The world’s top-ranked amateur golfer — and don’t let the name fool you, he is as American as the post pattern — entered Tuesday in doubt and on edge.
Ollie Schniederjans had spent the previous afternoon playing golf in slow motion. His U.S. Amateur partners were studying each shot like Robert Oppenheimer once studied the atom. For a guy like Schniederjans such a sluggish pace was a form of torture. That was combined with the round of 2 over, which meant he had some serious strokes to shave if he was going to advance past the Amateur’s 312-man casting call.
Could it be that after this premier event went to all that trouble to squeeze his last name onto the back of a caddie bib that the top-ranked amateur was going to bomb out?
“A lot of pressure on today, obviously,” Schniederjans said. The home-bed advantage had held no comfort for the son of Powder Springs and a Georgia Tech senior. He went down Monday night with a plan to get 10 hours’ sleep. He maybe got five.
No worries. Ollie, Ollie, oxen free. With a four-birdie binge on the back nine Tuesday, Schniederjans composed a 3-under round of 69 on the Atlanta Athletic Club Riverside Course. His two-day total of 1 under put him comfortably into the field of 64 for the start of match play Wednesday.
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“It’s just tough to make it to match play,” a relieved Schniederjans said after the round. “A couple of big mistakes and you can be home after two days. That would have been pretty devastating for me.”
Schniederjans had no clear idea when he made the turn Tuesday at 1 over for the tournament what it was going to take to finish in the top 64. What a player of his reputation needed to do was take away the guesswork. He took a whip to the round and birdied the next four holes. And while he frittered away a little of that advantage and even as he faced a dicey approach on No. 18 over water, his ball nesting in a sandy divot, Schniederjans had this one in his back pocket. He hit safely to the middle of the green, took his two-putt and got ready to reboot for match play.
The difference Tuesday was a putter that went so hot he almost required oven mitts. Anything inside 15 feet was a gimme on that birdie run. He left the course Tuesday hoping to bottle that feeling. “When I’m playing big tournaments like this in match play, you have a putt to win or tie pretty much every hole. So, I feel great about that.”
Schniederjans has a presence that suggests he should perform splendidly on this kind of stage. A confidence. Two years ago at Cherry Hills outside Denver, he made the turn on U.S. Amateur Tuesday with the idea he needed to go 2 under on a tough track to make the cut. He went 4 under on the final nine holes. That memory, he said, served him well at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
He has a comfortable bargain with expectation. Being tagged the top amateur in the world, being the target for every opponent’s best, hardly seems to faze him. “It’s fun being the No. 1 amateur and I’m going to try to keep that ranking as much as I can,” he said.
He possesses a patience and a maturity uncommon among males of his age (21) and skill level.
Schniederjans’ game seems a pro grade as any. He bombs it off the tee, as is the style of the day. As an amateur, he played in two professional events this summer and finished in a tie for fifth in a Web.com tournament and 41st at the Scottish Open. There are tugs and temptations aplenty for him to leave Tech early and begin his pro journey.
And, yet, when asked how much he enjoys his current amateur standing, Schniederjans launches into a filibuster that would have made Bobby Jones flush with pride.
“I love college. I love being in Atlanta with these people (at Tech) for another year, with coach (Bruce Heppler).
“The atmosphere that I’m in, I’m so comfortable with. I feel I can get so much better. I can use this year to get better, learning and helping out some of the freshmen, giving back to the program a little bit.
“It’s just another year. I have so many things to figure out before I get started and then I’ll be so prepared to go. I’ll be out there (on the PGA Tour) hopefully for a long time.”
What Schniederjans doesn’t have is an abundance of success in head-to-head competition. This is his third U.S. Amateur, and his second foray into match play. He’s still waiting to win his first one. Nor has he has done anything memorable with that style of play in the NCAAs.
At least now he’ll have the advantage of being well rested. “Oh, I’ll sleep tonight,” he said, having made it through the first grind at the U.S. Amateur sausage mill.