Amateur star Ollie Schniederjans goes pro, with help from friend
By Steve Hummer
ATLANTA, Ga. – In the tumult of Monday's Open Championship finish, for just a moment, the artisan who so meticulously etches the winner's name onto the old Claret Jug faced his worst nightmare.
Ollie Schniederjans was contending.
The former Georgia Tech star, whose game and name both are abnormally long, turned his final round as an amateur into a final statement on his potential. Stringing together seven birdies over his first 10 holes, Schniederjans got to double-digits under par and to within a couple of shots of the lead. That big name was getting some big play on the Open leaderboard.
No, he didn't win. He flattened out on the inward nine. No. 17, the cursed Road Hole, got him. But when Schniederjans followed up his double bogey there by nearly holing his second shot to the par-4 18th – rounding out a very tidy 67 – his last day as an amateur player was just about perfect.
Now go forth into the professional world and prosper.
"I'll remember all of (the Open experience). I'll definitely remember Monday because I kind of pushed myself to another level, finally, that day," Schniederjans said.
"I was playing well earlier in the week, but I'd get to 2 or 3 under and I'd fall back. It was frustrating. But that last day I pushed it past that, found my name up on the board and felt completely calm and confident on the back nine. That was probably the biggest nine holes I've ever played, and I felt like I was totally OK with whatever happened."
For his tie for 12th at the Open, Schniederjans earned plenty of good memories, but how much haggis can a person buy with just a smile and a scorecard? As an amateur, he had to forsake about $160,000 in winnings.
"That's something you have to come to terms with," he said. "You realize if you do what you're supposed to do, you're not going to have to worry too much about money. Hopefully I'll make plenty. I'm not too concerned about that at all."
The story shifts now to another foreign land, Oakville, Ontario, where Thursday new pro Schniederjans plays his first for-profit round. The RBC Canadian Open represents an exciting reboot not only for the 22-year-old swinging the club, but also for the 46-year-old former golf-course manager lugging around the rest of the set.
Together Powder Springs' Schniederjans and his caddie, Lance Bailey, last of the Acworth area, venture into the great green unknown of professional golf.
In advance of this journey, it was important for a player of Schniederjans' pedigree – former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world; the third amateur since 1960 (after Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods) to make the cut at both the U.S. and British Opens – to have every detail locked in. The checklist seems complete:
Management agency? Check. (Excel Sports)
Sponsorship? Check. (Frazier & Deeter CPA firm, Callaway Golf, Odyssey putters, Matte Grey clothes)
Swing coach? Check. (One of Tiger Woods' former guys, Sean Foley)
Establishing a home base? Check. (Will split time between Alpharetta and south Florida for the time being)
Schedule? Check. (Likely playing in three other PGA Tour events between now and the end of August on sponsor's exemptions. He's then eligible for seven more exemptions with the beginning of a new season in October. From there, making it full time to the Tour will be a matter of either maximizing those opportunities, making a big splash on the PGA's secondary tour or going through qualifying school. No guarantees.).
Lining up a work partner was the least complicated part of the prep work. While leaving the security of a good job with a large golf course management group required a leap of faith, Bailey did so happily and without a parachute.
"It's a risk, but it's a calculated risk just knowing the ability, the head and the class that Ollie has," his caddie said.
Besides, he's unmarried now, with no children, so why not? When he left South Carolina-Aiken, a baseball player with a degree in sports management, Bailey couldn't have foreseen a mid-life career change as a PGA Tour caddie. But, looking at it now, he said, "In my situation and given the type of person Ollie is, to me, it was a no-brainer."
In a way, the partnership had been in place for the better of a decade, beginning back when Bailey worked at Bentwater Golf Club in Acworth and Schniederjans was the kid who never wanted to go home.
"He was always wanting to play with the big guys, the good players at the club," Bailey said. "He went from just wanting to play with us to beating our brains out pretty quickly." The kid was a club champion at 15. At 14, he shot a 64 in a Georgia Amateur qualifier (with Bailey on the bag). Yeah, he was precocious.
More and more, Bailey found himself taking time off to tote Schniederjans' bag. They worked together in special-invitation events in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. And they began talking about that distant day Bailey might caddie full time for his young friend on the big Tour.
Two weeks ago was Bailey's final day at the golf-management company. The next day, he and Schniederjans left for Scotland. Once the authority figure back at the home club, Bailey now is in the employ of the kid.
With all the other adjustments facing him, at least Schniederjans won't have to worry about breaking in a caddie.
"It's almost like we feel like we're an experienced duo already, and here I am now just turning pro," he said.
"It's been really special. I don't know of any other guys who have that relationship with their caddies coming out. He's learning a lot and I'm learning a lot still, and we're getting better and better at what we do."
What might this partnership accomplish? One day they may have to start letting out some trophies to fit the Schniederjans name. But beginning Thursday, the best part is that whatever treasure they find on the course is theirs to divide.
This article was written by Steve Hummer from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.