The surname “Schauffele” made for a bit of a kerfuffle when Xander Schauffele, the defending champion in the forthcoming WGC-HSBC Champions, first appeared on the scene. It wasn’t easy to spell and it wasn’t easy to pronounce.
Yet even if the name did not exactly trip from people’s tongues to the same extent as that, say, of a Woods, a Rose, a McIlroy, a Wie or a Feng, Xander’s background was soon proving the best of assets. Since his American-based family includes a father who is half German and half French, and a mother who was born in Chinese Taipei and lived in Japan, he has little by little been picking up on a correspondingly cosmopolitan fan-base.
The process picked up steam last year at Sheshan where, when he was asked if he thought that his “part-Chinese heritage” would have added to his flourishing band of Chinese supporters, he had nodded appreciatively at the very suggestion. At the same time, he had mentioned how much it meant to have his parents on the trip. For instance, Ping Yi, his mother, had made her 25-year-old son – it was his birthday that week – feel doubly comfortable by successfully negotiating the language barrier: “It made things easy for me because she was doing everything from ordering food to asking for transportation.”
His father Stefan, meantime, has never been less than integral to his overall career. In a father-son relationship to mirror that of such as Rose, with his father, Ken, and McIlroy, with his father Gerry, Stefan has poured his all into Xander’s golf.
Many years before, Stefan had had to leave behind his dream of becoming a German Olympiad after a head-on crash resulted in five operations and a warning that he should give up on the javelin-throwing at which he excelled. He changed from athletics to golf and from Germany to America where he gained professional qualifications at the San Diego Golf Academy. He started teaching Xander when he was ten and, to this day, he remains his son’s lead coach.
There has been the odd father-son spat along the way, most notably when Stefan, in having a spell on the bag, sometimes found it difficult to stay within the usual unwritten guidelines of never looking too up or too down. Hardly surprisingly, there came a day when a paternal response to a bad shot – it was along the lines of, ‘That’s idiotic!” – prompted a temporary rift. Yet through thick and thin, Xander has never ceased to be grateful to his dad’s help and his oft-repeated reminder that he should be grateful for his golfing talents and remember how, as had happened to him, “it can all be taken away in a day”.
The “Getting to know you” phase of Xander’s professional career began at the US Open of 2017 where he started with a 66 on his way to a share of fifth place.
That hard-to-grasp surname may well have contributed to how the crowds did not immediately flock to his side the following day, though it did furnish Xander with the humorous tale of how such supporters as he had went missing the moment that Rose, McIlroy and Jason Day appeared on a neighbouring fairway. To his chagrin, the spectators in question had not so much as paused to applaud his long shot to the green.
“I said to myself, ‘Man, that wasn’t a bad shot, so why isn’t anyone clapping?’” He was still pondering on why his ball would have spun from the green when he spotted that it had in fact come to a halt within seven feet of the pin.
The headlines started a few weeks later after he won at the Greenbrier – and multiplied when, after making off with the end-of-season PGA Tour championship, he collected Rookie of the Year honours.
Next up for Xander was his triumph in the WGC-HSBC Champions – a major step in the right direction. The result did not sink in straightaway, just as it had taken a few moments for him to get to grips with how his two-birdie finish to tie Tony Finau after 72 holes meant a play-off.
For the latter, he poured all his nervous energy into a tee-shot which bisected the fairway as Finau’s ball found sand and cost him a bogey to what was Xander’s third birdie in a row.
Finau could not have been more generous in defeat. “Xander played incredible golf today. He posted a number (a 68) and made a birdie on the play-off hole when it counted. Hats off to him!”
That Xander, a social science graduate of San Diego State, is expected to keep his feet firmly on the ground amid his mounting success, will come as no surprise to those who heard what he had to say at his Rookie of the Year presentation. At the time, he was still driving around in a battered Toyota while his college friend-cum-caddie, Austin Kaiser, had graduated to something a little more flash.
“I’m an old soul,” he explained Schauffele. “I haven’t purchased anything crazy. I used to want things but now that we’re sitting here with some success, it doesn’t seem that important.”