Jackets finished tied for first with top-ranked California at an tournament that featured many of the top teams in the country.
In the event, Reeves tied for second at par, his best finish this year. He also earned a spot in the 2011 U.S. Amateur at a qualifier at Capital City-Crabapple and earned his Tech golf bag — a team rite of passage — during a practice round as a freshman. Last month in a match-play event with TCU, he destroyed his opponent 7 and 6.
“It’s very long, but there’s not too much off the tee, so I can just really let it go and get freed up,” he said. “That’s the thing I like most about it.”
Reeves, who averages about 320 yards off the tee, is the longest of Tech’s lineup of big hitters. The par-70 course will play at 7,319 yards, including a 600-yard par-5 hole, a 523-yard par-4 hole and a 220-yard par-3 hole. By comparison, Tech advanced out of a regional where the par-72 course measured 6,965 yards, a track so claustrophobic that Reeves left his driver out of his bag in favor of his 3-iron.
Tech finished fourth at that Tallahassee, Fla., regional, an event in which the Jackets felt the pressure of making nationals both because of last year’s regional failure and also because Tech is the host institution this season. With that out of the way, Heppler said that his team — Anders Albertson, Shun Yat Hak, Bo Andrews, Reeves and Schniederjans — is as loose as any that he’s taken to the NCAA tournament.
The impending home-course advantage doesn’t hurt.
“Of course, we’re going to be nervous, but I think when we step on that first tee or hit a few shots out there, we’re going to be like, Oh, this is just Crabapple; we love this place,” Reeves said. “That’s what we hope it’s going to be like.”