Schniederjans has reinvented himself at just 25Briefly led THE PLAYERS Championship, now heads to Valspar Championship
March 20, 2019
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Ollie Schniederjans interview after Round 3 of THE PLAYERS
Ollie Schniederjans was still a little raw, and a little hurt.
Two hours earlier, with the eyes of the world watching intently, he had worked his way into a tie at the top at THE PLAYERS Championship. Two hiccups on the back nine, though, including a triple-bogey 6 at the most famous hole in American golf, had given him an even-par 72 and a T16 finish.
“I cost myself a lot of money on 17,” he said, “so that’s hard to deal with right now.”
Now, though, he looks ahead to this week’s Valspar Championship, and, big-picture, he likes what he sees. Because Ollie Schniederjans 2.0 is finally achieving liftoff.
He has a new swing coach (Butch Harmon), a new trainer (Brendan McLaughlin, who also works with Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson), and a new caddie (Damon Green, formerly with Zach Johnson). At TPC Sawgrass, Schniederjans, who stands out for his conspicuous lack of headwear and his feathery brown bangs, was even sporting a new mustache.
“Just since today,” he said after the wild final round. “Yesterday I had a goatee.”
Not long ago, it appeared Schniederjans didn’t need to change anything. He was a member of golf’s heralded Class of 2011—Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas were co-valedictorians—and marked for greatness as he mowed through the amateur ranks and was an All-American at Georgia Tech. But his early professional career fizzled.
While Spieth and Thomas were racking up a combined 20 PGA TOUR titles, Schniederjans was running in place. He was 60th in the FedExCup in 2017, when he had his best chance to win before finishing runner-up at the Wyndham Championship, and 98th last season.
If anything, he felt himself getting worse.
“I wasn't hitting it good enough,” he said at THE PLAYERS. “I couldn't work it both ways. I couldn't get it in the air real well. I lost a lot of speed last year.”
What’s more, he added, he was stubbornly clinging to his old ways. “A lot of time was wasted,” he said, “and energy was wasted just trying to figure things out on my own.”
He went to see Harmon for the first time in December, traveling to the renowned teacher’s home base in Las Vegas. He began working with Green at the Sony Open in Hawaii, in January, and made a second pilgrimage to Vegas for another full-day visit with swing coach Harmon. All the while, McLaughlin was overseeing his new program to strengthen his body for golf.
That’s a lot of changes all at once, and the results were slow to come. Schniederjans came into last week languishing at 193rd in the FedExCup and 239th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
He kept at it, though, not content to be mediocre and unwilling to quit before the changes had had a chance to take hold. They did so at THE PLAYERS, where Schniederjans, who took up golf at the relatively advanced age of 12, seemed to play better as he got closer to the lead.
“That was the one thing Zach was good at, too,” caddie Green said. “We’ve talked about it a lot, how you have to be the guy who wants the ball and wants to take the shot at the end of the game. He really does, and you could see it. I’ve been telling him for the last month, ‘You’re going to peak at TPC, I can just feel it.’ Just tryin’ to get in his head and give him a little confidence.”
Schniederjans has certainly never lacked drive; he burns to be one of the best in the world and is constantly having Green film his swing. Green calls him “an old soul for a 25-year-old,” such is his low-key, studied approach to improvement. His physical tools are also impressive.
It’s one thing to reach the par 5s in two shots at TPC Sawgrass, but quite another to reach with a 9-iron, like Schniederjans. (He’s 11th on TOUR in driving distance, averaging 309.5 yards.)
“He’s got around 125 mph clubhead speed, which is sick,” Green said. “If he can hit a few more fairways and improve on his putting, which let us down a little at TPC, he’s gonna do damage.”
Schniederjans’ big weekend at THE PLAYERS was the long-awaited affirmation that he’s on the right path. With the leaders faltering early, he birdied three of the first six holes to tie for the lead, rising to the occasion like old times. This was exactly what was predicted for him. Alas, he double-bogeyed the 10th, rallied with three birdies, then rinsed his tee shot on 17, the resulting 6 a buzz-kill at the end of an otherwise electric weekend run.
Still, these are early days, and the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, which has given us first-time winners like Adam Hadwin, Kevin Streelman and Gary Woodland, awaits. Schniederjans calls caddie Green a huge help, and says the same for Harmon and McLaughlin. He’s got the right support team, and his decision to change everything is finally paying off.
“I played extremely well – I had two terrible holes that cost me the tournament,” he said. “I know when I get in the mix, I can get the job done. I’ve just got to keep putting myself in this position.”