THE X-MAN COMETH

Af­ter a break­out 2017 sea­son, Xan­der Schauf­fele is con­tin­u­ing his pur­suit of golf great­ness.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Xan­der Schauf­fele is in pur­suit of golf great­ness.

It's a sun-drenched April af­ter­noon on South Carolina's Hil­ton Head Is­land, and Xan­der Schauf­fele is sign­ing au­to­graphs for a gag­gle of fans hud­dled by the ninth green at Har­bour Town Golf Links. Af­ter po­litely scrib­bling his name across count­less hats, shirts and flags, the 24-year-old PGA TOUR pro­fes­sional slips un­der the ropes sep­a­rat­ing him from the masses and be­gins mak­ing his way to the far end of the prac­tice range. He stops twice along the way to ex­change a few laughs with sev­eral of his fel­low tour­ing pro­fes­sion­als.

Here, re­moved from all of the pomp and cir­cum­stance that ac­com­pa­nies a me­te­oric rise to golf star­dom, is where Schauf­fele feels most at ease. It's the place where the two-time win­ner in 2017 and sub­se­quent Rookie of the Year can re­con­nect with friends and fine­tune the swing that's earned him nearly $6 mil­lion since the start of the last sea­son.

“We all work hard and play for those mo­ments,” says Schauf­fele, re­count­ing the three-month pe­riod last sum­mer when he went from vir­tual no-name to house­hold name, al­beit a tough one to pro­nounce. “So to ac­com­plish what I did, and the fact that it hap­pened so quickly, was pretty sur­pris­ing. It still hits me on the head some­times and makes me re­mem­ber and be grate­ful for how lucky I am to be out here.”

Grate­ful, to be sure, but old­fash­ioned hard work has far more to do with it than luck. So says Austin Kaiser, Schauf­fele's cad­die and for­mer col­lege team­mate at San Diego State Univer­sity.

“He's one of those silent killers, I guess,” jokes Kaiser, who has looped for Schauf­fele (pro­nounced SHAW-fa-lay) since he joined the Web.com Tour. “A lot of peo­ple didn't have him on their radar be­cause we didn't go to a Di­vi­sion 1 pow­er­house. But when you look at his stats as a ju­nior, he was al­ways in the Top 25 in the na­tion. So I'm not re­ally sur­prised, just be­cause I know he's one of the hard­est work­ers out here.”

That work ethic is now pay­ing div­i­dends in the lit­eral sense—and serv­ing no­tice to his col­leagues. Charley Hoffman, an 18-year

vet­eran and four-time TOUR win­ner, first no­ticed Schauf­fele's dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion while both used short-game in­struc­tor Derek Uyeda at The Grand Del Mar Golf Club. The two San Di­geo na­tives be­came quick friends and be­gan playing to­gether when­ever they were in town at the same time.

“He's very, very com­pet­i­tive,” Hoffman says. “There's no give-up in him and he never makes ex­cuses— he just fights to get the ball in the hole, no mat­ter if he's hit­ting it per­fect or just OK.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hoffman, Schauf­fele also has an in­sa­tiable de­sire to im­prove. The duo have played nu­mer­ous prac­tice rounds to­gether over the past year, with Hoffman serv­ing as a men­tor of sorts shar­ing his knowl­edge of cour­ses Schauf­fele has yet to play. Most re­cently, Hoffman ac­com­pa­nied him around the Masters, where Schauf­fele was mak­ing his first ap­pear­ance.

“I just tried to give him a lit­tle heads-up on the ins and outs of the golf course,” notes Hoffman. “Some guys are timid and scared to ask ques­tions, but he was ask­ing me about shots, how to play the golf course and what I was think­ing. Not that I have all the an­swers, but I have been out here a while, so I tried to give him a lit­tle ‘in­side in­for­ma­tion'.”

Two days later, Schauf­fele made the cut and even­tu­ally tied for 50th. He didn't score as well as he'd hoped, but the ex­pe­ri­ence proved very grat­i­fy­ing.

