LAKE FOREST, Ill. – One of the plentiful players still standing in the FedEx Cup playoffs with state of Georgia ties slowed on his way to the practice range to autograph various items for fans lining the way.
It raised one of the lesser questions from this time in the long golfing season: Just how does Ollie Schniederjans fit his signature on a golf ball?
“Just ‘Ollie S,’” he explained.
This week, in the final run-up to the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake, there is a more pressing concern facing a large part of the BMW Championship field. Where do you need to finish this week. . .?
“Top five,” Schniederjans said, there being no need to fill in the rest of the question. Top five this week and Schniederjans, No. 50 in FedEx Cup standings – one place ahead of defending FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy – figures he’ll make the final 30 at East Lake. Kind of a big deal for a young player from Powder Springs/Georgia Tech.
Seven spots below Schniederjans is another former Tech player of slightly different vintage, Stewart Cink. He doesn’t particularly want to think about the math. “I’m sure some can tell you what they need to do. I don’t know how productive that would be for me,” he said.
The recent Payne Stewart Award winner is portioning his time here between trying to ride a restorative season back to his hometown championship and putting the finishing touches on his Monday charity tournament at Suwanee’s River Club.
Former Georgia Bulldog Brian Harman is in a more comfortable position for East Lake, No. 15 in points entering the BMW. But he’s clearly torn about wanting to be anywhere near a tournament right now in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
“I feel foolish up here but we’ve all got a job to do and I’m going to do the best I can. My mind is definitely down there with them right now,” said Harman, a Savannah native who is part of the crew of PGA Tour players living on St. Simons now. His house was undamaged by the wind and surge, but not everyone was so lucky. Given his well-stocked garage – “I’ve got the equipment to help; I’ve got tractors and ATVs and trucks and chain saws,” he said – Harman feels like he should be home pitching in.
“It’s hard when you know you could be helping and you’re not,” he said.
The greater focus of his week is trained on the top of the points standings, rightfully so given that these playoffs have come the closest to living up to the ideal behind them. The top five in the points standings mirror the top five in the world rankings, meaning the best players are playing the best – not always the case this time of year.
The first two playoff events have yielded some high name recognition competition – Dustin Johnson taking out Jordan Spieth in a stirring playoff in New York and Justin Thomas outlasting Spieth in Boston.
Yes, please, give us two more of those. Even here in the first blush of football season, there might be a little room for golf like that.
Like Harman said, “You get great fields, you’re going to have really good players. And you get enough good players around, exciting things happen.”
If you can spare a moment this weekend, you might also note some smaller dramas playing out among those players, from near and far, residing on the bubble to East Lake.