It’s early evening in rural Haven, Wis. Team U.S.A. has clinched the Ryder Cup in record-setting fashion. They’ve doused Whistling Straits’ 18th fairway in champagne. And now, they traipse into the media center, a dozen players and their captain, in varying states of boozy dishevelment.
Front and center sits 27-year-old Xander Schauffele, Ryder Cup rookie. He has a twinkle in his eye after winning three of four matches on the week and celebrating accordingly. He has a microphone in his left hand, a large cigar in his right and an ear-to-ear grin across his face, the kind you’ll never see him flash in a tournament round. At one point, he looks down at his shirt, brushes cigar ash off the white stripe on his chest and delivers a particularly honest assessment.
“I had no idea we had [to do] media after all of that,” he says.
A year ago, nobody would have imagined that Schauffele — known mostly for playing top-tier golf and flying under the radar — would be an emotional centerpiece for the American squad. Nor that he’d be chugging beers in front of a roaring crowd or cruising feet-first down a Whistling Straits hillock as if he were headed down a frat party Slip ’n’ Slide. But Schauffele’s story is full of surprises. Just don’t expect him to be the one to tell it.
Xander, the Son.
He was born in San Diego in 1993 to a French-German father and Taiwanese-Japanese mother. At this summer’s Olympic Games, his gold medal counted double: the fulfillment of a dream for himself and his dad. Decades earlier in Germany, before a head-on collision with a drunk driver ended his athletic career, Stefan Schauffele was an aspiring decathlete. His years of grinding for the German national team left him with at least one essential gift: the ability to evaluate talent. He insists his youngest son, Xander, overflowed with it.
“At first, I thought he was going to be a soccer player, because I had never seen anyone, at age four, at his level. Shoulder-high volleys. Left foot. Right foot,” Stefan recalled recently. He, along with his eldest son, Nico, and a few other members of Xander’s intentionally tight inner circle were with the golfer at a Callaway promo shoot in Southern California a few weeks before the Ryder Cup.
“I had to pinch myself to make sure I was seeing this,” Stefan continues, “because every parent is delusional, right?” (Xander’s mother, Ping-Yi, doesn’t do interviews, but he and Nico will tell you, rolling their eyes, that Stefan speaks plenty for both of them.)
When it came to nurturing the athletic skills of young kids, Stefan admired the approach Walter Gretzky took with his son, ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. “Walter was great,” Stefan says, then quotes him. “‘That bastard,’ he said, ‘must have emptied out 100 car batteries shining lights on that bloody pond. I couldn’t get him off the ice, day or night. And there’s one truth. One basic truth: If your kid has it, there’s nothing you can do to stop him, and if he doesn’t, there’s nothing you can do to make him.'”
There are aspects of the Schauffele origin story that sound like tall tales, but all are true. At his sons’ birthday parties, Stefan would have Xander, Nico and their friends dress in suits, sip expensive cognac and smoke fine cigars — beginning at age 12. San Diego’s junior golf scene teems with talent, but at age 16, at the first college-sponsored golf clinic he participated in, Xander began hitting balls and every coach in attendance gravitated to his stall. Later that year, he played a three-hole stretch at nearby Barona Creek Golf Club in six under par, going albatross-birdie-eagle in a warm-up round for a U.S. Open local qualifier, the only known instance of that three-hole feat in golf history.
Some parents would hesitate to admit they’d put pressure on their athletic kids, but by the time Stefan began to grasp the college recruiting process there wasn’t any wiggle room. “I told him, ‘Xander, I cannot pay for college,'” he remembers. “‘I’m bankrupt. I paid for your brother, and I just don’t have money left. You need to get a scholarship. You must perform.'”
Under the gun, Schauffele finished top three in each of his next three events, against SoCal’s stiffest competition, earning a scholarship to Long Beach State in the process. “That’s why he performs like he does in the majors,” Stefan says, referencing the six top-fives and nine top-10s his son has logged in 18 major starts. “Whenever he gets put under pressure, he increases his focus and he plays better. There is no other explanation for it.”