“Playing in the Masters is one of the ‘ul­ti­mate' goals when you're a lit­tle kid and have a club in your hand,” Schauf­fele said. “So be­ing there with my fam­ily and friends was re­ally spe­cial.”

Schauf­fele's jour­ney to the TOUR did not come with­out its share of ad­ver­sity. He missed au­to­matic en­try by fin­ish­ing 26th on the Web.com Tour money list—$975 short of what was re­quired—and had to earn his way on via a T9 fin­ish at the Na­tion­wide Chil­dren's Hospi­tal Cham­pi­onship.

Then, af­ter a sur­pris­ing tie for fifth in just his sec­ond start as a card­car­ry­ing TOUR mem­ber, he missed the cut in seven of his next 16 events and en­tered the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills ranked 352nd in the Of­fi­cial World Golf Rank­ings.

And that's when it all started to click. To everyone's sur­prise, he jumped to the top of the leader­board with a first-round

66, then stuck around and re­mained near the lead all week­end. He fin­ished T5 in his first break­out per­for­mance.

“The turn­ing point was def­i­nitely the U.S. Open,” Schauf­fele says. “I couldn't tell you why or how—I just felt very com­fort­able that week. The stage was huge, but for some odd rea­son, I wasn't too scared of any­thing.

“I think what it was, hon­estly, is that I had messed up so many times ear­lier in the year that it didn't mat­ter what week it was, it was now or never,” he con­tin­ued. “I knew if I was go­ing to keep my TOUR card, I had to do some­thing.”

Con­fi­dence in hand, Schauf­fele built off his new­found mo­men­tum three weeks later at The Green­brier Clas­sic. Tee­ing off on the fi­nal hole tied for the lead with Robert Streb, the laid-back South­ern Cal­i­for­nian notched his first pro­fes­sional vic­tory with a three-foot birdie putt to win by a sin­gle stroke.

In Septem­ber, a mere three months re­moved from that maiden vic­tory, Schauf­fele re­cap­tured the magic—and the golf world's col­lec­tive at­ten­tion—by ral­ly­ing to win the sea­son-end­ing TOUR Cham­pi­onship in the FedExCup Play­offs with an­other birdie on the 18th hole. His fi­nal putt was good for a one-stroke vic­tory over even­tual FedExCup cham­pion Justin Thomas. →

“Lead­ing into that week, I didn't do any­thing too dif­fer­ent,” says Schauf­fele, “I played a prac­tice round with Jon Rahm, and he helped me with a cou­ple dif­fer­ent styles of shots. I used one of those shots com­ing down the stretch at 17, and he texted me right af­ter the tour­na­ment be­cause I got up and down, and we had been prac­tic­ing that shot in the prac­tice round.

“It's just cool to be able to tee it up with him and have him help me out even though we're com­pet­ing against each other,” he adds. “It's [the ca­ma­raderie] what it's kind of all about.”

Schauf­fele's rapid as­cent has, ob­vi­ously, fat­tened his wal­let and in­creased his no­to­ri­ety. Even so, he con­tends that life off the course hasn't changed dra­mat­i­cally de­spite his suc­cess on it.

“I still don't spend that much more [money] than I used to,” he pro­fesses. “Golf-wise, peo­ple might rec­og­nize me a lit­tle more often, which is cool. [But] I've kept a small cir­cle, and haven't added any­one to my team and sort of kept the same reg­i­men.”

A key mem­ber of that group—and the ar­chi­tect of the work ethic that de­fines him—is his father, Ste­fan, the first and only swing coach Xan­der has had since he took up the game.

“His dad has al­ways been his men­tor and coach, and they had a game plan for the fu­ture which is work­ing,” says Ryan Dono­van, Schauf­fele's golf coach at San Diego State Univer­sity. “His plan in col­lege was to play in ev­ery col­lege event and eval­u­ate ev­ery tour­na­ment with stats to see where he needed to im­prove. He put a team to­gether to work on his put­ting, strength, swing and men­tal game, then worked harder than any­one I have ever coached.”

