Xander Schauffele truly seized the moment this past week in his first major championship start at the U.S. Open. The unknown 23-year-old opened in 6-under 66, followed with 73 and fired a third-round 70 to put himself in contention entering Sunday at Erin Hills. He would finish with 69 to tie for 5th place in the championship.
For non-golf enthusiasts, this is a very big deal. It’s comparable to a basketball player contending for series MVP in the NBA finals during his rookie season.
“I had nothing to lose coming out here,” said Schauffele, who has earned a 2018 U.S. Open spot with that finish.
His father, Stefan, sustained a life-changing injury during his early 20’s, when he was hit by a drunk-driver in a head-on car collision. He had six surgeries in the next two years and lost sight in one eye. Sefan taught Xander to seize the day, as a result.
The father and son had, on occasion, a confrontational discourse. “He would tell me if I sucked to my face,” Xander said.
In his son’s senior year at San Diego State, Stefan complained to coach Ryan Donovan that the Barona Collegiate Cup had too weak a field and would hurt Xander’s ranking. Almost in defiance of his critical father, Xander won the tournament.
Stefan also had a short-lived stint as Xander’s caddy after he turned pro in 2015. At the Web.com Tour’s Stonebrae Classic, on the 16th hole of the second round, Stefan and Xander exchanged words, and Stefan’s career on the bag came to a stop.
Dad may have been blunt, but he ingrained a level of seriousness into his son that has served him well. Xander has adopted his father’s attitude.
At San Diego State, Schauffele had an excellent college career- but there was one black mark. The Aztecs were in reach of the final spot for the 2013 NCAA Championship from the Pullman Regional, until Schauffele double bogeyed his final hole of the final round.
The put San Diego State into a final-spot playoff, where the group battled Ball State in five-count-four sudden death. On the first playoff hole, Schauffele three-putted for par. The Aztecs fell to the Cardinals by one shot. The season was over.
Schauffele told teammates that, frankly, the loss was his fault.
“He owned that,” Donovan said.
When matters turned the other way, teammates weren’t upset.
Schauffele’s caddie is former Aztecs teammate Austin Kaiser. He has been on the bag for almost all of Schauffele’s pro career now, and has learned on the job.
At first, Kaiser was too soft on his college companion, often sugarcoating mediocre shots. Schauffele had Kaiser dispose of the pleasantries, give it to him frank, and it has clearly worked well.
The Aztec Nation congratulates Xander Schauffele for catapulting himself into mainstream PGA action after making an indelible impression on the entire golf world at this year’s 117th U.S. Open Championship. We look forward to watching Schauffele in the years to come.