His last name is pronounced SHA-fa-lee. Got it? OK.
As an avid golf enthusiast, when I saw 23-year-old SDSU alum Alexander “Xander” Schauffele’s name atop the leaderboard of the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills, in Erin, Wisconsin, I did a triple-take, and could not believe my eyes. I do not recall ever seeing an Aztec alum on the leaderboard at a PGA golf major championship.
Last year, fellow alum J.J. Spaun received his tour card, and that was certainly exciting. Just prior to Spaun, SDSU women’s golf alum Paige Spiranac made her debut on the LPGA. While the former grinded his way to the top, the latter is known equally (or maybe even more) for her stunning looks as for her golf dominance.
Right now, it’s Schauffele’s moment. In PGA golf, players sometimes break out from obscurity, and now is as good a time as ever. So who is Xander Schauffele?
Xander’s father, Stefan, is German and French. His mother Taiwanese and Japanese. Dad was a decathlete in Germany and on his way to the country’s national training center in Stuttgart when he got into a terrible car accident. He survived but his olympic dreams were dashed.
Dad then discovered golf and quickly became obsessed, getting involved with an academy in San Diego after moving to the U.S. in 1988. He also spent two years as an assistant pro at Princeville’s Makai Course on Kauai in Hawaii where he presumably met Xander’s mom- before returning to Southern California.
Almost as soon as Xander, as he would become known, could walk he would hit balls with plastic clubs around the house. By the time he graduated to real clubs as a nine-year-old, his dad would only take him on the course with him if he could carry his own bag for all 18 holes. Xander kept on playing.
Schauffele won the 2011 California State High School Championship and the following year went on to play at Long Beach State, where he was named Big West Conference Freshman of the Year.
The following year he transferred to San Diego State and in three years for the Aztecs was a Ping and Golfweek Third Team All-American. He also holds the record at the school for lowest tournament score against par (17 under) and career scoring average.
He was ranked in the top 10 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking when he turned pro in 2015.
In his first year playing professionally, Schauffele earned his Web.com Tour card and last year finished 26th on the circuit’s money list, missing out on a PGA Tour card by less than $100. He received it anyway by finishing 15th on the Finals money list.
Along with John Rahm, the 23-year-old Schauffele, who earned a spot in the U.S. Open through the qualifier in Memphis, is the youngest player to achieve rookie status on the PGA Tour who has graduated from college in the era of the Web.com q-school system.
“He was brought up in a certain way,” says dad Stefan. “There’s a certain German element in there. There’s a lot of self-discipline.”
At Erin Hills, in his first round in his first major, he made six birdies and no bogeys. In more difficult conditions on Friday, Schauffele struggled a bit more with a double bogey, bogey and just two birdies, but kept the round together well enough to not fall out of contention.
It has helped this week that Erin Hills reminds him of Barona Creek, one of the home courses used by San Diego State.
“I won an event there my senior year,” Schauffele said. “Thursday night I was telling my caddie, I really feel like we're playing Barona right now The greens are marked up, but it's exactly what I grew up playing on. So I felt really comfortable.”
The Aztec Nation is watching and wishing Xander Schauffele success at this year’s U.S. Open as he plays among today’s golf’s greats. Go Aztecs!