Schniederjans leads Georgia Tech to NCAA semis
PHOTOS: NCAA Championship (Quarterfinals)
View images from the quarterfinals of NCAA Championship Match Play on Friday.
MILTON, Ga. –– He can’t explain it, but Georgia Tech sophomore Ollie Schniederjans thrives in pressure situations.
Schniederjans led his NCAA Championship quarterfinal match Friday against UNLV’s Kevin Penner for 16 holes until Penner squared things up with a long birdie on the par-4 17th hole at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple course. And when the match went to extra holes, Schniederjans delivered, sticking his approach at the par-4 first hole to within 3 feet.
When the match-clinching birdie putt dropped, Schniederjans gave a big fist pump. The gallery of mostly Georgia Tech fans erupted. Schniederjans’ teammates came rushing out onto the green to congratulate him.
Then came the tears, as Schniederjans covered his face with a white towel, taking a few seconds to collect his emotions.
“That was kind of surprising,” Schniederjans said of the moments after his 19-hole victory, which gave the Yellow Jackets a 3-2 win and set up a semifinal match against defending national runner-up Alabama on Saturday. “You saw the other guys, they were like that, too. We love this program. We love this team. That’s how bad we want it.”
Schniederjans missed a 12-footer for birdie that would have given him the match victory on No. 18. He arrived at the playoff hole before Penner, walked quickly to the tee box and stared out into the fairway for a few seconds before Penner’s shuttle arrived at the hole.
“I was super calm,” Schniederjans said. “I knew what I had to do. I just feel super focused and calm, and I make better swings under that kind of pressure. I don't know why.”
Both players found the fairway. Penner hit his approach first, putting it on line with the pin before seeing it end up just short of the putting surface.
Next up was Schniederjans. He had 110 yards to the hole and pulled out his 60-degree lob wedge. Normally, he hits it 95 yards. With the downhill lie, he would add 5 more.
“Little bit of adrenaline going and I can hit a little hard draw in there,” Schniederjans said. “I knew it was going to be perfect if I just executed it.”
So he stepped up to the ball, took one waggle and knocked the ball inside of a few feet.
That’s when Georgia Tech head coach Bruce Heppler and sophomore Anders Albertson arrived at the first green. Just minutes before, Heppler had watched Albertson defeat UNLV’s Kurt Kitayama, 2 and 1, on the 17th hole. That win tied the overall score at 2-2, making Schniederjans’ match the deciding point.
“I sprinted up the fairway and saw two balls on the green; one was short, one was tight,” Albertson said. “I didn’t find out until I got on the green that it was Ollie’s (that was close).”
Heppler got there just in time to see the final putt drop. It’s a scene that he’s seen before, though.
Georgia Tech trailed UCLA by one shot at last fall’s U.S. Collegiate at the Golf Club of Georgia. Schniederjans was on the tee box at the par-5 finishing hole. He asked Heppler where the team stood. Heppler told Schniederjans that he needed to make birdie to force a playoff.
Schniederjans responded with, “I’m going to make three,” before sticking a 5-iron from 220 yards to inside 3 feet to give the Yellow Jackets the victory.
“Backslash, file, save,” Heppler quipped. “That’s what you do when something’s good. We’re a computer school. Backslash, file, save, or backslash, file, delete. That’s what you do with your good ones and your bad ones.”
Schniederjans said he drew upon that performance on Friday, only this time the stakes were much higher.
UNLV won the first two matches as Carl Jonson dispatched Seth Reeves, 4 and 3, and A.J. McInerney beat Shun Yat Hak, 2 up. But Bo Andrews won four straight holes to defeat Nicholas Maruri, 3 and 2, and Albertson knocked off Kitayama with a hole to spare to set up the dramatic finish.
“Ollie’s clutch; that’s what he does,” Albertson said. “He’s so mentally tough.”
Georgia Tech missed out on the NCAA Championship last year after finishing sixth at the 2012 NCAA Norman Regional. No player on in the Yellow Jackets’ lineup had ever competed in a NCAA Championship before this year.
Yet, Georgia Tech finds itself in its first national semifinal since match play was incorporated into the NCAA Championship in 2009. The Yellow Jackets suffered quarterfinal losses in 2010 and '11.
“The funny thing about coaching is just watching somebody do something cool,” Heppler said. “You get to go along for the ride. You’re a nobody yourself and then you get to watch kids progress and hit shots and make putts and do things that they couldn’t do a year ago. There’s just nothing like it.”
Heppler’s now gotten to see Schniederjans do something cool not once, but twice. He'll remember this one more, though.
As will Schniederjans.
“The whole Georgia Tech nation is watching the playoff hole to go to the next round and it’s all on me,” Schniederjans said. “The whole Georgia Tech nation is on my shoulders. I just felt that. It just feels awesome to get it done.”
Backslash, file, save.
• • •
Saturday's match-ups: Alabama vs. Georgia Tech
10:45 a.m.: Anders Albertson, Ga. Tech, vs. Bobby Wyatt, Alabama
10:54 a.m.: Shun Yat Hak, Ga. Tech, vs. Trey Mullinax, Alabama
11:03 a.m.: Bo Andrews, Ga. Tech, vs. Scott Strohmeyer, Alabama
11:12 a.m.: Seth Reeves, Ga. Tech, vs. Justin Thomas, Alabama
11:21 a.m.: Ollie Schniederjans, Ga. Tech, vs. Cory Whitsett, Alabama