Xander Schauffele has been a revelation since bursting onto the scene as a professional in June 2015. The 26-year-old has four PGA Tour wins to his name, and went close to winning both the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie and the Masters at Augusta National a year later.
A tied third-place at the US Open in Pebble Beach means the PGA Championship is the only major where Schauffele hasn’t made the top three.
Schauffele won the 2017 Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia after grabbing two birdies in the closing three holes, and a World Golf Championship title was to follow in October 2018, though it was his two major finishes of T-2 at Augusta – alongside Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka – and T-3 at Pebble Beach, which saw him as one of the break-through players of the year.
With focus a buzzword in Schauffele’s armoury, 2020 may well be a year to savour for the talented twentysomething…
RSNG You’ve already got four PGA Tour wins and five top 10 finishes in the 11 major tournaments you have played in, and are ranked sixth in the world. A meteoric rise for you, and all by the age of 26? XANDER SCHAUFFELE, PRO GOLFER ‘Well, I am an honest person and say that I am a little surprised by how quickly I have managed to get this far. Everyone likes to plan things and achieve their dreams. Even to just become a professional golfer was one of my goals.’
‘But to be in the top 10 world golf rankings and also to tread the same path as players like Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth into the professional game, and then onto the PGA Tour… well, I’ve more often than not been the player who has been almost the understudy to those guys and a few others, but with the right focus I can now feel myself moving out of the shadows.’
‘I want to make headlines for myself – I want to show people what I am capable of and the reason I turned professional.’
It’s about being focused, and moving into that mindset on a tough course is actually easier because I know I can’t afford to relax at any time
RSNG Your record in the majors is brilliant, without winning one yet, but your finishes read like a seasoned pro. Do you feel more comfortable playing in big events? XS ‘I don’t know if I feel more comfortable, but those events and courses seem to have suited me in each of the ones that I have been able to play really well in.’
‘Those courses in the major championships are as challenging and difficult as you would imagine them to be, but it seems to aid me. I find it easier to focus on the tougher challenges, rather than the tasks that come easily. Maybe that’s some sort of reverse complacency… I’m not sure!’
‘I’m not sure why the tougher courses do help my cause, but it’s not a coincidence anymore and I do feel as if I am more at home when I’m asked to raise my game to a higher level. The tougher the golf course, the higher the score you would imagine, and that helps me.’
‘If a course is less testing and players are shooting in the low-60s, that means your game needs to be on. If you shoot 70 in one round, it’s unlikely you’ll be winning.’
‘Perhaps it’s mostly about being focused, and moving into that mindset on a tough course is actually easier because I know I can’t afford to relax at any time. I’m actually more comfortable playing when I’m under real pressure.’
RSNG You say that you were in the shadow of the other younger players coming through the ranks. Do you prefer to be the underdog? XS ‘I don’t mind either way. This is a sport in which you are battling against yourself and your own ability as much as anyone else. Being an underdog merely gives you the opportunity to focus more on your game and prove to yourself – as well as others – that you are up to the task.’
‘I’ve always been used to things being like this – when I was younger my dad tried to get me to understand that being the underdog isn’t a problem. If you chase the headlines and are more worried about being noticed, then your priorities aren’t right.’
RSNG Would you rather be in the spotlight or are you happy being where you are? XS ‘I suppose it’s actually harder being in the spotlight, having more people talking about you, feeling the pressure, the expectation and trying to play your own game with that weight on your shoulders. I have the utmost respect for those players who are able to achieve in that environment.’
‘This isn’t me saying that I don’t have what it takes to come through that – it doesn’t really bother me how others view me; the battle is inside and the real measure your success is how you overcome that.’
RSNG I’ve heard another thing that your dad did was to instil something in you that means you only have pictures taken with you for winning trophies? XS ‘Yeah haha, that’s right. The reason he said this because when you’re learning your trade and playing in the junior golf events, you are given awards and trophies for finishing 5th or 6th and that’s not really something that my dad thought should be celebrated.’
‘Now, I know that sounds a little bit mean and as if he was being a killjoy, but really what he was doing was telling me that once you go into the professional game, golf is a winning business. So, he told me that I need to be aware of the high stakes in the game and make sure I keep working hard to achieve that success.’
Ultimately it’s about standing there hitting a ball – if the conditions aren’t radically different, it shouldn’t matter too much what course you’re on
RSNG What is it that enables you to take the leap from practice into actually winning an event? Can you put your finger on that? XS ‘We do get through a lot of practice and we try out a lot of different things when practising. So, when you get a great round – such as the final 18 at Kapalua on The Plantation course, where I shot 62 to win the tournament – that is a result of putting all of those things together.’
‘There are those players who are more aggressive, and they will try everything so much that once it all fits into place, they can be hard to stop. I don’t find it frustrating or annoying, it’s more something that is really cool for me to see players who are capable of doing it and you’re almost saying: “Well done,” to them.’
RSNG Sometimes it’s not always about the way that you play on the course on the day, but everything which leads up to the first tee, isn’t it? XS ‘Yeah. With all of the travelling that goes on – it’s called a ‘Tour’ for good reason – you’re staying at different hotels every week, you’re eating different things all of the time and sometimes, not all of it good, unfortunately.’
‘People don’t see any of this that happens, and it’s not like you can just start lining up excuses or reasons when things don’t go your way on the course. You just have to stay as calm and focused as you possibly can – make sure your routine when you get to the first tee is the same every time. Then, you can ignore everything that has gone before and just fit straight back into that mould on-course.’
‘Luckily, I know exactly where I should be set up and standing in a solid position for myself, every time I play a shot. That can go a long way to helping you slot back into the comfort zone, no matter what.’
‘Ultimately it’s about standing there hitting a ball – if the conditions aren’t radically different, it shouldn’t matter too much what course you’re on.’
WHAT NEXT? If you missed our exclusive interview with Brooks Koepka then catch up here, now!.
Then, take a look at Xander’s hole-in-one at the 2019 Tour Championship.