That first win elusive, Schniederjans gears up for first Players Championship

No, don't hit it there: Ollie Schniederjans plays his second shot from a rather yawning fairway bunker during last week's 2018 Wells Fargo Championship. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Credit: Streeter Lecka

Credit: Streeter Lecka

Ollie Schniederjans had one of those tempus fugit moments just a week ago, in preparation for a little golf tournament outside Charlotte.

It had been but three years since the once-upon-a-time top-ranked amateur in the world left Georgia Tech, ready to burn up the playing fields of the PGA Tour like 180 pounds of Roundup. He, today, is still only 24, just in his second full-time season, still riding the learning curve, still seeking a first professional victory. Just a young ‘un.

So, during a practice round last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, imagine his surprise when he noted that both his playing partners were born after him. “There are so many young guys out there,” Schniederjans said Wednesday. “Last week I played with Sam Burns (21) and Beau Hossler (23). Wow, I’m the old guy, now. That was interesting.”

As time does indeed flee, it is important to note a couple of developments in Schniederjans’ golfing life before we all get any older.

Here is a player not far removed from junior golf himself who now has tournament named after him. That would be the Callaway Golf/Ollie Schniederjans Junior Classic held a couple of weeks ago at the Country Club of the South. For a fellow who grew up in Powder Springs and now lives off the Golf Club of Georgia, it was a labor of local love.

Then, there is the all grown-up part of the program, and his 12:46 tee time Thursday in the first round of his first Players Championship. At TPC Sawgrass, they traditionally hold an event with the third-largest purse in golf – behind only the U.S. Open and Masters – and pretentions of occupying the same neighborhood as the majors.

It has been nearly a decade since Schniederjans was invited to compete over this landscape of railroad ties and reptiles, in a couple of junior events in which he did passably well. He has been longing to get another crack at the place.

“I’ve known I’ve been in it for a while (qualifying by finishing in the top 125 of last season’s FedEx Cup point standings). This is one I’ve looked forward to playing one day for some time,” he said.

Nothing, not even the specter of hitting to the infamous island green at No. 17, can dampen that enthusiasm. “I’ve always not had any problems with nerves,” he said. Indeed, the way he carries himself on the course, it appears you could measure his pulse with a sundial.

“It’s a harder green to hit than it looks because it’s firm. You can bounce it off most of the times. You got to really dial in where the wind is and get it on the green and get your three or make a putt and get out of there.”

No one recognizes the accelerated pace of life more than an ambitious PGA Tour player these days. Every year you don’t get into one of these mammoth events – and Schniederjans is still trying to work his way into the biggest, the Masters – seems like an out-sized slice of eternity. Every event in which you don’t contend seems like a loss, especially given the kind of credentials Schniederjans carries.

Hey, three of the world’s top four-ranked players are 25 or younger. It’s so easy to get left behind.

When this season started, Schniederjans told Golfweek that he not only wanted to get his first PGA Tour victory, but he also wanted another on top of that just to prove the first wasn’t an anomaly.

His play thus far this season has done nothing to further that goal. In 14 events, he has a pair of top-10 finishes (the best a third at the Waste Management in Phoenix). While he has made the cut in his past six tournaments, his average finish over that span is 44th.

“I haven’t played anything like I was hoping to so far this year,” he said. “But we’re only halfway there. I haven’t been far off. I’ve been making cuts, had a couple top 10s. It hasn’t been all bad, it just hasn’t been as tight as I was expecting.”

A glance at his statistics would indicate a player who has wandered off the tee – 155th in strokes gained off the tee, 186th in driving accuracy percentage – but has done enough with the short game to hang around through Sunday. Schniederjans confirms the accuracy of that perception.

Nevertheless, that goal of at least two victories this season has not been reconfigured just yet.

“Justin Thomas won five times last year. Twice is less than half what he won. I don’t think that was a whole lot. It was a really good goal for me,” Schniederjans said, while refusing to lower the bar.

“You keep doing everything you can to give yourself the best chance for things to go in the right direction. I know for sure when I’m on top of all my stuff, playing like I’m capable of, I’ll have a chance to win. Those goals stay the same.

“Halfway through the year, I haven’t got that win yet. But I still have a lot of golf coming up, and it can happen really quickly. I’m still holding true to those goals. I believe that is still a possibility for me. I just got to keep giving myself a chance for good things to happen.”

The Schniederjans name is still written large – is there any other way to write such a name? – all over the Georgia Tech athletic program. One brother, Luke, is a central character on the Yellow Jackets’ ACC champion golf team. Another, Ben, has pitched in six games for the baseball team.

Ollie is not the only member of the family with big plans for the near future. “Luke is excited, the team is excited to see what they can do,” Ollie said, with the Tech golf team ranked fifth in the nation entering the postseason. “I think they have pretty high hopes and believe if they can get through and get to match play (in the NCAAs) they have as good a chance as anyone to be right there at the end.”

Big brother is counting on being in that very position – right there, with a chance to win – sometime very soon. Because, like they used to say in ancient Rome, time’s a-wastin’.

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