High school golfer gets lessons as Western caddie


ROLAND — A high school senior-to-be, Tucker Ward is getting paid to take hours-long, on-course golf lessons that have nothing to do with the swing or the grip or anything else physical.

On Tuesday, he learned about discipline, perseverance, and how to ignore the doings of other participants.

Ward’s teacher was Oliver Schniederjans of Georgia Tech. As the volunteer caddie for Schniederjans in the Western Amateur, the 17-year-old contributed little. Mostly, he toted the black-and-gold bag of Tech and stayed out of the way.

What a gig for a high school senior-to-be and the No. 1 player on the Monticello High School golf team.

Months ago, Monticello golf coach Debbie Ashcraft asked Ward and his teammates if they wanted to caddie at the Western Amateur at the Alotian Club about two hours away.

“She said she could sign us up if we were interested,” he said.

They jumped at the chance. Ward had heard about the course — No. 15 in The Golf Digest rankings — the elevation changes, in particular, and yearned to see it in person. Walking the course and watching how the best college players do it would be a win-win.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” said Ward, who regularly negotiates the nine holes at Monticello Country Club in one- or two-over par. “Our course is small and pretty open. I was definitely looking forward to just walking in the gate.”

The name of his employer was up in the air for a while. The first player he was matched with withdrew days ago. The second player he drew decided he didn’t want a caddie.

On Saturday evening, Steve Perkins notified Ward by email that his player would be Schniederjans.

Immediately, Ward went to Google and found that Schniederjans played at Georgia Tech and was a Third Team All-American.

Since then, Schniederjans has qualified for the U.S. Amateur and finished fourth in the Southern Amateur, one shot out of a playoff for the championship.

At the Southern, he shot 72-64-73-68 — a bounce back on day two and day four that says he knows how to recover from the 75 he recorded on Tuesday. His first-round score is unimpressive; the way he went about is a tutorial.

Schniederjans started on the back nine Tuesday and when I caught up with him, he had a 7-foot birdie putt on No. 17. He missed — the theme of his round. On No. 18, he recorded his third three-putt for a discouraging 40.

He ignored his fellow competitors’ far right tee shots on the par-five first, crushed one down the middle, flew his second on the green, and promptly recorded a three-putt par that evoked a guttural yell. The fact that Texas’ Toni Hakula recovered from a poor tee shot with a 15-foot birdie putt made things worse. But, despite the frustration, Schniederjans stuck with his routine, checking his yardage book on every shot and prefacing every full swing with a false start takeaway.

After missing another short birdie putt on four, he found a smooth rock framing the cart path and moved his putter back and forth, checking his stroke.

Schniederjans mishit shots on the next three holes, but saved par each time — twice chipping with conviction — and was inside New Mexico’s Gavin Green and Hakula on their 16th hole.

Schniederjans three-putted, again, slipping to five over.

His long iron on the par-five eighth covered the flag, but was a yard too long. Instead of catching the slope and rolling towards the hole for a decent eagle putt, the ball hung in the fringe. He managed to wobble in a short putt for birdie.

On the final hole, the ball again somehow stayed above the hole, just off the putting surface. He chipped in for another birdie.

When it was over, Ward was smiling, reveling in what he had witnessed.

Asked, he admitted he still hadn’t asked about his salary. Between the scenery and the scoring, the money is immaterial, I suspect.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.