MELBOURNE – Steve Stricker cared only about securing a spot in the first U.S. Open in his home state of Wisconsin. Still, there was something about the PGA Tour rookie in his group during a 36-hole qualifier that intrigued him.
It wasn't just the name: Xander Schauffele.
It certainly wasn't the resume. Schauffele had missed the cut in half of the 18 PGA Tour events he had played and was No. 345 in the world ranking. And it wasn't the pedigree. He played at San Diego State, hardly a college golf power.
Stricker didn't know any of that in early June of 2017, except that he liked what he saw.
“I just remember he had a ton of game and he was a good kid, fun to be around,” Stricker said. “It's kind of cool to see how his career has taken off.”
That day was the turning point for Schauffele that took him from relative obscurity to four-time PGA Tour winner to top 10 in the world and his debut for the Americans in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Schauffele earned the final spot from that U.S. Open qualifier in a 5-for-2 playoff, opened with a 66 at Erin Hills and tied for fifth in his first major. Three weeks later, he won his first PGA Tour event. Since then, he won the Tour Championship, a World Golf Championship and the Tournament of Champions, each time coming from behind on the final day. At Kapalua, he shot 62 to rally from five back.
Results came quickly. Recognition is still catching up.
That should change at the Presidents Cup, the first time Schauffele is on the same team with players he has admired, and players he has beaten. When the group texts began, there were numbers that popped up on his phone he didn't recognize. Popular among his peers, Schauffele doesn't get wrapped up in the social life on tour, nor does the 26-year-old from San Diego spend time worrying whether he gets his due.
“At no point do I feel like I've done that much, which is a weird thing. But it's great that I think that way,” Schauffele said. “It's all relative what you compare yourself to. If you want to be a good golfer, a great golfer, I think I've done a lot so far. If you want to compete with the best, I've got a lot more to do.”
He is part of the high school class of 2011, but it took winning more than once for anyone to mention him alongside others in his age group like Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Rodgers, Ollie Schniederjans and Daniel Berger.
Thomas, the NCAA player of the year as a freshman at Alabama, conceded that he didn't know much about Schauffele when he got on tour. He shared this at East Lake, where Schauffele beat him by one at the Tour Championship.
Spieth didn't know much about Schauffele in college. He only recognized the name because it was unique.
Now he raves about him.
“I still think he's one of the underrated players in the world, even with what he's done,” Spieth said. “Overall, tee-to-green, everything is solid. He has great hands, great touch and a really good putter — a good pressure putter, too. He has all the tools to win anywhere, which is what you want.”
Schauffele has all the traits of a global star.
His father is German and French, an aspiring decathlete who was invited to Olympic training with the German team and was hit by a drunk driver on his way there, losing an eye. He turned to golf as one of the few sports his injuries allowed him to play, became an assistant pro in Hawaii and is the only coach his son has had. His mother was born in Taiwan and raised in Japan.
Schauffele didn't play the national junior circuit, which costs a small fortune, though he had a strong junior association in Southern California to find competition. He played one year at Long Beach State when the coach left, and Schauffele finished his last three years at San Diego State.
That explains why he didn't have a big name when he turned out, only one that was hard to pronounce (SHAU-fa-lay). Even he messed it up during a Callaway promo making fun of how it gets said.
He doesn't need the attention, nor does he want it. But it quietly motivates him.
“I know my good golf can beat anyone,” Schauffele said. “It feels good to know that.”
Making Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup teams is a big step. What matters more is making them year after year. Majors are the best measure, and Schauffele at least has put himself in the mix.
He was in the hunt at Carnoustie last year until a bogey on the 71st hole ended his hopes. He made five birdies in seven holes to tie for the lead at the Masters this year until closing with four pars to finish one behind Tiger Woods.
Woods now is his captain and teammate at Royal Melbourne. There also is a reunion with Stricker, a vice captain. Schauffele still has strong memories of watching the 50-year-old Stricker raise his game through sheer determination.
He also remembers words Stricker took time to share that day.
“It helped with him telling me, ‘Do what you do. Stop stressing out. You’re better than most I've seen,'” Schauffele said. “That was pretty warming to hear from a guy like Steve Stricker.”
Schauffele took it from there, still feeling as though he has a long way to go.