Schniederjans emerging as a force
Oliver Schniederjans has arrived.
In his AJGA invitational debut, the Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in September, the 16-year-old recorded a top-5 finish. A month later, he mounted a final-round charge at the Ping Invitational, but fell three shots short of winner Emiliano Grillo. By the Polo Golf Junior Classic in November, Schniederjans had all the pieces of his game firing, and took home the title after defeating some of the most successful players in junior golf.
“I definitely feel like I kind of came out of nowhere,” Schniederjans said about his recent appearance at the top.
Another little-known fact about the now well-known player?
“The whole deal with the match play is I had never won a match ever before the Polo,” he explained. “I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence with match play going into it.”
The string of tournament success continued for Schniederjans Dec. 22 at the Jones Cup Junior Invitational at Sea Island Golf Club’s Seaside Course in St. Simons Island, Ga. He not only won the tournament – which earned him an exemption into the Jones Cup Feb. 4-7, an elite amateur event – but did so by 10 shots.
It’s another reminder of how far Schniederjans has come in the short time since he burst into the national junior scene.
“The (Junior Players), that was my first invitational, and that was when I was like, ‘How can I play against Jordan Spieth and all those guys, all the guys ranked so high up, all the big names?’ ” he said.
Now it’s not just about playing with the big names; Schniederjans has become a big name. A native of Powder Springs, Ga., Schniederjans has verbally committed to Georgia Tech for the fall of 2011, which only adds to his sticking power. Together with sophomore James White and incoming freshman Richard Werenski, whose play Schniederjans is familiar with, he thinks the team will be a tough one.
Before his AJGA invitational debut at the Junior Players, Schniederjans was giving local players fits in regional and state tournaments. There has been impressive string of players who have been dealt a loss at Schniederjans’ hands, beginning with Auburn sophomore Blayne Barber (who won both the Florida State Amateur and St. Augustine Amateur in 2009, and finished T-7 at the NCAA Championship while at UCF last spring). The two met at the 2008 Future Masters, and Schniederjans prevailed after a seven-hole playoff.
“It was really more like the entire round was a playoff,” he said. “Blayne is one of the best college players out there right now, he’s a really good competitor.”
Fast forward to the summer of 2009, when Schniederjans outlasted U.S. Open qualifier Matt Nagy to win the Georgia State Public Links Championship. Schniederjans birdied two of his final three holes to get to 8-under 134 (66-68) for the tournament, and held off a final-round charge by Nagy.
Third on the list of Schniederjan’s best head-to-head accomplishments was his string of match play domination at the Polo Junior, ending with a 1-up victory against Cory Whitsett in the final match. Schniederjans described his defeat of Whitsett, the 2007 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, as a battle the whole way, but doesn’t hesitate in naming Emiliano Grillo, Golfweek’s No. 2-ranked junior, as the toughest opponent of the week. He describes the Argentine’s game as “so good it’s unbelievable.”
“When I was done with that match, I felt like I weighed nothing,” he said. “It was so hard to get through that match.”
Schniederjans is building an arsenal of good memories to use in pressure situtations with each thumping he delivers (like pretending the 8-footer he had to sink to beat Whitsett was really a 7-footer he had already made to keep the playoff going with Barber). He remembers his rounds with remarkable clarity and has made a habit of learning whatever he can from a match, even if he doesn’t win.
With the help of longtime swing coach Mark Anderson – who Schniederjans has been working with since he picked up the game as an 11-year-old after hanging around with a friend who played – he continues to work on his game, too. Last summer, it was all about putting, and the switch to a Scotty Cameron Fastback was enough to propel him to the next level.
In the first tournament he played with the new putter, the Georgia Junior PGA Championship, Schniederjans shot 66-67 for a three-shot victory, then put up a 64 to win his Georgia State Amateur qualifier the next day.
“That was like, ‘OK, I can do this,’ ” he said. “The whole thing was that I was making putts, and that’s how I was going to be able to shoot low.”
That week in June not only resulted in a sort of strategy epiphany, but also sticks out in his mind as the moment he really broke through to the next level.
Schniederjans’ mom, Linda, who attends all of his tournaments and a fair amount of practice sessions, knew her son had found his passion long before that. Baseball and basketball were too boring, but with golf, it was all on Oliver. Linda remembers his enthusiasm with the sport as so infectious “you could bottle the desire.”
“He had about three pages of questions he had come up with about various things of playing golf,” she said of Schniederjans’ first few months playing the game. “He showed me and I said, ‘I think it’s time for you to have a teacher.’ ”
Five years later, Schniederjans’ trophy shelf is expanding rapidly.
So much for being unkown.