It took nearly 43 months, but Cory Whitsett got his revenge.
More than three years removed from a loss in the match-play final of the Polo Junior Golf Classic to Ollie Schniederjans, the two were paired in the day’s final match at the NCAA Championship on Saturday.
And this one went decidedly in Whitsett’s favor, taking a 1-up lead on the first hole and never looking back in a 3-and-2 victory that helped propel his Alabama squad to a 3-0-2 victory over Georgia Tech, earning a berth in Sunday’s final against Illinois.
“I knew Ollie was going to be a very tough opponent today; he was clutch in getting Georgia Tech into today,” said Whitsett, No. 4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. “I knew he was great in match play. He beat me in match play three or four years ago at Polo. I didn’t think that much about it. But a little dig there.”
Strategy by Tide head coach Jay Seawell played into the match-up, holding off on putting Whitsett in the lineup until last, hoping Tech coach Bruce Heppler would do the same with Schniederjans.
“I wanted him to play Ollie; I thought it would be a great match. They are friends. Ollie is great guy. We recruited Ollie, I’ve known him since he was 15 years old,” said Seawell, who will lead the Tide into their second consecutive appearance in the title match.
“(Whitsett) jumped on arguably Georgia Tech’s best player today and really that gave everybody else confidence. That was a key match. For him to be in command all day long, that helped out the rest of us, especially the coach, to settle a bit.”
Both players came into the match having played big roles in getting their respective teams to the semifinals. Whitsett picked up seven birdies in a 5-and-4 victory Friday, while Schniederjans won his quarterfinal match in extra holes to propel the Yellow Jackets past UNLV.
But Whitsett’s hot play continued Saturday, posting four more birdies to take himself to 11 under during his last 30 holes – going bogey-free in the process.
“I was 1 under today, which isn’t bad, but it’s not good enough to win a national championship against this guy,” said Schniederjans. “He didn’t make a bogey, made four birdies. That’s hard to beat.”
Putting proved to be the difference Saturday, particularly on Nos. 3 and 12 – holes that Schniederjans left more than frustrated.
After Whitsett ran his tee ball off the back of the green at the par-3 No. 3, Schniederjans stuck his about 25 feet right of the cup. Whitsett would hit a great chip to fewer than 18 inches for a conceded par, but Schniederjans would knock his birdie attempt nearly seven feet past. He missed the comebacker to hand Whitsett a 2-up lead heading to the day’s first par-5.
“Those first five holes, those are birdie holes,” Whitsett said. “Although, I’ll take par at No. 3.”
“That three-putt on 3 killed me,” said Schniederjans after shaking hands with a sizable contingent following him throughout the round.
The putter would let him down again on the par-5 12th after he had won his first hole of the day at No. 10 to cut Whitsett’s lead to 3 up.
After both players went for the green in two – but missed – Schniederjans would miss the green with a big flop, while Whitsett put his third to about 10 feet left of the hole. Schniederjans hit his fourth to about 5 feet right of the cup, needing Whitsett to miss his birdie putt. The Alabama junior did miss and had to settle for par, leaving the door open for Schniederjans. But he pushed his putt to the right, leading to a tossed bag on the 13th tee that saw balls come flying out of the bag, as well as a contingent of tees.
He took a few moments left of the tee to compose himself and calmly put himself back together.
“The 12th was a game-changer. I gave him that hole. He didn’t birdie and I take 6,” said Schniederjans.
Whitsett will take on Illinois’ Alex Burge on Sunday morning in the last group yet again. Will he take anything from last year’s heartbreak loss in the championship to the first tee?
“Every one of those guys (on Illinois) deserves our respect.”