Schauffele making his name known
ERIN, Wis. – Xander Schauffele’s name may be featured prominently on the large white leaderboards at Erin Hills, but that doesn’t mean everyone on the property recognizes the PGA TOUR rookie who’s contending at the U.S. Open. “I'll sign some autographs and kids will be like, ‘Dad, who is that?’” Schauffele said. “That's just how it is. … Schauffele is a pretty weird name to remember.” More people are becoming familiar with the German surname that translate to “tiny shovel,” a testament to his family’s centuries-long lineage in the construction business. Schauffele held the lead for parts of Friday morning before finishing at 5-under 139 (66-73). Erin Hills’ wide, fescue-lined fairways and bent-grass greens remind the 23-year-old of one of his home courses in college, Barona Creek, where he won a tournament during his senior year. And the same strong ballstriking and mental fortitude that has helped him make a quick progression through pro golf’s meritocracy is paying off in this notoriously tough tournament. “That’s been engraved in him forever, to be tough,” said his caddie and former college teammate, Austin Kaiser. “His attitude is huge. … He doesn’t want it to be sugar-coated.” His father, Stefan, has tried to imbue such fortitude in his son from a young age. Stefan, whose German roots give him a strong preference for honesty over flattery, is his son’s only swing coach. Now he’s watching the fruits of their labor in this major championship that always concludes on Father’s Day. Stefan started his son in the game at age 9, when he was strong enough to carry his junior bag for 18 holes. Xander wasn’t allowed to use tees in those early junior tournaments on par-3 courses, knowing that the temporary disadvantage would pay off later. It has this week, at the tournament that puts such a heavy emphasis on accurate ballstriking. We may have seen a record number of sub-par scores in the first round, but this U.S. Open is not a warm and cuddly championship. The struggles of several of the game’s stars show that Erin Hills is no pushover for those who are errant off the tee. Schauffele has averaged 314.8 yards off the tee this week, while hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in each of the first two rounds. He’s learned how to handle pressure from his father, who passed along the breathing and concentration techniques he learned from his own athletic days. Stefan played semipro soccer in Germany and was en route to a training session for Germany’s national decathlon team when he was hit head-on by a drunk driver. He was in and out of the hospital for two years because of multiple surgeries on his left eye, which he lost sight in. The accident convinced him to take a risk and move to the United States when he was 23. He landed in San Diego and lived next to a golf course. With his physical activity limited because of the accident, he decided to take up the game. His first instructor, A.J. Bonar, related the golf swing to the sports like discus that Stefan was familiar with. He was scratch within two years. Xander has had a rapid rise in pro golf. He aced the grueling examinations that young pros face, Q-School and the Web.com Tour Finals, on his first try. After turning pro in 2015, the San Diego State alum needed just one season on the Web.com Tour to earn his card. Now Schauffele, who ranks 135th in the FedExCup, is playing well in his first major championship. “He just keeps improving every year,” said Ryan Ressa, who recruited him to Long Beach State, where Schauffele played his freshman season before transferring to San Diego State. “He always seemed to have a knack for (playing well) when he needed to.” For proof, Ressa refers to a 2-under round during a windy final day at the 2015 Web.com Tour Q-School that allowed Schauffele to earn his card on the number. Then he finished T9 in the final tournament of last year’s Web.com Tour season to earn his TOUR card for this season. And now he’s excelling in his first U.S. Open.
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