__By Ryan Herrington
To say picking the top male and female player of the first half of the 2013-14 campaign was easy would be a stretch, but Golf World's honorees weren't hard cases to argue despite a field of worthy contenders. Can they maintain their high level of play into the spring season? We'll all just have to wait and see.
Without further ado ...
PLAYERS OF THE MID-SEASON
Entirely predictable or pleasantly surprising.
Both might describe the first half of Schniederjans' junior season. It just depends how far back you go in evaluating the play of the 20-year-old.
With two wins, no finish worse than a T-4 and a 69.5 stroke average this past fall, you saw why the Powder Springs, Ga., native was touted with the same praise as fellow blue-chip recruits Jordan Spieth,Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers as each entered college in the fall of 2011. Yet a balky driver hampered Schniederjans' transition to school, leading to more stumbles than his peers early in his career. As Spieth, Thomas and Rodgers were earning All-American honors as freshman, Schniederjans had just two top-10 showings and a chunky 72.79 average.
The start of his sophomore season last fall offered a few signs that a return to form might be on the way. However, the work Schniederjans was putting in on being more accurate off the tee to take advantage of the distance his powerful swing produced began coming to fruition in the spring when he had top-10 finishes at the Linger Longer, ACC Championship and NCAA Championship.
"It's been an interesting evolution," said Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler. "I think there were a lot of expectations, and he put a lot of pressure on himself. He just kind of settled in to being who he is."
On a simple level you could say Schniederjans' confidence has returned, and even he described it as such during NCAAs last June. Heppler, however, believes what most stood out about his player's fall-and-rise was the fact he never lost faith in his game.
"The funny thing for him, he didn't worry about it," Heppler said. "His feeling was, 'you know whether it's tomorrow, a week from now or two years from now, I'm going to get there. I'm going to play professional and do really well.' Sometimes I would look at him and be like, 'Are you serious? You're ranked 166th in the country.' For him, it wasn't a problem.
"I think that really bodes well for him being successful [long term]," Heppler added. "He never panicked. He never stressed. There was never a waiver of believe in his mind. He knew he had to put in the work and be focused on the process rather than the results. And he did that."
Honorable mention: Trey Mullinax, Alabama
The Crimson Tide's four-win fall probably doesn't happen without the breakout semester by the senior from Birmingham, Ala. His victory at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational, one of his four top-six finishes, was his signature individual performance, but a birdie on the second-to-last hole at the Gifford Collegiate helped Alabama hold off USC and finish the fall undefeated.
__[#image: /photos/55ad77b4add713143b428387]|||Alison Lee (POY).jpg|||
__Alison Lee, UCLA
__Bruins coach Carrie Forsyth knew she had a standout player in the 18-year-old from Valencia, Calif., coming to Los Angeles after Lee wrapped up a memorable junior career this summer with three straight AJGA wins to polish off her resume with nine victories overall. But seeing her on a daily basis this fall has the WGCA Hall of Fame coach even more impressed than Forsyth presumed she might be, specifically in regards to Lee's short game.
"She makes difficult shots look easy around the green," Forsyth said. "It's so rare for her to not get up-and-down no matter where she puts the ball. And it just looks effortless. You see people really grinding out there and fighting to save par, and for her, she just kind of takes a look at it, walks up and hits a flop shot to 10 inches."
Of course to record two wins (the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invitational and Stanford Intercollegiate), a runner-up and a T-8 finish in four starts and a nation's best 69.75 average means Lee is also putting herself in position to make a lot of birdies. At fall's end she had 52, third most in the country.
For Lee—who accepted her AJGA Rolex player-of-the-year honor last night during the association's awards banquet at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.—the stellar play is all the more satisfying considering the swing slump she suffered early in 2013. Lee was so down on her game at the time that she withdrew from the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March after receiving a sponsor's exemption because she didn't feel she could compete. Instead, she worked on things at home with her father and had all the parts moving in the right direction again by early summer.
"You're going to struggle sometimes," Lee said after winning the Rolex Tournament of Champions in July. "But to hang in there and fight through when I wasn't playing my best is something I'm proud of."
The swing work continues, says Forsyth, noting that Lee doesn't generate as much power in her lower body as she could. It's something the freshman, along with Forsyth and UCLA assistant Alicia Um-Holmes, are tending to as she rests during the winter break and gets ready for the spring season.
If their efforts make Lee longer, to go with her effortless short game, the results could be even more impressive. Bordering on scary.
Honorable mention: Ashlan Ramsey, Clemson
After seemingly being in contention at every major women's amateur event this summer—winning both the Eastern and Western Amateur, the 17-year-old from Milledgeville, Ga., maintained the momentum with two victories, a runner-up and an eighth-place showing in her first four starts as a Tiger. Almost single-handedly, the freshman has Clemson's first-year program among the nation's elite.
*__Photos: Georgia Tech Sports Information Department (Schniederjans);
Alicia Um-Holmes/UCLA (Lee)__*