As a college golfer, Xander Schauffele dreamed the dream of hundreds just like him: Play in the U.S. Open. He was born in LaJolla, Calif., about 8 miles from Torrey Pines Golf Course, where he played dozens of rounds during his career at San Diego State, where he was an All-American in 2014-15.
But here’s where Schauffele’s story moves in a steeper trajectory. After an unspectacular year on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2016, he was PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2016-17, winning twice, including the Tour Championship. And he finished T5 in his first crack at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
Since then, Schauffele has won two more Tour events but the record for which he is best known is his performance in major championships. In 16 major appearances, he has finished in the top 10 eight times. In fact, take away the T10 at last year’s PGA Championship, he has seven major finishes inside the top 6, including all four of his U.S. Open appearances.
Now, the circle starts to close for Schauffele as he starts the U.S. Open Thursday as one of the favorites.
“I was walking down the first fairway (Tuesday) with my dad (Stefan) and we were joking about how six or seven years ago, when they announced this site TV, we were sitting on the couch, and we were like, ‘We need to do whatever we can to get into this tournament,’” Schauffele said. “Here we are trying to win the thing.”
Statistically, Schauffele is one of the best players on the PGA Tour. He’s eighth in strokes gained putting, 10th in total putting, 18th in strokes gained tee to green and third in total strokes gained.
Yet, inexplicably, in the run-up to the U.S. Open, he changed his putting method. Schauffele is now using an armlock putter, even though he’s one of the best putters on Tour. Everyone is looking for an edge.
“It's still fresh in my bag,” said the 27-year-old. “I just felt like it's such a big advantage that I could utilize, especially on poa annua. They're tricky greens to putt on. The longer the day goes on, the bumpier they get with people walking on them. Launch conditions are very important out here, and I feel like my launch is even more consistent with this armlock style putter.”
He began this dalliance about three weeks ago and put it in play at the Memorial Tournament, where he finished T11.
“I'd be lying if I said I'm 100 percent super comfortable with it, but I think each and every day I use it, I get more and more comfortable,” he said.
Now that the U.S. Open is about to begin, the learning curve just became steeper.