Xander Schauffele hasn’t won a major championship in his career. He’s come close, finishing second in both a Masters and a British Open.
But as he competes in the Hero World Challenge this weekend, Schauffele has a trophy the biggest names in the sport can’t match, including Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, etc. He has Olympic gold.
And while it’s not one of the four majors, the victory he achieved at the Tokyo Olympics in August still ranks high.
“I just think the feedback is sort of what's made it special for me,” Schauffele said. “Random people I've talked to or people that I've met, it's sort of the first thing they mention and that's what they attach to my name, which I'm totally fine with.
“I think the more people talk about it in that sort of light makes it seem more special to me.”
Schauffele shot a final-round 67 at 7,447-yard Kasumigaseki Country Club, finishing the tournament at 18-under par, one shot clear of Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini. Only three other players in history have won a men’s gold medal in Olympic play — American Charlie Sands (1900), Canada’s George Lyon (1904) and Great Britain’s Justin Rose (2016).
The 28-year old Schauffele has acknowledged a bit of irony in his accomplishment. With the pandemic complicating matters, the California native seriously considered not competing in the Olympics. He’s glad he changed his mind.
“I was pretty transparent saying I almost didn't go for certain reasons and me ending up going and winning is one thing,” he explained. “But the fact that I almost thought about not going, looking back on it now is a little bit foolish.
“But it all ... not that everything happens for a reason ... but that happened.”
Bro On Bag
Brooks Koepka has his younger brother Chase carrying the clubs in the Bahamas. Koepka’s regular caddie, Ricky Elliott, was vacationing and is back in Northern Ireland.
Chase Koepka, 27, has bounced around the alternative tours the past few years, but has yet to find regular work on the PGA Tour. Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, he missed the cut in the Houston Open last month.
Brooks Koepka, 31, is enjoying having his brother on the bag. “He's good, he's good,” Brooks Koepka said. “I mean, he knows what he's doing, so it will be alright.”
That said, Koepka acknowledged there is an adjustment. “Yeah, obviously Rick kind of knows what I'm doing before I even do it,” he added. “But Chase is a hell of a player anyway. He knows pretty much what the wind's playing. It would be like if he was playing, just probably a little different clubs.”
Sight For Sore Eyes
Justin Thomas acknowledged he had Lasik surgery on his peepers recently. Historically, he has worn contacts.
“Yeah, I've been wanting to do it for a while and it finally just worked out with the schedule to get it done,” Thomas said. “That’s why I keep walking around with the sunglasses. I don't wear those too often, just trying to protect the eyes.
“It was nice to get that done a week and a half ago and try to put it to the test here this week.”
After an opening round 67, so far, so good. “They look terrible” Thomas added, “but they feel fine. They're just a little dry.”
Just Getting Started
Rory McIlroy was tied for the Hero lead after his opening-round 66. He played the back nine in 5-under on Thursday, and his game suggested there was more to come. After all, in the opening round he played the five par-5s on the course at even.
McIlroy is heading home after the championship to spend Christmas with his wife and 1-year old daughter, Poppy. But a piece of him wishes it was January instead of December.
“I wish it was a different time of the year the way I'm playing, but there's no reason why I can't pick up again in January and keep playing the way I'm playing,” McIlroy said. “I'm still going to keep myself ticking over these next few weeks, I'm not going to completely shut the clubs away for a few weeks.
“Maybe two or three times a week I'll get out there and play and practice, just maybe not take a complete break like I've done before because my game's in good shape and I want to keep it there.”
Time off seems to agree with Daniel Berger. After contributing to the U.S. victory in the Ryder Cup in late September, beating Matt Fitzpatrick in singles, Berger put away the utensils. His first competitive round since came Thursday at Albany Golf Club, where a 6-under 66 had him tied for the lead.
“It's probably the longest break I've had in my professional career,” Berger said. “It was a little scary taking over a month off because I haven't done that in a while, wondering if you're going to come back and still have it.
“But mentally and physically I needed the break. I just wasn't ready to play.”
Seems like he’s ready now.