The Tokyo Olympics is winding to a close, and SportsEngine has shined the spotlight on five of the reigning and emerging stars for Team USA. You'll learn about their journey, including in the formative years that helped propel that athlete to become one of the nation's–and world's–best.
Check out the fifth installment, with six insights on Xander Schauffele, who has shined as a professional golfer but earned his biggest title at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Xander's father Stefan was a multi-sport athlete
Xander's father grew up in Germany, thriving in track and field, soccer, squash and skiing. Not a surprise since Stefan's father Richard played soccer for VfB Stuttgart, which currently plays in Germany's top division, and was a 1935 German track and field champion. After completing his mandatory military service, Stefan was recruited into Germany's developmental group for decathlon in advance of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But on his way there, Stefan was seriously injured when a vehicle he was traveling in was struck by one driven by a drunk driver. Stefan was in and out of hospitals for nearly two years, undergoing many surgeries, and his career competing as an athlete was over. Stefan is a graduate of San Diego Golf Academy (now Golf Academy of America), and he's been Xander's only swing coach.
Xander's first sport of interest was soccer
Not surprising, soccer is where Xander began his sports journey. However, he says he started to take golf seriously at the ripe old age of 10. His first significant title was winning the 2011 California State High School Championship. Three years later, he won the 2014 California State Amateur champion, and he headed to Long Beach State University to play collegiate golf, but then transferred to San Diego State for his sophomore year and beyond. He started his pro career by securing a spot on the web.com Tour. He performed well, finishing in the 26th position, but he was $900 short of earning the coveted PGA Tour card. The next season, he finished in the 15th position and was able to join the PGA Tour. Xander tied for fifth at the 2017 US Open but then shocked many by winning the PGA Tour Championship. He also won another tournament, propelling him to win Rookie of the Year.
Xander's parents both endured challenges growing up
His mother, Ping-Yi, was born in China but raised from an early age in Japan, facing discrimination for her heritage. She came to the United States to attend college, which is around the time she meet Stefan. Both parents set high expectations, and Stefan instilled in Xander an underdog mentality and a recognition that nothing would be handed to him. "I always felt like I was mentally tougher than the other kids," Xander once said. "I always wanted it more. I was sort of this grinder who would never quit. If I ever felt sorry for myself, my dad and I would have this two-hour talk."
In his four PGA Tour victories, Xander has come back each time
Each each, he trailed by an average of 3.3 shots entering the final round. But then came back to score a final-round 68 or better in each win, including a 62 at the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions. Interestingly, though, Xander has held a 54-hold lead four times but didn't win any of those tournaments. So there were many who wondered if he could preserve a one-stroke lead heading into the final round of the Olympics, especially with Hideki Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters champion, the massive hometown favorite. In fact, Xander birdied four consecutive holes on Augusta National’s second nine until he hit his tee shot in the water on the 16th hole. He finished tied for third, three shots behind Matsuyama.
Xander's caddy of five-plus years is someone who knows his game well
Austin Kaiser played on the golf team with Xander at San Diego State, and he was ranked fourth on the team, posting four top-20 finishes as a junior. “We have a perfect balance of professionalism and friendship,” Kaiser said, according to Essentially Sports. "I told him many times, I don’t think I’d work for anyone else... I think I have the best job in the world.”
Xander hadn't won a tournament in over two years
Xander has had a recent dry spell but he's remained consistent with 30 top-25 finishes and 13 top-3 finishes over the last three seasons. In the final round of the Olympics, though, Matsuyama fell off, and Xander was pressed by another golfer. Rory Sabbatini set an Olympic record with a 61, forcing Xander to finish the final round strong. Xander had a bogey on the Par-5 14th, sending his drive into the bushes. "I was trying so hard to just stay calm," Xander said, according to ESPN. "But man, it was stressful." Down the stretch, Xander hit several clutch shots, including a four-foot putt on the 18th hole. "I just reminded myself, this is just a 4-footer," he said. "All you have to do is make it. No big deal." It was, however, a big deal. In fact, a huge deal!