ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Ollie Schniederjans has hit a number of clutch shots in his young golfing career. However, none can compare to the one the Georgia Tech sophomore pulled off Sunday on the final hole, in the final group, at the Lakeside course at the Golf Club of Georgia in the seventh annual U.S. Collegiate Championship.
Schniederjans laced a cut, 5-iron shot from 220 yards at the par-5 closing hole to within 3 feet, sank the downhill putt for eagle, and enabled the Yellow Jackets to complete an amazing comeback and win the title by a single shot over defending champion UCLA.
“I’ve hit some pretty clutch shots in the past, but with the team pressure, playing in the last group of the day, with all those fans out there in the skyboxes around the green, that shot was as good as it gets,” Schniederjans said right after signing his scorecard.
“It’s just unbelievable,” he said. “This will last (with) me forever. It’s a dream come true. Right now I’m freaked out excited.”
Georgia Tech, the host team that won this event for the first time in 2010, shot a closing 4-over 292 and finished at 10-over 874, the second highest winning score in tournament history.
UCLA, the second round leader that at one point on the back nine led by eight shots, struggled down the stretch for a 295 and 875 total.
First-round leader USC closed with a 291 and placed third at 879, one stroke better than Virginia. Stanford rounded out the top five in the 15-team field, posting a final round best 2-under 286 for 881.
Leading the Cardinal final-day charge was tournament medalist Patrick Rodgers. The Stanford sophomore shot a final-round 5-under 67 for a 7-under 209 total and a four-stroke victory over Talor Gooch of Oklahoma State, Michael Johnson of Auburn and Cheng-Tsung Pan of Washington.
“It was a lot of fun out there today,” said Rodgers, who earlier this fall won at Olympia Fields and now has four career collegiate wins. “This golf course is very demanding and there were some tricky pin placements out there today. You really had to concentrate on staying patient and I think I did a good job of that.
“It’s a great feeling to win a tournament like this,” said Rodgers, who played in two PGA Tour events last summer, missing the cut at the Travelers and John Deere Classic. “Playing out here, with the difficulty of the golf course, the crowds, the skyboxes around the 18th green, it really is like playing in a PGA Tour event.”
UCLA held a two-shot lead over Tech at the start of the day and stretched the margin to eight after the first few holes of the back nine.
The Bruins started leaking some oil and the Yellow Jackets kept plugging along and through 15 holes Tech trailed by only two. With three groups left on the course, the two teams were deadlocked at 11 over.
With two groups left, Tech trailed by two. Then the fun — at least for the home team and their fans — began.
Seth Reeves, coming off a three-putt bogey at the par-3 17th, hit his second shot at 18 to the edge of the back bunker. His delicate flop shot rolled 6 feet past the hole and he drained the putt for birdie, leaving Tech one shot behind.
That left it all up to Schniederjans as darkness was beginning to settle in.
“Normally, coach (Bruce Heppler) doesn’t want us to know how things stand,” said Schniederjans, who birdied 16 from a foot and made a clutch par at the tough 17th. “I told him at 18 I want to know. So I knew what I had to do. . . and I did it.”
Said Heppler, “Ollie said he knew how everything stood at 18. He told me, ‘I’m going to make three,’ and he did.”
For Heppler and the Yellow Jackets, the victory was a bit of redemption from last year when the team blew a big lead on the back nine and wound up finishing fourth behind champion UCLA.
“What a nice way to end our fall season,” Heppler said. “This is such a great tournament and the field is one of the strongest you’ll find anywhere. Other than winning the national championship and the conference championship, winning here is very special.
“And the way it all unfolded this year, you couldn’t ask for anything better,” Heppler said. “To hear all those roars around the 18th green and to have so many people come out to support us, it doesn’t get too much better than that.”
There definitely weren’t many people out there at the finish who would argue that point.
Gooch, who led after the first and second rounds, struggled early on and could never fully turn it around on his way to a closing 2-over 74.
The Oklahoma State junior birdied the second hole, but followed with bogeys at Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 8. He rebounded with birdies at 9 and 11 only to take his lone double bogey of the tournament at 12. Another birdie at 15 was followed by three closing pars.
“It was a struggle out there today,” Gooch said. “I didn’t get many putts to drop and had a few bad breaks that led to bogeys and a double bogey. My tee shot ended up in a divot three times on the front side and I just wasn’t able to overcome that with any putts.
“But overall, it was a pretty good week.” he said. “This is my first competition in two months (he didn’t play in OSU’s first two events, being benched by coach Mike McGraw for breaking a team rule). I definitely had some rust coming in so it was good to get some of that rust off and play well. Overall, it was a good week for me.”
Only six players finished 54 holes under par and no player was under par in each of his three rounds.