Xander Schauffele Emerges as Threat to Win Any Time

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Xander Schauffele of the United States putts on the 13th green during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Xander Schauffele of the United States putts on the 13th green during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) /

Xander Schauffele, who finished second to Tiger Woods at the Masters, is what I like to call a serious dark horse contender every time he tees it up.  In his first full season on the PGA Tour, he won at The Greenbrier Classic and eventually qualified for the FedEx Playoffs.

Then, this little-known pro from San Diego, proceeded to win the Tour Championship defeating a field full of top ranked PGA Tour players and major winners. When Xander Schauffele won it, he beat Justin Thomas,  Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Tony Finau, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia,  Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and basically anybody who was anybody that year.

It was such a shock that he was asked very few questions by media because nobody really knew much about him.  Our mistake. “I just grew up under the radar. I honestly don’t really care,” he said in his pre-tournament press conference at the RBC Heritage Classic.

Xander Schauffele is a long hitter and just plain good. In fact, he’s so good that, had Woods stumbled on the last hole at the Masters, Schauffele might have been in a playoff with Woods, Koepka and Dustin Johnson.  What a dramatically different finish it might have been.  Schauffele, though, was pleased to be in the mix.

“It’s only my second Masters and I definitely jumped into that scene a little faster than I thought I would, to be completely honest,” he admitted. “So, for him to do what he did, put a little extra pressure on everyone else and for me to enjoy that chase at the end was really cool.”

He didn’t seem to be disappointed that he finished second.

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“Every bit of the Masters that I watched growing up was always with him (Tiger) in it or in the hunt, and he just creates this environment with the fans and the crowds that are just — they’re unmatched,” he added.

Schauffele was pleased with his final round at Augusta National even though he came up one shot short of tying Woods.  He especially liked making the last putt.

“It was another putt I never had. But it was (a putt) a lot of people have hit, and I’ve watched on TV,” he explained.  “It’s a really tricky hole to putt to because of all the breaks around it. I was proud of making that putt, sort of putting a nice note on the end of the week. I think I would have been a little more bitter right now if I would have missed that one.”

He didn’t seem at all bitter.  He seemed pleased with his result at the Masters and very much like a laid back Southern California guy.

This week, he faces a challenge at the Harbour Town Golf Links, a track that is totally different than Augusta National.  While Augusta National is hilly and sloped, Harbour Town is flat due to its coastal island location.  While Augusta National had broad vistas of green, Harbour Town has tunnels of tall pine trees that shape and constrain most of the holes.

“This property historically suits sort of a shorter hitter that’s very precise, putts well and wedges it pretty well. You can sneak a few extra drivers off the tee, but you don’t really have to,” he said.

The greens are firm, he noted, and running.

“You have to be very precise and you have to make a lot of good decisions off the tee,” he added.

The 9th hole at Harbour Town GL has always been a short par four with a small green protected by really annoying pot bunkers. In the past, even the longest hitters have shied away from driving the green, but not Schauffele.

“I just played No. 9, “ said, having come off a practice round. “So, if the pin is back right I’ll hit driver. If it’s sort front, middle right, I will not hit driver. Just because I have to hit over that mound.”

He explained that if hitting driver, the play is to go for the bunker.

“Any middle left pin I’ll probably hit driver, as well. It really depends on the wind,” Schauffele said.  “Going downwind that ball isn’t really going to get stopped by much,” he added.

In the past on the signature 18th hole, the one with the red and white striped lighthouse, he has not been able to hit driver, which is 307 yards off the tee.

“Last year it was downwind, and we almost hit 3-wood into the marsh,” he said. “I have a driving iron in the bag this week that we might have to utilize on that hole if it gets really windy, but usually it’s just a 3-wood.”

While Xander Schauffele has a game that’s longer than Harbour Town, like the rest of the field, he will have to contend with the many twists and turns of Pete Dye’s design.

“Typically, I’ve played well at sort of bigger, more open golf courses where you have to hit your driver pretty far and pretty straight,” he admitted. “This course sort of takes my weapon, I’d say, out of my hands.”

Next. RBC Heritage: Dark Horses to watch out for at Hilton Head. dark

So while many fans may look to Jim Furyk or Graeme McDowell as contenders at the RBC Heritage Classic, do not be surprised if Xander Schauffele shows up on the leaderboard.