Xander Schauffele packs gold medal, good vibes for return to Japan for Zozo Championship
Xander Schauffele packed a little something extra for his trip back to Japan.
Xander Schauffele packed a little something extra for his trip to Japan.
A Gold Medal.
Schauffele is playing in the Zozo Championship north of Tokyo this week with the memory of winning the gold at the Tokyo Summer Games fresh on his mind. Schauffele held on at the end of the final round, making birdie on the 17th and getting up and down from 98 yards for par on the 18th to win by one shot.
Schauffele didn’t have much time to celebrate, however, as the world No. 5 finished third in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and then helped Team USA crush Europe in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
“I feel like I’ve been representing my country pretty well, so a lot of red, white and blue that I’ve been wearing the last couple months and I’ve been trying to wear to the best of my ability,” Schauffele said. “I still get announced on the first tee as the Olympic gold medalist, so that’s always really cool and that will be like that for quite some time which is just nice, and I’ll take full advantage of that. But I don’t really put much thought into it anymore. I’m sure (this) week I’ll be thinking a little bit more about it just because I’ll be there. And my grandparents will be there, and my mom will be there, and my dad will be there.”
As will 5,000 fans per day. In addition to Schauffele, the field includes Japan’s favorite son, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, and British Open champion Collin Morikawa, Tommy Fleetwood, Sungjae Im, Will Zalatoris, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Na and Paul Casey.
“I remember the first time we played the Zozo in 2019; I was paired with (Justin Thomas) and Rory (McIlroy) and it was like five to eight deep on the first hole and people are going nuts,” said Schauffele, who tied for 18th in his season debut in last week’s CJ Cup in Las Vegas. “So people in Japan love golf and it’s always nice to play in front of them.
“So I think if there are enough fans, it’ll feel really special again.”
Possession of the gold medal will always produce good vibes for Schauffele. But it was the way he won – starting the final round with a one-shot lead and never relinquishing it – that could prove most beneficial going forward.
“Whether it was a par‑3 contest out here on Tour, me winning with a lead, I just had to get over that hump and I was able to do it,” Schauffele said. “And the magnitude of the event in Tokyo, obviously with my family and my dad and everyone there and me wanting it more and more and more as I would fail in final groups, there was a lot of pressure sitting up there.
“So for me to be able to pull it off, especially in that fashion, something I wouldn’t really think of how I would win, was a good feeling.”
Schauffele, 27, is looking to win his fifth PGA Tour. His most recent victory came in the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions. Since then, he has 11 top-3s, including a tie for second in the 2019 Masters, a tie for second in the 2019 U.S. Open, a tie for third in the 2021 Masters and five other runner-up finishes.
“I think Phil (Mickelson) said it, that (Schauffele) might be one of the most underrated players on the PGA Tour even though he’s obviously had great success, and I would have to very much agree with that,” Jordan Spieth said. “He’s a top‑10 putter, he strikes the ball beautifully, drives it really well, has speed.
“Kind of has all the shots.”
Which Schauffele is confident will lead to more trophies. He’s certainly at the beginning of the conversation of who the best player is without a major championship victory. And being so close so many times drives him.
“I have the highest expectations of myself versus anyone else,” he said. “I feel not that I failed on the PGA Tour last season, but I didn’t really accomplish what I wanted to. And I did get worse in certain categories throughout the year, but I was able to step up to the plate in sort of, I guess, tournaments that don’t count for the PGA Tour. It’s an interesting feeling. I feel like I’ve had success, but then again I missed out on a lot of things that I wanted to accomplish on the PGA Tour.
“So a weird space that I’m in mentally, but overall I think celebrating the Ryder Cup win with my teammates sort of got me over the edge of feeling like I failed this season.”