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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – His swagger returned on the back nine. In danger of missing match play after opening with 73, Georgia Tech’s Ollie Schniederjans reeled off four straight birdies to shoot a 3-under 69 in the second round of stroke-play qualifying Tuesday and advance to the 64-man match-play portion of the 114th U.S. Amateur at Atlanta Athletic Club. The pressure was enough to keep Schniederjans, the World No.1 amateur, awake for half the night.
“I still have the mentality that I’m supposed to win this tournament,” he said. “I’m the No. 1 player in the world and I’m playing in my hometown. Who else is supposed to win this tournament besides me, right? I think other people think that too, and that’s something I have to deal with.”
Schniederjans had experience dealing with his back against the wall. Two years ago at the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills, he was 4 over with nine holes left and knew he needed to shoot at least 2 under to make match play. So he torched the second nine in 4 under and recorded the low round of the day.
This time, after touring the front in 1 under at the Riverside Course, Schniederjans was hovering on the cut line. While the other players in his group holed out, he rehearsed his swing to the side of the ninth green, and shook his head in disappointment. It led one spectator in his gallery to say, “I don’t like his body language. Don’t think he’s going to make it if he keeps playing like this.”
That wouldn’t prove to be the case. Schniederjans regrouped and caught fire. He cracked a drive into the left rough, punched a short iron that released to 6 feet and rolled in the birdie putt. One hole later, Schniederjans dropped in a 15-foot downhill birdie putt. Then he drained a pair of 10-footers for birdie. That birdie barrage would prove to be more than enough cushion despite a few hiccups on the way to the clubhouse. He made back-to-back bogeys, overcooking his tee shot on 16 into the left rough and missing a 6-foot par putt, then three-putting from 15 feet. He survived one more dicey moment on 18 after his layup at the par 5 landed in a sand divot.
“Gimme a break,” he said.
With the hole location tucked back left over a pond, he caught the ball cleanly on the bottom groove and knocked it safely aboard.
“I was never completely comfortable,” he said, “But I knocked the rust off and I’m ready to go in match play.”
It’s a format for which Schniederjans has mixed results. He defeated Cory Whitsett, 1 up, in the final of the 2009 AJGA Polo Golf Junior Classic, but never advanced past the first round of the U.S. Amateur or U.S. Junior (Whitsett, with Alabama, got revenge when they met in the 2013 NCAA semifinals). So Schniederjans is testing a new strategy this week. He doesn’t want to know who his opponent is until he gets to the first tee and meets him.
“I’m going to treat it like any other day,” he said. “I figure if I just play good for me, I’ll go far.”