The el­der Schauf­fele, a Ger­manFrench for­mer de­cath­lete who as­pired to com­pete for Ger­many in the Olympics be­fore an auto ac­ci­dent de­railed his dreams, also serves as his son's man­ager and men­tal coach.

“My dad's [half] Ger­man, so dis­ci­pline, fo­cus and re­spect are house­hold fun­da­men­tals that we have,” his son ex­plains. “The work ethic was def­i­nitely in­grained by my dad.”

Ste­fan's guid­ance has no doubt helped Xan­der achieve many of his pro­fes­sional goals, but it's also, at times, cre­ated some nat­u­ral, good­na­tured fric­tion be­tween father and son.

“It's funny, the way my dad brought us up was to treat me [and my older brother, Will] as equals, so I was fight­ing with my dad from a very young age and he was OK with it,” Schauf­fele ex­plains. “There still had to be re­spect, but he tried to treat me as an equal, which was hard for me to grasp when I was younger. Now, I ap­pre­ci­ate the way he brought me up.”

The lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive yin to Ste­fan's yang is Xan­der's mother, Ping Yi. Born to Tai­wanese par­ents but raised in Ja­pan, she was “the sweet and lov­ing one” when Xan­der and his brother were grow­ing up. “My mom was al­ways the good cop be­cause my dad had to be the bad cop,” Schauf­fele quips.

Par­ent­ing styles aside, Schauf­fele's suc­cess is very much a fam­ily af­fair.

“I feel like everyone in my fam­ily, at one point or an­other, put ev­ery­thing aside just to push me over the edge, to give me that ex­tra sup­port, love and care to help me suc­ceed. I couldn't be more thank­ful for that.”

This fa­mil­ial self­less­ness, cou­pled with a cul­tur­ally rich up­bring­ing, pro­vides Xan­der a unique lens through which to view the world and his place in it. “Cul­tur­ally, it makes me more aware,” says Schauf­fele, whose par­ents can both speak four lan­guages. “Ev­ery cul­ture val­ues some­thing dif­fer­ent, so hav­ing that di­verse house­hold—I ap­pre­ci­ate things that maybe an­other kid wouldn't.”

“The hard part is that now, be­cause of last year, I ex­pect more of my­self,” Schauf­fele con­fesses. “Three years ago, if some­one had told me lead­ing into the RBC Her­itage that I would have made a mil­lion bucks, I'd be like, ‘Heck yeah.' I'd take it. But now, the bar is set so high, I think I'm be­hind again, I haven't done enough.”

To inch that mea­sur­ing stick up­ward, one of Schauf­fele's pri­mary goals for the re­main­der of this sea­son is to once again con­tend in a ma­jor. He also hopes to win an­other tour­na­ment to fur­ther ce­ment his po­si­tion in golf's hi­er­ar­chy.

“Ob­vi­ously, when you win one, peo­ple can say it's a fluke; when you win two, it's not,” Schauf­fele says. “But I need to prove it to my­self that I can do it again. Plus, it was a lot of fun.”

With that, Schauf­fele smiles, turns and re­sumes pound­ing balls down the prac­tice range, en­vi­sion­ing where he'll place shots around the course for the next four days. And imag­in­ing, if only for a mo­ment, the rush of win­ning again.

↑Xan­der Schauf­fele cel­e­brates his one stroke vic­tory on the 18th hole green dur­ing the fi­nal round of the TOUR Cham­pi­onship, the last event of the FedExCup Play­offs, at East Lake Golf Club on Septem­ber 24, 2017 in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia. (Photo by Keyur Khamar/ PGA TOUR)

Xan­der Schauf­fele cel­e­brates with cad­die Austin Kaiser af­ter hol­ing in on the sec­ond hole dur­ing the Fi­nal Round of the Sanderson Farms Cham­pi­onship at the Coun­try Club of Jack­son on Oc­to­ber 30, 2016 in Jack­son, Mis­sis­sippi.

↑Xan­der Schauf­fele poses with the tro­phy af­ter the fi­nal round of The Green­brier Clas­sic held at the Old White TPC on July 9, 2017 in White Sul­phur Springs, West Vir­ginia.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.