AUGUSTA, Ga. — They talk about the roars at Augusta National. Also worth calling out are the groans that follow a suspension of play. (Flight delays announced on the tarmac are its closest kin.) When the horns blow at the Masters, disappointment envelops patrons and players alike, not to mention the millions watching from home.
When play was halted Saturday afternoon at the 85th Masters, a disgruntled Hideki Matsuyama moseyed down 11 toward a getaway vehicle, chin tucked to his chest. Xander Schauffele leaned on his bag, forlorn; he looked like a kid being told it was time to leave the theme park. Things were going well for both players, but a thunderstorm was approaching. It was time to seek shelter.
Similarly unmotivated to leave Amen Corner was Stefan Schauffele, Xander’s father and lifelong swing coach.
All the other patrons had packed up their chairs, but Stefan sat contentedly, legs crossed. “Do we have to leave?” he playfully asked a security guard. It wasn’t raining yet, and Amen Corner was just heating up.
Schauffele’s on-course team also was comprised of Xander’s agent, Ross Chouler, and Xander’s putting coach, Derek Uyeda. Joined now by a pair of journalists, the Schauffele posse made up a majority of the dozen or so folks remaining on the most famous part of the property. Everyone was embracing the unusualness of the moment. “Look at that,” one police officer said to another. “Amen Corner all to ourselves.”
“They call me ‘The Ogre,’” Stefan said with a handshake and a smile. As an introduction, it doesn’t get much better. “You don’t get to choose your nicknames.” He’s right about that. He’s a big dude with a bigger personality.
Loitering really isn’t condoned at Augusta National, whether you’re a patron at the Masters or a guest playing the course. TV workers rushed to button down protective tarps. Ryan Palmer’s caddie raced to sneak a peek at the 12th hole. “Let’s go take cover in the trees,” Stefan said with a mischievous glint in his eye. Another siren sounded — everyone must leave the property, and STAT. Begrudgingly, we pointed our compass north.
“We could hang out under a tree or something,” Stefan said. “Make up a game to pass the time.” It became clear this group wasn’t worried so much about the rain, which had begun to fall, as there was 200 feet of slippery elevation between us and the clubhouse. Uyeda has a bad right knee from a career of pickup hoops on blacktop, so we were not going to win any pace-of-play awards.
Stefan, who is German and a former aspiring Olympic decathlete, has grown popular in certain social media circles — seemingly unbeknownst to him — for his colorful vibe on PGA Tour practice ranges. He’s not afraid to puff a cigar on-site or assemble an outfit of capris, short-sleeve button-downs and a straw hat. If he were invited last-minute to a beach wedding, he’d be well prepared, but no, he’s just coaching his son at the Masters.
“Look at those people,” he said, pointing out a group of patrons huddled up for safety in a sprinter van. “They’re not having fun like we are.”
To spend a little time with Stefan is to better understand the laid-back nature of his son, one of the most unassuming players on Tour. Having a father-coach with a quick wit — and a no-nonsense parenting style — has clearly helped Xander develop into an easy-going and humble young man.
En route from Amen Corner, our pace was so slow that we were virtually the last patrons on the course. Oh, darn! Augusta National to ourselves! Some of the security guards who once lagged behind had now passed us. By the time we crested the property, near the 1st green, Stefan’s raincoat was dangling from his head, flapping in the wind like a superhero’s cape. And then, like any great superhero, he vanished (into the clubhouse) without notice.
He’ll be back, though. Thanks to four birdies and an eagle from his son in the third round, Stefan will spend Sunday walking with the final pairing at the Masters.
There is little chance for rain.