4,400 miles away, Xander Schauffele’s dad celebrated from a shipping container

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After his putt fell and his arms raised, after he hugged his wife and signed his scorecard and took the first of ten thousand photos, after he struck the final blow that slayed the dragon, Xander Schauffele had a moment of stillness to do something important.

He called his dad.

Stefan Schauffele has been a fixture on Tour Xander’s entire career, known as much for his iconic look — he strolls the fairways wearing a linen shirt, straw hat and mischievous grin — as for his role as his son’s lifelong swing coach. He’s always been there. But in recent months he’s been there slightly less. And he wasn’t here. Xander shouted out both his parents, Stefan as well as his mother, Ping Yi, in his winner’s interview. When Xander reached him by phone, Stefan was bawling. And then Xander, among golf’s famous flatliners, started to cry, too.

“I told him I had to hang up,” he said later. The newly minted PGA Champion was about to do another interview, after all. More photos would follow. “I couldn’t show up looking like the way I was.”

His father understood.

THERE WAS A MOMENT where Schauffele’s major hopes stood on the edge of a knife.

He’d begun Sunday’s final round tied for the lead and then played clutch, inspired golf on his opening nine, holing a series of clutch putts en route to a four-under 31. Suddenly he was ahead by two. But when he made a bogey at the gettable par-5 10th while the chase pack made birdies up ahead, that lead vanished. His chance at his first major swung from feeling likely to decidedly precarious.

Some 4,400 miles away from Valhalla Golf Club, the man who has helped architect every step of Xander’s golfing life wasn’t watching. But he was on his way. The back nine meant it was time to head down the hill to find a TV.

“I left my little container to go,” he said via phone call later Sunday evening.

Stefan was in Hawaii. On Kauai, to be specific. He’s there often these days, living in a tiny shipping container on a rural hillside. He’s always made grand plans but this is perhaps his most ambitious; he’s overseeing construction of what is essentially a family compound where he can spend time and his family can visit and find rejuvenation. Ping Yi was in San Diego this week so Stefan is there solo. There’s plenty of work to do.

“It’s my sanatorium,” he said. “Where I can heal and lose weight and get better. It’s been a lot on my body, getting to this point in life.”

He enjoys being outside and being by the ocean. Tractoring. Chopping stuff. In Kauai he’s serving as builder-owner, essentially playing the role of general contractor. He needs the 22-acre farm to be perfect. A self-designed steel-and-concrete house that can exist completely off the grid, self-sustaining on water, electricity and even trash. A place to heal, to recharge, to grow. And to grow taro, too. This will be a working farm.

But for now, it’s a shipping container without a television.

Stefan didn’t watch much of the PGA early in the week. He didn’t see his son’s opening-round 9-under 62 nor how he got to the 36-hole lead. But by Saturday afternoon he descended to a local sports bar for the back nine. And on Sunday he joined some friends from California who happened to be vacationing in the area; he watched the finale from their rental.

When Xander won Olympic gold in Tokyo, Stefan was there to greet him behind the 18th green; Xander said afterwards he’d relished their bear hug because he knew how much the win meant to his dad. But on this Sunday Stefan brushed aside the idea that he’d missed out.

“I’m not really a big fan of Kentucky,” he said with a laugh. “No, I get my moment with Xander later. When we hug, whenever that is, that’s going to be just fine. That suffices.”

There’s a part of Stefan that’s inclined to shrug at the whole thing. “Major champion” was just the logical next step in the plan he’d formulated with his son, something they both knew was bound to happen. Xander had been playing such good golf in the game’s biggest tournaments for so long that it was only a matter of time before he broke through.

“We knew it was going to come,” Stefan said matter-of-factly. “In our minds — I think I can speak for him there — there was never a moment of doubt in that respect. I mean, look how consistent he is. It just happened.”

But how did he feel when that final putt dropped? When that six-footer for absolutely everything caught the left edge and fell in?

“I just started crying. Finally it happened. Finally, that happened,” he said, inevitability replaced by wonder. “I was just observing until he won — and then I let the emotions go. At that moment I was helpless. Give me the Kleenex box.”

THERE WAS SOMETHING FITTING, if melancholy, about Stefan’s physical distance. The culmination of this journey has included an element of the bird leaving the nest. In recent months Xander has spent more time working with swing coach Chris Como; Stefan hasn’t been replaced but he’s been supplemented. In golf, little changes are big changes, and Stefan said that’s what this has been.

“Chris changed a teeny thing and he found answers that Xander and I together couldn’t come up with,” he said. “We went trial and error, we went empirical, I couldn’t answer it. What is the point here? I didn’t know. But Chris had the answer right away.”

“Now that I’m working with Chris, [my dad] feels like he can kind of take his hands off the wheel,” Xander said. “He trusts him a lot, I trust him a lot.”

The fix involved a minute change at the top of Schauffele’s swing. It had to do with his hyperflexibility and his unique release pattern. “It was something that I had absolutely no clue about,” Stefan said. “But he was familiar with it and it worked right away. This was not some momentous swing change. But it meant clarity and control.”

After his round Xander admitted he’d used one title — the best player without a major — as fuel. Stefan is eager to put that narrative to rest. He hopes other narratives fall, too, and that this will help the world see another side to his son.

“One thing that has bothered me is the idea that Xander is this flaccid, boring guy,” he said. “But Jordan [Spieth] said it in an interview; ‘shockingly the funniest guy in the locker room is Xander.’”

Spieth’s account checks out; Xander is funny and he’s well-liked by his peers. He’s notably forthright, too. He and his father share that quality.

“Xander doesn’t fake it,” Stefan said. “He’s not himself and he’s not putting on some persona. From a young age he just has never lied because then you don’t get tangled. You don’t have to remember what s–t you told that person the last time you met them; you don’t have to hide anything. You just talk.”

The win, he said, elevates everything. He’s right. This victory makes previous close calls look like feathers in his cap. You can’t call him a loser, now he’s a frequent major contender with a long list of top fives and 10s and 20s to prove it. To quote Xander as he sat beside the Wanamaker Sunday night:

“You guys are asking the questions and I have to sit here and answer ’em. It’s a lot easier to answer it with this thing sitting next to me now, obviously.”

As for his on-course persona? That, too, depends on your perspective.

“Look at Tiger,” Stefan said. “When Tiger was on the golf course he was this stoic guy. He wouldn’t talk to guys in his group. There was no smile ever. But because he was so prolific people would look beyond that.

“If Xander wins more frequently maybe that idea that he’s too stoic will go away. And when he jokes around with the press maybe that comes more to the foreground and people actually see him for who he is. I’d like the world to know him as he truly is.

“He’s a good guy, my boy.”

Source: GolfNews

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