Johns Creek, Ga. | Confidence is a critical component of golf. If you don’t believe you’re supposed to win, you might as well go home and save yourself the trouble.
But there’s also a fine line. You have to believe you’re better than everyone else in the field, but if you express your confidence out loud – if you blurt something stupid like “I won with my ‘B’ game” or “I believe I’m one of the top 5 players in the world” – you can brace for a hardy helping of ridicule and for more than a few arrows to come hurling your way.
The first rule of team sports is: Never say something that will end up on your opponent’s locker room wall. In our sport, that rule goes one step further: Never say something that could anger the golf gods and make your opponents play better than they should.
It’s a lesson Ollie Schniederjans, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world and a rising senior at Georgia Tech, will learn soon enough. Schniederjans struggled the first two days of the U.S. Amateur, shooting 73 at Atlanta Athletic Club and having to come back strong with a 69 to advance to match play.
Afterward he tried to admit that he was nervous about not making it, a perfectly reasonable feeling since Schniederjans never had won a match in the U.S. Amateur or the U.S. Junior Am. But the words that tumbled out of his mouth were, shall we say, indelicate.
“I still have the mentality that I’m supposed to win this tournament,” Schniederjans said. “I’m the No. 1 player in the world and I’m playing in my hometown. Who else is supposed to win this tournament besides me, right? I think other people think that too, and that’s something I have to deal with.”
Hearing him say those things in person was one thing. You knew what the kid meant and you understood that he was not speaking down to the other players in the field. If anything, he was acknowledging the pressure he feels to perform in this setting, something he spoke about again on Wednesday after a 6-and-5 drubbing of Matt Teesdale.
“There’s a lot going on but I’m handling it well,” he said. “It could definitely be a distraction for me playing here with so many people watching.
“But I think part of it bothers the guy I’m playing against. I know it bothered the two guys we played with the last two days. We had so many people; as soon as I would putt out the gallery was walking ahead. I’m sure Tiger’s players or Rory’s … I feel a little bit like that, like they are there to watch me and they don’t care as much about (the other guys). That’s just the nature of how it is here for me.”
There’s no malice here; no intent to demean or degrade; no Ali arrogance or Richard Sherman dissing.
But since we’re on the subject of rules, here’s one that all these amateurs would be well served to learn: To effectively communicate, it’s not what you say, it’s what the other person hears that counts.