#TGW: Jackets' Common Goal is to Get Better
Tech's 2016-17 freshmen golfers have a heavy summer schedule to get ready for round 2 of their college careers
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
- For those into omens, the signs for Georgia Tech golf are quite appealing even though fine freshmen Luke Schniederjans, Tyler Strafaci and Andy Ogletree aren't on The Flats much these days upon their summer scatterings.
The core Yellow Jackets and their teammates are already piping the small ball, registering three top-10 finishes in one of the first amateur events of the summer, and a rock-solid recruiting class is on the way.
Tech head coach Bruce Heppler will again have one of his biggest rosters, 12, with these rising sophomores and seniors James Clark and Chris Petefish likely to drive the Jackets as they try to regain national prominence after two so-so -- by Tech standards -- seasons.
The sophomores each made a splash as freshmen with Schniederjans winning a pair of tournaments, Strafaci taking a title in the spring and Ogletree a fixture in the lineup while scoring in eight of 10 events.
Strafaci and Ogletree began their summer amateur schedules this week by tying for seventh place Saturday in the Monroe Invitational in Pittsford, N.Y., where Petefish tied for second, one shot back of Virginia's Derek Bard, and two shots ahead of his younger teammates.
They're looking forward to building off the past.
"We had a really, really good team," Strafaci said after shooting 65-69-70-73 for a one-over par 277. "Just plain and simple, it wasn't our year ... Overall, I learned that I need to work my butt off in the offseason.
"I need to get myself in better shape, and I need to not wait until the last few weeks to get my grades up. I'm going in trying to get straight As."
This summer, Schniederjans, Strafaci and Ogletree are living and golfing together, part-time, and upon returning to school in 11 weeks or so, they'll all resume working toward matching business administration degrees.
When the 2017-18 season begins in less than three months, all three figure to contend regularly for spots on Heppler's roster, and they have every intention of building upon their experiences to be better as sophomores.
"It was a good season," said Schniederjans, who won his first collegiate tournament, the Carpet Capital Collegiate, and then captured the Puerto Rico Classic in February. "I learned that my good golf is really good, good enough to win in college, and it was kind of a streaky year -- a lot of ups and downs.
"I'm looking to improve on my consistency, just like everybody else, keep evolving my ability to travel and play different kinds of golf."
The traveling part is under way, as they're out on their own, and sometimes together, between tournaments and their multiple homes.
Schniederjans' summer tournament schedule kicks off next week in the Sunnehanna Amateur, in Johnstown, Pa., outside of Pittsburgh.
Everybody's goals are the same: get better.
And sometimes, they'll do it in unison.
When Schniederjans, Strafaci and Ogletree are not competing in tournaments or at their homes in Alpharetta, Davie, Fla., and Little Rock, Miss., respectively, they'll hang out near the Tech campus, close to the new Noonan Practice Facility.
"Ty, Luke and I are living together in an apartment near the range," said Ogletree. "We're just going back and forth between where we're from."
Ogletree was the only freshman in the scoring lineup at the season's start, although Schniederjans won the Carpet Capital Collegiate while competing as a non-scoring individual.
Strafaci debuted in the third and final stroke-play event of the fall, the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate. He and Schniederjans tied for 43rd at five-over par 221.
All of them share the opinion that the hardest part of transitioning to college golf was the first half of being a student-athlete at Tech.
"It took me a little longer to get in the lineup ... and from there on it went really well," said Strafaci, who won the Valspar Collegiate Invitational in March with a two-under par score of 211.
"I went into the first semester kind of lazy with my school work. I ended up doing relatively well. School is tough, but if you manage yourself, you'll get decent enough grades."
Ogletree had enough game to post four top-20 finishes.
"I felt like coming in my golf game was ready; I don't think I was as prepared academically as I should have been," he explained. "This spring, I learned a lot from the fall, got ahead on all my school work. I learned how to study, and how to get ready for all the exams. I learned a lot, how to manage my time.
"We take a lot of the same classes, we practice together, push each other every day, and we're really good friends."
Before getting back to college golf, the traveling trio is working.
Schniederjans led the Jackets in scoring with a 71.87 scoring average, yet he wants to more closely resemble his brother, former Tech star Ollie Schniederjans, a three-time All-American and two-time ACC Player of the Year. His career scoring average of 70.96 ranks second-best in school history (Bryce Molder: 70.69).
Ollie didn't win as a freshman, but he was more consistent than Luke, whose finishes went 1st-T13th-T43rd-T81st-1st-3rd-T46th-T28th-50th-T12th.
He'll kick off his summer next week in the Sunnehanna Amateur in Johnstown, Pa., and plans to play the two following weeks in the Northeast Amateur in Rhode Island and Atlanta's Dogwood Invitational.
After the Players Amateur in Hilton Head and the Western Amateur in Glencoe, Ill., he hopes to finish the summer in the U.S. Amateur at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., near Los Angeles.
"I'm playing fairly often this summer since I was able to get in some good tournaments," Luke said. "I'm excited about playing in some great events with good fields, to go play different types of courses. We'll stay at our apartment for the Dogwood ... I enjoy practicing with Ollie when he's in town."
Ogletree will play in the Dogwood, the Player's Amateur in Bluffton, S.C., the Western Amateur and hopefully the U.S. Amateur.
Strafaci next will play in the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina and then the Trans-Miss Championship at Perry Dunes, Kan.
He's also trying to gain entry into the Western Amateur, and "debating playing in the U.S. Junior since I'm already in the field for the Porter Cup, a really good amateur event outside New York." Strafaci hopes to play in the U.S. Amateur.
Why not play in the Dogwood?
"That's kind of time to get ready for the North-South; that's my favorite tournament of the year," Strafaci said. "Two generations of my family have played. My dad (Frank Strafaci) played, and my grandfather (Frank Strafaci) won it two years in a row (in 1938 and 1939) at Pinehurst."
Strafaci sort of surprised himself when he won at the Valspar, but not entirely. Chiefly, he can hardly wait for his second college season on a team that will gain freshmen Noah Norton, Ben Smith and Will Dickson.
"I didn't expect to pick up my first college win, but I'd been playing relatively well going into the tournament," he recalled. "It was a Florida course; I'm very used to Florida courses.
"We have three great recruits, and Noah is coming into his own as one of the best players in the country."
Norton also played at Monroe, the only Tech participant not yet enrolled in college. He's the spear tip in Tech's recruiting class with a No. 4 national ranking among American juniors. He shot 73-74-75-69=291 at the Monroe to tie for 51st.
Clark shot 77-73-69-68=287 to tie for 40th.