Xander Schauffele already has 4 U.S. Open top 10s, and now he’s playing a home game
Home turf. Home game. Home-field advantage. Call it what you will, but what Xander Schauffele will have at this week’s U.S. Open is familiarity. Growing up just a few miles west of Torrey Pines, the SoCal kid has played the golf course dozens and dozens of times. But as the 6th-ranked player in the world continues his quest for his major championship breakthrough, Torrey comes with some added pressure. Can Xander win the big one after close calls at the Masters (T3) and the last two U.S. Opens (5th, T3)? And will he do it in front of a San Diego crowd pulling for the local kid?
GOLF.com’s Ryan Asselta caught up with Schauffele a week prior to the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. The 27-year-old pro talked candidly about the excitement and pressure of Open week, his favorite Torrey Pines memory, the part of his game he and his dad/swing coach Stefan have been working on in preparation for Torrey and more.
GOLF.com: You have the unique opportunity to play a major championship in your hometown. You grew up in San Diego. Played at San Diego State. How meaningful will this U.S. Open be for you?
Xander Schauffele: It’s really cool. As soon as they announced that the 2021 U.S. Open would be at Torrey Pines it was a goal of mine to qualify. I was an amateur at the time and it’s been a goal ever since. Now sitting here, my goal is to win the tournament, so things change quickly.
Different goals for a different stage in your career, but when you combine the goal to win with where you are playing, is there added pressure to perform well at Torrey Pines?
There usually is pressure playing in your hometown, with people there that you know and familiar faces pulling for you more than a normal tournament. But I think any extra pressure would be internalized. I don’t really see any external pressure being applied. People always talk about how hard it is to play in your hometown or win in their hometown. Fortunately for me, I was able to sort of get the monkey off my back at the Farmers this past year finishing 2nd. That showed me that I can play at this course and this tournament.
Do you have a favorite memory from playing Torrey Pines over the years at a kid?
Yeah. Torrey Pines’ Lodge has really good onion rings. They’re actually pretty expensive since it’s Torrey Pines Lodge, but they’re so good. One of my high school teammates bet me a box of onion rings, that he could beat me in a sprint up the 9th hole. Let’s be honest though, that’s not a sprint. It’s something like 550 yards slightly uphill! So, on the 9th hole we carried our bags and broke out in a dead sprint after our three-hour match for a box of onion rings. Those are some of the memories I have from Torrey Pines. I was there in high school, being a kid and sort of learning how to play golf.
How about your Torrey Pines fan experience? At 14 years old, you were there on the final day of the 2008 U.S. Open watching Tiger roll in that putt on the 72nd hole. Were you up in a tree watching?
Well, I wasn’t completely up in a tree. I think I would have gotten yelled at if that were the case, but I was sort of high up on the base of the tree so that I could give myself a vantage point. I remember like it was yesterday. It was such a thrilling moment for golf, golf history and for my golf development. It sparked my motivation. I was sort of just left of the pond on a tree that has fallen since due to storms. I remember everything. Tiger hitting his lay up into the rough. His approach from the rough up to the green. And then against all odds, late in the day on poa annua at Torrey, a downhill putt and him making it. The crowd went nuts. It was my first experience of the Tiger roar in real life. It’s impossible to forget.
What’s your ultimate day in San Diego? What do you do?
I don’t like waking up too early so I’d start the day mid-morning. My girlfriend and I would take my dogs to either the harbor or to Coronado Beach. They have the perfect loop for a dog walk. Then we’d grab brunch in La Jolla where you can walk down and check out the seals. Really, anything outdoors would be great. I’d go for a Torrey Pines hike in the afternoon. From there, we are grabbing sushi at our favorite spot not too far from where I live. Then I’m opening a bottle of wine to polish off the evening on our terrace watching the sunset. That would be a nice day for me.
So no hang gliding off the cliffs at Torrey Pines?
No. I don’t see being allowed to do that in some of my contracts. And personally, I don’t see myself allowing myself to do it. [Laughs] It’s definitely not my thing.
You grew up in San Diego with your dad Stefan as your coach. He’s still your coach as a professional. When it comes to majors, do you guys sit down and come up with a specific game plan for a U.S. Open at Torrey Pines?
Yeah. It’s a team effort. My dad and I have been together the longest out of anyone else on my team. Game-planning for a major is the same as game-planning for any week, but majors demand more, so the planning must be a little bit more intense. The U.S. Open is really difficult to plan for. You’ve gotta really make sure you’re performing at a high enough level. I always play my best when I’m not really working on too much going into the week. So a lot of the planning and fine-tuning is a build up. So for Torrey for example, the fairways are some of the hardest to hit when we play the Farmers. I don’t see that getting easier at the U.S. Open. That puts an emphasis on scrambling out of the rough. Putting is extremely difficult at Torrey so you have to pick one side of the fence to be on. You’re either gonna ball-strike the heck out of the week or you’re gonna scramble. I know where my strengths and weaknesses are so we’ll game plan around that.
What’s the biggest part of your game you’ve been working on recently?
At the Memorial I switched golf balls. Looking at my stats, my driving was really good and I led in greens in regulation, so clearly me switching to a lower-spin ball allowed me to be more aggressive off the tee and approaching the greens in the wind. That was a big boost of confidence for me heading into the U.S. Open, knowing that I can drive it really well with this new golf ball. My dad and I have also worked on scrambling because the rough will be thick. I’ve gotta be comfortable with my short game at a place like Torrey.
You’re also working with your dad off the course on a project right now that can help recreational golfers?
Yeah it’s been fun. We’re working on the Hyland Share Your Swing contest and it’s really cool. Golfers of all skill levels can send in videos of their swing on social media and 10 finalists will be selected. The one winner will be chosen to receive a personalized video from me and my dad breaking down their swing and hopefully helping them find what works best for them. It’s should be a lot of fun.
How good are you at self-analyzing your own swing?
It’s interesting. I’m getting better but it’s been an ever-improving process. I get too analytical at times, which has made having my dad really refreshing. He is so structured in his thought process but he’ll always apply his system to what I present to him. I am self-correcting a lot on the road. My dad isn’t there holding my hand every step of the way anymore. We do chat on the phone and a lot of our teaching is audio. This way I can correct myself on the fly. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I told him at a young age that I wanted to be able to self-correct when times are tough.
What is one piece of advice you would give a recreational golfer who is trying to figure out their swing?
It’s tough. Every golfer is such a perfectionist. Golf is such a brutal sport. It’s such a masochistic-type deal. You beat yourself up for two hours and then hit one good shot and that brings you back the next day. My advice would be to take a step back once in a while and swing your swing. A lot of golfers get caught up in trying to copy someone else. Take a step back out of that rabbit hole and swing what feels OK to them. They might have a little bit more fun playing that way.