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Friday, December 14, 2018

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Xander Schauffele (Credit: SDSU Athletics) Xander Schauffele (Credit: SDSU Athletics)

Schauffele Joins the Club

A win at the Tour Championship caps off an amazing rookie season.
By Ryan Schuler

This story appears in the fall 2017 issue of 360: The Magazine of San Diego State University.

Xander Schauffele has a reputation for playing his best when the stakes are the highest. Last month at the BMW Championship in Lake Forest, Illinois, Schauffele shot 6-under his last six holes to earn one of the final spots in the PGA Tour Championship field.

At the Tour Championship in Atlanta, Georgia, Schauffele again saved his best for last. Stepping up to the par-5 18th hole tied for the lead, he birdied the final hole to become the first rookie to win the PGA Tour Championship and claim his second PGA Tour win.

Fall 2017 issue of 360: The Magazine of San Diego State University
Fall 2017 Cover of 360: The Magazine of San Diego State University
It was identical to the pressure situation Schauffele faced months earlier at The Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Owning a share of the lead after the 17th hole, the SDSU alumnus knew exactly what was on the line.

The 18th hole was a par-3—161 yards in length with bunkers surrounding the green—a notoriously difficult hole to birdie. Schauffele’s tee shot would require skilled execution if he hoped to raise the trophy as the tournament winner.

He looked to his caddie, Austin Kaiser, a long-time friend and former teammate at SDSU. Neither favored the 9-iron at this crucial point. Instead they dug into the golf bag and pulled out the pitching wedge. With his adrenaline pumping, Schauffele took a smooth, powerful swing.

The shot appeared to be on target, but even several inches of miscalculation could have disastrous results for Schauffele, who had gradually climbed the leaderboard in the final round after starting the day three shots back.

The ball finally came to rest on the green—three feet from the cup.

“It worked out to perfection,” Schauffele said. “When I got there, I didn’t realize it was three feet away. It was the longest three-footer of my career.”

The PGA Tour rookie calmed his nerves and sank his subsequent putt like a seasoned veteran, giving him a lead he would not relinquish and his first PGA Tour victory.

“It meant the world,” Schauffele said of his first PGA Tour win. “To be able to call yourself a winner on the Tour, it just shows you’re doing the right thing. It makes me feel grateful to everyone who’s been willing to help me.”

Taking the long way to SDSU

A native San Diegan, Schauffele was a highly recruited golfer coming out of Scripps Ranch High School. SDSU head golf coach Ryan Donovan hoped he would attend SDSU as a freshman, but he chose California State University, Long Beach. SDSU would get a second chance, however, when Schauffele decided to transfer after his freshman year. This time the Aztecs would not miss out.

“It was a really easy choice to come home,” Schauffele said. “My dad, who is my swing coach, is here. Derek Uyeda, my putting coach, is here. My family is in San Diego, and Ryan Donovan is a really good head coach. He’s had a good team for years now. San Diegans have a hard time leaving San Diego and I’m one of them.”

During his time at SDSU, Schauffele did nothing but impress, capping off his collegiate career with third-team All-America honors from PING and Golfweek, and earning three All-Mountain West selections. Donovan was not surprised.

“He got better every year, always working on the right things. He’s the hardest working guy I’ve had in my coaching career at SDSU.”

A solid friendship

Schauffele recalls the first time he met teammate Kaiser at a team meeting. Both were transfers to SDSU. Through workouts, practice rounds and tournaments, the two became close friends. So when it was time to find another caddie, Schauffele turned to Kaiser.

“I figured he was a good resource for me to go to,” Schauffele said. “I think he enjoys being out there on the course. He keeps it easy on me and I keep it easy on him. We just have a lot of fun out there.”

The connections Schauffele made at SDSU allow him to share his success with his former teammates, coaches and university.

“We have a pretty tight-knit community,” Schauffele said. “I see J.J. Spaun every week and Scott Piercy is also an SDSU alum. I think the alumni connection at San Diego State University runs pretty deep, and everyone is really happy to be an Aztec.”