Xander Schauffele’s complicated PGA of America relationship adds new chapter

Xander Schauffele of team United States (R) and his father Stefan Schauffele look on prior to the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits

Xander Schauffele and his father Stefan in 2021.

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As Xander Schauffele spoke to Amanda Balionis of CBS during the PGA Championship trophy ceremony on an idyllic Sunday evening at Valhalla Golf Club, just behind them stood the gleaming Wanamaker Trophy and two rows of sun-kissed PGA of America and Valhalla officials. It was a joyous scene: Schauffele, explaining why he was so emotional after his winning putt spun around the edge of the hole and dropped; Seth Waugh, the PGA of America CEO, and John Lindert, the PGA of America president, looking on proudly at the 106th winner of one of the association’s flagship events; thousands of fans still packed in the 18th green grandstands, soaking up the last few moments of what had been a historic 21-under-par week for Schauffele.

Good vibes all around, and also something else: a marked contrast from the last time we saw Schauffele signing off at a high-profile PGA of America event, the Ryder Cup last fall. Things did not go well for Schauffele and his American teammates that week in Rome, with the Europeans prevailing handily at Marco Simone, 16.5-11.5. Schauffele lost all three of his team matches before winning his sole point in a Sunday singles match against Nicolai Højgaard.

It was a challenging week for the U.S. side and not just because they were outplayed. On Saturday, Sky Sports, citing unnamed sources, reported that there was a rift on the U.S. squad caused by Patrick Cantlay’s insistence that the players be paid; the report also alleged that Cantlay and Schauffele, who are close friends and frequent team-play partners, had isolated themselves from the rest of the U.S. team in the locker room. Cantlay and several other U.S. players vehemently denied that there was any semblance of U.S. discord.

But two days later, another report dropped, this time from the Times of London, in which Schauffele’s father and then-swing coach, Stefan, claimed that the PGA of America had threatened to remove Xander from the U.S. team if he refused to sign a player participation and benefits agreement, which the Schauffeles were hopeful to amend; one of those amendments, the AP had previously reported, was limiting how much access Netflix would have to shoot the Ryder Cup team for its “Full Swing” series. “The PGA of America were not willing to even talk to us about [the amendments],” Stefan told the Times. “It was very late in the schedule, right before the team came here [to Rome] to practice because they had moved the deadline and they said, ‘If you don’t sign it by then, you’re off the team’, but they never gave us the contact information of their legal counsel.”

In early September, Stefan said that he did finally connect with the PGA of America’s general counsel. “It took a few hours to hash it out and it was fine,” Stefan told the Times. “Then I received a message that Xander was back on the team. That you can quote. That’s the extent of this, and I think it’s shameful.”

But Stefan had more on his mind, in particular the thorny case for why players should be compensated to play in the Ryder Cup, which is co-owned by the PGA of America and three PGA organizations from Europe. On Sunday of Ryder Cup week, Stefan aired his grievances to a couple of reporters, including my colleague Dylan Dethier.

“It’s a pretty simple kind of argument,” Stefan said of paying players to compete in an event that grosses nine figures for its organizers. “I think it would stand up in anybody’s mind, the court of public opinion and potentially in the courts.” He added: “We need to talk about it without [players] getting shamed into not being patriotic. If there is any portion of this that is unpatriotic, it’s the PGA of America that are unpatriotic.”

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No one is suggesting the Ryder Cup tension between the Schaufelles and PGA of America did anything to tarnish the proceedings at Valhalla Sunday. But it’s also hard not to see the irony in Xander, less than eight months after the Italy awkwardness, celebrating his first major win against a backdrop of PGA of America leadership (not to mention collecting $3.3 million for his efforts). Stefan is at staple at his son’s events — with his German accent, large frame and mop of curls, he’s hard to miss — but was notably absent this week. He was, in fact, more than 4,000 miles away, in Hawaii, Xander said. Stefan would have relished sharing the winning moment with his son. For as long as Xander has shown an interest in the game, Stefan has served as his swing coach, life coach and manager. But in recent years he has begun shedding some of those roles; instructor Chris Como now keeps an eye on Xander’s mechanics.

“He feels like he can kind of take his hands off the wheel,” Xander said of his father Sunday evening. “He trusts [Chris] a lot, I trust him a lot. My dad is at that stage in his life, I really want him to be happy, and I know this is going to bring him a ton of joy where he’s at in Hawaii right now.”

Xander said that he spoke briefly with father by phone before the trophy ceremony. “He was a mess,” Xander said. “He was crying. It made me pretty emotional. I told him I had to hang up because I had to walk down. I couldn’t show up looking like the way I was.”

When Schauffele did arrive on the green, he was poised, smiling and ready to recap his win with Balionis. He spoke of being grateful for having avoided a playoff with Bryson DeChambeau; of the importance of mentally staying “in my lane” for all four rounds; and of the support he felt from his team onsite. As the interview wrapped, Balionis noted that Schauffele is now engrained in PGA of America history.

“One more time, Xander Schauffele, hoist that Wanamaker Trophy,” she said. “You are forever a PGA champion.”

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.

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