Xander Schauffele's tough-minded approach helps him prevail at HSBC Champions
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Written by Sean Martin @twitter.com/pgatoursmartin
Xander Schauffele's Round 4 highlights from HSBC Champions
Even the most advanced analytics can’t measure this intangible talent.
It’s the ability to summon one’s best on the biggest stages. Only a select few have it.
Xander Schauffele confirmed he’s one of them with his win at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. He closed with three consecutive birdies – the last in a one-hole playoff with Tony Finau – to win at Shanghai’s Sheshan International Golf Club.
Schauffele, 25, now has three PGA TOUR titles. He may have been overshadowed by classmates Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in his amateur days, but Schauffele has proven in his brief pro career that he performs best when the stakes are highest.
It started in 2017, when, as an anonymous rookie, he finished fifth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. That began a run that resulted in the best FedExCup finish for a rookie. He closed the season with a one-shot win over Thomas at the TOUR Championship.
Schauffele didn’t win in his second season, but his best finishes came in two of the game’s biggest events. He was runner-up at both THE PLAYERS Championship and The Open Championship. He finished four behind runaway winner Webb Simpson at TPC Sawgrass, then performed admirably at Carnoustie while playing in the final group of a major for the first time.
Then, needing a high finish to earn a return to East Lake, Schauffele finished third in the BMW Championship. He’s finished in the top 15 of the FedExCup in each of his first two seasons and seems headed for another high finish in the season-long race. He is atop the standings after his win.
“We all want that as much as a major,” Schauffele said about the FedExCup. “I guess this is a good start.”
A good start, indeed, after a remarkable finish.
He started the final round three shots behind Finau. Schauffele was tied for second with Justin Rose, the reigning FedExCup champion, and Masters champion Patrick Reed. Rose won last year's HSBC Champions, as well. Schauffele’s 68 was Sunday's low score. Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari, who combined to win three of this year’s majors, were the only other players to break 70 on Sunday. Schauffele was the only player to shoot in the 60s in both the third and fourth rounds. “I was definitely in sort of an attack mode, and I was hitting good shots all day, making good putts. I was doing everything that I needed to do,” he said. His ball-striking was superb in windy conditions. He missed just three fairways and three greens. He’s come from behind in all three of his wins. He was five shots back at the 2017 Greenbrier Classic and two behind entering the final round of the TOUR Championship. “It was a finish we needed, and it feels good to clutch up when necessary,” he said. On Thursday, Schauffele celebrated his 25th birthday with his parents. They got to see him win Sunday. His mother, Ping Yi, was born in Taiwan and raised in Japan. Xander’s father, Stefan, was a competitive athlete whose career was derailed by a car accident. He turned to golf after the accident and has been his son’s only swing coach. His advice helped Xander keep calm during Sunday’s final holes. “A lot of breathing and things he taught me when I was younger were put in play,” Xander said. “I was pretty nervous after I birdied 17 on the walk over to 18.” Stefan’s straightforward assessments gave his son the toughness required to thrive in tough conditions. “(Xander) is pretty thick-skinned. His dad was pretty blunt about things. He would tell him if it was good or bad,” said his college coach, Ryan Donovan of San Diego State. “Xander just rolled up his sleeves and did what he had to do. He never made excuses.” Schauffele’s caddie, Austin Kaiser, concurred.
Schauffele showed that again Sunday.
Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.