Schniederjans made three birdies in the opening four holes for a 3-up lead against Yang, 20, of the Republic of Korea, who is No. 776 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™.
On the fifth hole, though, Schniederjans drove his tee shot into the left rough, allowing Yang to see a degree of vulnerability.
We sensed early that [Schniederjans] was the real deal, said Richard Grice, Yang’s caddie and a member at Atlanta Athletic Club. But Gunn never had that sense of dread. It was more that he really had to focus. After that drive on the fifth, Gunn had this look like, ‘This guy is human.’
If Schniederjans, 21, a Georgia Tech senior, was playing the character of Russian boxer Ivan Drago, complete with a partisan gallery of local Yellow Jacket fans newsContenting him on, then Yang did his finest Rocky Balboa impersonation.
Yang countered by building a 2-up lead through the 10th. Schniederjans won three of the next five holes and approached the par-4 16th hole with a 1-up lead.
Yang finished with three successive birdies to win 1 up and advance to Friday’s quarterfinals in his first USGA championship. Yang will face Cameron Young, 17, of Scarborough, N.Y.
Sometimes I got frustrated because I lost a hole, but I was just trying to focus on my game, said Yang, who attends San Diego State University. There were plenty of holes to go, and I'm like, ‘I can do this, I can do this.’ Then on the last three holes, I made three birdies to win over Ollie, so that was pretty cool.
The birdie barrage also quickly dispersed the gallery that had been growing throughout the afternoon.
It is always good to have a crowd cheering you and stuff, but sometimes it can be a negative influence, I think, Yang said. I was just trying to focus on my game, and I did my best I guess.
Schniederjans, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, was duly impressed.
He was out of his mind, said Schniederjans, of nearby Powder Springs, Ga. He played some amazing golf. He’s going to be really good if he keeps doing things like that.
I played pretty good golf, but I missed the critical putts. It was a pretty good showing if I could make a couple of 10-footers. That was a great match.
Yang attempted to keep the win in perspective.
It's just one day, he said. I was just trying to play my game. Obviously, Ollie is No. 1 in the world and his game is just solid. First four holes, he knocked it down to within 6 feet, 7 feet and he made all the putts. I'm like, ‘Wow, this is how the No. 1 player in amateur golf plays.’ But whenever someone puts the ball next to the hole or has lots of birdie chances, that kind of motivates me, so I can also leave myself an opportunity to make birdies more.
Given the usual concessions of match play, Schniederjans made six birdies on the afternoon. Yang made seven.
And the last was the knockout punch.
Olsen’s Results Speak for Themselves
Zachary Olsen placed no expectations on himself as he arrived at Atlanta Athletic Club. Little from this summer had him believing this might be a breakout week.
I played pretty bad in June and then in July I thought I played well, but the results were not all that good, said Olsen, 20, of Cordova, Tenn. So I came in here with confidence, but I wasn’t seeing any results. I just really wanted to come in here and have a solid week.
Fair to say, Olsen has accomplished that goal. He shot a 2-under 141 in stroke-play qualifying to tie for 21st. On Thursday, the Oklahoma State University sophomore finished off two opponents at the Highlands Course’s 15th hole, the second being reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Will Zalatoris, of Plano, Texas, 5 and 3.
It was a long day out there, said Olsen, who defeated Bo Andrews, of Raleigh, N.C., 4 and 3 in the morning’s round of 32. You have to play well for so long, and I played solid in the second match. Even though I closed both matches out on 15, they were a grind. Maybe the scores don’t look close, but one or two shots here or there and I might have had a different outcome.
Prior to this week, Olsen’s summer highlight had been a fourth-place finish at The Players Amateur at Berkeley Hall Club in Bluffton, S.C., in July. He also played in the Southern Amateur and Western Amateur, but with mixed results.
[In the Southern and Western amateurs] I felt like I played a lot better than my finishes, he said.
Have this week’s successes caused him to reassess his expectations?
I feel like I am starting to hit my stride, Olsen said. But in golf, every day is different, you never know what tomorrow is going to bring.
Thursday was a pretty good day, though.
Walker Cup Captain Takes Early Look At Prospects
It will be about a year before John Spider Miller knows the makeup of the team he will captain in the 2015 Walker Cup Match, but the two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion is already learning as much as he can about some of the prospective members. With the country’s elite amateurs at Atlanta Athletic Club this week, Miller met some of the players who might be donning the red, white and blue at England’s Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s Golf Club next September.
I like to talk to the players while they’re in their practice rounds. Once the competition begins, I like to stay out of the way, I don’t want to be visible, said Miller, who played for the USA in the Walker Cup in 1999. I want them to have the opportunity to play their best, and the last thing I want is to have anything that I do affect their play. I feel like the less they see me once the competition begins the better, but I love seeing them, letting them know that I’m here, watching.
Miller knows the nuances of being successful in match play, having won a pair of USGA championships and gone 2-0-1 playing for the USA. A career amateur, Miller understands that the pro ranks often beckon for the top amateurs in today’s game, but the opportunity to represent the USA in the Walker Cup is something he hopes they will take to heart.
I’m very encouraged about what I hear about the current group of guys that want to make the team and are planning to remain amateurs, he said. Inevitably, they are going to try the pro ranks. Once they are on the team they are a Walker Cupper for life, and that’s a pretty cool thing.
Shortened No. 6 Provides Excitement
The options presented to players on the Highlands Course’s par-4 sixth hole on Thursday were numerous. And practically every option was selected.
With the hole measuring 294 yards for both rounds of match play, there was a temptation to try to drive the green. However, water runs along the left side from the landing area through the green, and a bunker is positioned at the right-front of the green.
During their match, both Jon Rahm and Corey Conners attempted to drive the green, and Rahm found the back bunker, while Conners ended up in the fronting bunker. Gunn Yang and Ollie Schniederjans took the water and bunkers out of play by laying up and leaving themselves full wedge shots into the green.
Yang and Schniederjans halved the hole with birdies, while Rahm and Conners halved with pars.
There was a bit of a left-to-right wind, Conners said. I aimed just right of the pin at the front of the green and both times the ball just drifted a little right and I found the front-right bunker, which is a great spot. Pretty straightforward bunker shot.
I was in the same spot in the bunker both times. My caddie did a nice rake job, so I had a good lie the second time around. I hit the same shot, left it 12 feet short. I didn't convert the putt either time, but yeah, it was fun to be able to go for that green for sure.
In the 16 Round-of-32 matches, the hole played to a scoring average of 3.78 with seven players winning the hole. In the eight afternoon matches, the hole played to a scoring average of 3.69, with three players winning the hole.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites. Scott Lipsky of the USGA contributed.