As a Brother,
Xander aroused both the envy and the empathy of Nico, three years his senior.
“Do I remember him having talent? How could I not?” Nico says, laughing. He helps manage Xander’s social channels, his communications and his foundation work. “He was so good at golf that I quit. Anything that involved a ball, anything round, he was instantly the best.”
Still, it wasn’t always easy. High school golfers aren’t the big men on campus, no matter how well they compress their irons.
“There were definitely sacrifices,” Nico says. “I remember specifically, it was in high school that Xander decided he wanted to become a professional golfer, so he was never at parties or just hanging out. I’d see his friends and they’d say, ‘Where’s your brother?’ And I’d say, ‘He’s at the driving range.’ Now when I see them, they’re like, ‘Oh. I guess that actually happened, huh?’”
As a Husband,
Schauffele is proving to himself — and to his wife, Maya — something he once worried was impossible.
“I never thought I could play golf at a high level and care about someone else besides myself,” he says between setups at the photo shoot. “Golfers are super selfish, and we have to be. There’s so much depending on our individual performance. But it’s pretty special to care for someone else that way, and to have that someone care for you.”
Xander and Maya Lowe met in 2014 as students at San Diego State, where Schauffele transferred after his freshman year. They married in July of this year at their new home in Las Vegas after relocating there just a few months earlier. (They split time between Vegas and San Diego.) Exactly eight family members, one officiant and the couple’s two dogs (dressed in formal wear) attended. The small ceremony was Maya’s idea.
“Normally, I have a superpower when it comes to crying, but that day?” Xander says. “Absolute waterworks.”
Maya doesn’t crave the spotlight that typically accompanies the life of a Tour wife. She’s built a career in healthcare administration. She’s not on Instagram. And she didn’t grow up playing or watching golf. When she and Xander began dating, she didn’t even know he played the game.
She knows it now. “I’ve gotten the lingo down,” Maya said on a walk toward the Whistling Straits clubhouse, just minutes after her husband and his Tour pal Patrick Cantlay had closed out a foursomes match at the Ryder Cup.
“Have you?” asked Xander, who was walking beside her. “What’d we make on that hole?”
“You won!” she said.
“We won that hole with a…”
“It’s three letters.”
He slung his arm around her. “We’re getting there,” he said.
As a Friend,
Schauffele demonstrates confidence and generosity in equal measure. Kevin “Tech” Techakanokboon is on the phone from Q-School in Illinois, and he’s eager to share. Tech remembers their first year at Long Beach State, when the golf team was going around the room, making self-introductions, sharing brief bios and what each player hoped to bring to the team.
“We had this senior,” Tech says, “and he goes, ‘I’m Kevin Roy, from Syracuse, N.Y., and I’ll be your team’s leader.’ And the next guy goes, ‘I’m Xander Schauffele, I’m an incoming freshman, and since we already have a leader for the team, I guess I’ll just be your scoring leader.’ We were all looking around at each other like, Who does this guy think he is?! But that’s the mentality Xander has always had. He had such a firm belief in this process, and he was right.”
The two stayed in touch even after Schauffele transferred. Both turned pro. Xander made his way through the Web.com tour and, in 2016, qualified for the PGA Tour. Tech went to play in Asia but remembers coming home one Christmas in desperate need of a couch, a friendly face and a swing analysis.
“Xander was in his first year on Tour,” he says. “He was prepping for the upcoming season, and he was still so patient. I crashed at his apartment, with him and Maya, and he just always had time for me. I would love the world to know how good a guy he is.”
As a Competitor,
Schauffele doesn’t have an off switch, and he hates to lose. That’s partly what has propelled him to the top five in the world. That’s what made sealing the deal at the Olympics in Tokyo feel so good. He stresses just how satisfying it was to protect a lead that Sunday.
It also makes him a formidable opponent in money games at home. When he’s in Vegas, that means connecting with any number of pros in town, including friends like Alex Kang or Kurt Kitayama. In San Diego, there’s a crew that includes Phil Mickelson and Charley Hoffman, as well as aspiring young pros and low-handicap members of several San Diego–area clubs.
