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Xander Schauffele Emerges as America's Best Olympic Hope After 63 Vaults Him Into Lead

The 27-year-old has not won since the start of 2019, but he has positioned himself to be a weekend contender in Tokyo.
Xander Schauffele, ranked No. 5 in the world, holds his first 36-hole lead since February. 

Xander Schauffele, ranked No. 5 in the world, holds his first 36-hole lead since February. 

TOKYO — Uncle Sam is glad Xander Schauffele is on his team.

Entering the men's Olympic golf competition this week, Team USA had four of the world's top 12 golfers competing. Yet, after one round at Kasumigaseki Country Club, the leaderboard was lacking an American presence. 

Through most of the second round, that situation didn’t look like it was going to improve much, but it all began to change when Schauffele emerged from a 2-hour and 20-minute weather delay to jump from outside the top 10 into the lead at 11 under, one shot ahead of Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz at the tournament's halfway point.

“When it rains it pours,” said Schauffele of his 8-under 63 and meteoric run up the leaderboard. “When you're playing really, really well it kind of comes in bunches and you can kind of hinder that if you start to lean a little bit too much. So, I've been trying to just sort of stay very shot-to-shot with my caddie and I think that's when I play my best.”

The 27-year-old got rolling after hitting his second shot, a 3-wood, onto the front portion of the green at the par-5, 14th hole. The ball landed about 43 feet from the hole, scooted up a ridge and then came back down to drop in for an eagle. 

Schauffele then birdied the 16th, 17th and 18th holes, which put him in a position that he has not been in since the Waste Management Phoenix Open -- leader of a tournament after 36 holes. 

“I don't have the exact stats on all tournaments golf-wise, but it does seem that you need to be in touch through the halfway point with the leaders to have any sort of shot at winning,” Schauffele said. “There's a very small group of people that have won coming from too far behind. So, if you're trying to win golf tournaments, you need to be in the hunt kind of in the midway and even coming into Sunday.”

Schauffele's last win was at the Tournament of Champions in January 2019. Since then, he's been trying to figure out why he is in a drought. He believes it comes from pressing to gain a result and impatience.

“It's really easy to sort of criticize yourself and self-deprecate and you've really got to figure out what makes you, as an individual, play your best,” said Schauffele in discussing why he has resorted to self-help books to aid in his quest. “Been a lot of reflecting, talking with my team.”

Unfortunately, as Schauffele goes, the U.S. Team has not followed. Collin Morikawa and Patrick Reed are both at 3 under, while Justin Thomas sits at 1 under through 17 holes. Thomas will finish his round on Saturday morning due to second-round play being suspended because of weather.

It may be expected that Morikawa, who just won his second major at the Britishh Open less than two weeks ago, may not be all here mentally. In today's modern game, playing well in consecutive tournaments is almost unheard of.

Patrick Reed showed up on Wednesday night after getting the late call due to Bryson DeChambeau’s positive COVID test and only got to see the course in a cart. The last three holes he viewed in the dark. 

So, for once I must give Reed a pass. He is doing his best.

Which leaves Thomas, the world's No. 4 player. 

Thomas’ last win was the Players Championship, but since then, at least on the PGA Tour, it’s been a grind with no top-10 finishes. He did finish T-8 at the Scottish Open a week prior to the British Open, but the finish looks more like an aberration than a trend.

So, American hopes rest on world No. 5 Schauffele.

What would winning an Olympic medal of any metallurgical type mean? It’s been asked all week, and responses have differed for each player.

For Schauffele, the answer is simple.

“I would love to tell you on Sunday, but I, in all honesty ... money, medals to me it's just a result.,” Schauffele said. “I'm really trying to be the best I can be and attack a golf course the way I can in the best of my ability. So, I really don't ... I think the problem is thinking too far in advance.”


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