Why the meteoric rise of young Californian Xander Schauffele shows no signs of slowing down

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Xander Schauffele Exclusive: “I’m Good Enough To Hang With The Best”

If only his junior football coach had played him as a striker, golf may never have been gifted with the excitement machine that is Xander Schauffele.

The 5-foot-10, 79-kilogram American was perhaps better built for the world game than the game he ended up choosing.

Schauffele – the son of a German-French father and a Chinese-Japanese mother – was a prodigious football talent. Aged six, he could juggle with both feet. He was a tremendous competitor. And the sport was in his blood, with both his great grandfathers playing professional football in their home countries of Austria and Germany.

But in Scripps Ranch – a city suburb of San Diego, California – Schauffele was toiling as a sweeper for his local junior team. He made his desires to play attacking football clear to his coach, who promised as much to Schauffele for the next season.

But when the manager didn’t deliver, a 12-year-old Schauffele packed up and walked away. Schauffele, now 26, never played organised football again.

“I’m not kidding you,” his father, Stefan, told a San Diego newspaper last year. “The next day, this is exactly what I said: ‘Let’s get you on the PGA Tour. Let’s go’.”

Raising a champion

There was one problem with Schauffele’s aspirations to make it to the PGA Tour – golf wasn’t considered ‘cool’ in southern California. Not even after Tiger Woods – a native to that part of California – had overhauled the sport’s image globally. Schauffele did not even tell friends and peers that he played golf.

“I think, as an individual growing up, golf wasn’t always the coolest thing to play,” said Schauffele at the 2020 Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

“In high school, in college, as a semi-pro or young man, I didn’t tell anyone I really played golf when I was younger.

“I just didn’t think it was cool. Now, it’s really cool, obviously, since we’re out here walking in the sun, making money and doing what we love to do.

“But it was interesting for me, as a young man, to realise I wanted to play professional golf; to realise what you have to sacrifice and how you have to behave to become a disciplined human being, to think straight every day and make the right decisions.”

The discipline Schauffele speaks of was instilled by his father, Stefan – a tough man in his own right. Aged 20, in his native Stuttgart, Stefan was involved in a horrific car accident caused by a drunken driver. Stefan’s windscreen was shattered and glass pierced his left eye, causing him to lose vision in it completely following two years’ worth of frequent hospital visits.

Stefan – a promising football and squash player, ski instructor and track and field athlete – had his world turned upside down.

“It was a rough time,” Stefan told a San Diego newspaper. “There was some depression and alcoholism.”

But the period equipped Stefan with the means to raise a ferocious competitor in Schauffele, who never takes a backward step. However, the intense dynamic of father-son sports relationships meant Stefan and son would often clash.

Particularly when Schauffele reached his teens. “We once destroyed a whole bathroom,” Stefan recalled.

“I thought it was a really important thing what my dad and I went through,” added Schauffele at Kapalua’s Plantation course on the island of Maui.

“It obviously sucked then when we had those arguments, but now, like everything else, I can kind of laugh about it.”

Schauffele’s fearlessness was on full display at the first PGA Tour event of 2020, the Tournament of Champions. Schauffele was the defending champion and put up a stoic fight.

He battled ferocious winds and valiant charges from Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas to make it into a sudden-death play-off, but he had a great chance to close things out on the 72nd hole.

When he became only the fourth player during the final round to reach the 18th green in two – with a 3-wood that left him a 35-foot eagle attempt – he three-putted for par, missing a seven-foot putt for the victory. He bowed out on the first play-off hole and Reed followed suit on the third, with Thomas reigning supreme.

“I should have won the tournament,” a candid Schauffele said. “I know it; everyone knows it. Under the circumstances, I should have closed it off, and I didn’t.”

But as Stefan taught him, Schauffele vowed to learn from his mistake and come back stronger.

“I can win,” Schauffele said. “I think that’s pretty plain and simple. I’m good enough to hang with the best, and I just need to be a little bit smarter when the time is right and able to close it out.”

Master of his craft

Schauffele has already proven his credentials as a winner on the PGA Tour.

In 2017, he lifted trophies at the Greenbrier Classic and Tour Championship en route to winning the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year award. He has since added two more victories, including a maiden WGC title in China.

But Schauffele’s versatile game sets up for Major Championships and the American has established plenty of form on the big stage during the past two years. It began with a tie for fifth on his Major debut at the 2017 US Open. Then, he shared sixth at the next US Open before a joint runner-up at the 2018 Open Championship.

At the 2019 Masters, Schauffele was among those tied for the lead with Woods while playing the 15th hole on Sunday, only for Woods to make birdie and never look back. Schauffele finished tied second and tied for third at the US Open two months later.

Should he win a Major this year, or in future, it will no doubt go a long way towards changing the perception of golf as ‘uncool’ among today’s youth. In fact, Schauffele hopes his entire career helps to push golf into mainstream sport status.

“Golf doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, but with the PGA Tour and young players out here, we are working on trying to change that,” said Schauffele, who advises children who enjoy playing golf to ignore what others may think.

“It’s all about being honest,” he continued. “You’ve got to know what you want to do. There are a lot of societal pressures on an individual, especially when you’re younger, especially these days with social media. So just block out the haters and do your own thing.”

However, Schauffele admits he does not want to shoulder the ‘golf is uncool’ burden on his own. “Shoot, if we could have another Tiger Woods come by in a few years, I think that would be awesome,” he says with a grin.

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