Eric Ingersoll, a plus-handicap and a regular at The Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, relishes those games.
“Xander’s a f—ing killer,” he says. “You saw what he was like at the Olympics. Stone cold. Sure, he’s a little more relaxed when we play, but it’s the same exact game. In his routine. One shot at a time. Relentless. And he never plays bad. Ever.”
After his 2021 PGA Championship win, Mickelson shared one story from the Tour’s Covid hiatus, when he and Schauffele played a string of matches at The Farms. The first round Xander shot 64 and gave Mickelson what he admitted was “a pretty good beating.” Lefty wanted a rematch. Schauffele shot 63.
Mickelson wanted one more crack, but Schauffele went way up in that match too. With three holes to play, Mickelson pressed on the 220-yard 16th, teed up his ball and hit it to four feet.
“Since it’s match play, I let him know that I could make him re-hit,” Schauffele remembers now. “But because he was getting his butt kicked, I figured I would let him hit it to four feet and not make him re-hit.”
Schauffele grabbed 6-iron and hit a slight pull that brought water into play — but also headed straight for the flagstick. “It fell right in line with the pin, then trickled in,” he says with a grin. “There’s a little mound behind the tee box, and [Phil] sat there like this, looking down at the ground, shaking his head.”
Schauffele’s ace capped a round of 62.
Mickelson was whipped — and thoroughly impressed. “I went back and talked to [his wife] Amy,” he said later, “and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to beat this guy. He’s probably playing the best of any player in the world right now.'”
As a Teammate,
first at the 2019 Presidents Cup and then at this year’s Ryder Cup, Schauffele has shown Patrick Cantlay just how nice it can be to have him on your side. The duo went 4-2-0 across the two competitions. More importantly, they’ve become close friends and sparring partners; they play a practice round together every Tuesday at Tour events.
“I don’t think either of us would have gone out of our way to be friends with the other, but spending that time together, we realized we really got along,” Cantlay told me after a Ryder Cup practice round. The bond makes sense — both obsess over golf minutiae, let their clubs do the talking and reject what each of them separately refers to as the “attention-seeking behavior” of social media and brand-building in today’s sports world.
“X is incredibly smart, and he’s incredibly conscientious,” Cantlay says. “He’s someone who probably brings out the best in me. He’s more positive, and he has a way of being lighter as opposed to me being serious. Yet, he’s quiet and reserved, so we have that bond too. He balances me out a little bit.”
As a Client,
Schauffele’s unparalleled ability to filter and focus amazes his agent, Ross Chouler.
“He’s so present,” Chouler says. “I see other guys and how their minds get active under pressure. Not his. He lets things go when he should, on and off the course. When he’s hitting a shot, he has his routine, and he does not get out of that routine. It’s incredible. He and Stefan talk about CEA: Commit. Execute. Accept. Whatever happens, happens.”
As a Golfer,
Schauffele is in a better place than he’s ever been. “I still get excited to play, to compete, like I did when I was a rookie,” he says. “But when you’re a rookie, you know the top-10 players are there, and they know the course better than you. Now, I’m like, ‘I’ve played this course before. Why not me?'”
He still gets lost in the process sometimes. He’ll lose track of time playing chipping games into the evening alongside Tech. Every day is a chance to improve; the job is never finished. That’s part of the system he’s grown up in, and the system is effective.
“On the one hand, golf is work,” Schauffele says. “On the other hand, it’s not my fault that I love my job.”
“What he’s got — his small circle — is enough,” says Tech. “He’s got everything worked out. Some people, when they have success, when they start to make money, they start doing all these other things. Xander just says, ‘I’m just trying to get good at this one thing.'”
“He hasn’t changed anything at all,” Stefan marvels. “He doesn’t even have a new car. He still drives his Toyota Camry and for a good reason: It makes him happy. He says it reminds him of how quickly this could all be gone.”
Gone? No chance. It’s just getting started.