January 08, 2019
By Andrew Tursky, PGATOUR.COM
- Xander Schauffele prepares to hit during the Sentry Tournament of Champions. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Following Xander Schauffele’s incredible win at the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions -- where he shot a Sunday 62 -- I caught up with his Callaway TOUR rep Johnny Thompson to talk about his recent equipment changes.
Schauffele debuted the new Callaway Epic Flash Sub Zero driver in Maui. He’s also been using Callaway prototype irons, which led to Callaway’s Apex Pro 19 iron launch, and a new Chrome Soft X 2019 prototype golf ball. I talked about all of those product changes and more with Thompson.
Enjoy the full Q&A below!
Q: I think for most people, Xander is still a bit of an enigma. In your opinion, what are his strengths and weaknesses, and is he a gearhead? Does he like getting on Trackman and testing equipment, or is he more of a feel player?
Thompson: Yeah, (he’s a gearhead), and some of it’s bred from his upbringing. His dad (Stefan Schauffele) has a very in-depth resume when it comes to golf equipment … and (his father) has a proper understanding of cause and effect when it comes to the physics of golf equipment. That, in turn, Xander has grown up knowing probably a lot more about golf equipment than most. And, refreshingly, he knows a lot of things that are correct. So I’d say, from that side of things, he’s kind of born and raised a gearhead. He’s not overly obsessed about it, but he understands more than most. Which is very refreshing.
Q: Does that make it easier or more difficult to work with him?
Thompson: Easier. By far. Because again what he knows and understands what actually is happening. And there’s a lot of misconceptions out there, and there’s a lot of people that believe things happen a certain way because of something they were told, not because it’s actually like proven science. So he’s actually extremely easy to work with. You know what to do, you do it and deliver, and then he’ll hit it the way that he wants to hit it.
Q: What was his process for switching into the new Epic Flash Sub Zero driver; what does he like and what numbers was he seeing?
Thompson: Last year, obviously he played a majority of the season with two different drivers. A Rogue driver and a TaylorMade. What we learned about the Rogue, and then when he went back to a TaylorMade, it sort of helped us bridge to this design on the Flash. It was one of those things where we valued the relationship that we had with Xander and his father. And we knew that we had a chance to work with a really special player. So we took what we learned from him, and there’s a lot of those things implemented into the Flash design, specifically the Sub Zero that he won with.
So when it came time for testing, he was very excited and very ready for the Flash driver. He knew where we were going and what we were designing, and he wasn’t extremely stoked with the way he was driving the ball so it was good timing for us. But from a performance standpoint, he was like 4 mph faster (ball speed). And when he tries to hit draws – inside-out bomb draws – a lot of times he catches it high on the face towards the toe. In the past, he felt like he was losing so much ball speed when he’d do that, but that’s where Flash Face is so awesome, because he can be away from that CG (center of gravity) center and still maintain really high ball speed. So he wouldn’t get the huge gear effect where it would launch really high, spin really low and then plummet in ball speed. It was maintaining the fast ball speed, it would launch a little bit higher and have a little bit of draw spin to it and he loved it. And vice versa, he hits this shot, he calls it a “peg,” where he tees it really low and hits a little bunt cut. With that one, he needs to maintain some spin because he de-lofts it pretty heavy just based off his attack angle. That one needed to have 25, 26, 27, 2800 (rpm), kind of stay in that area, to be effective because he needed to have some spin to have control and keep it in the air, because he’ll have 5, 6, 7 degrees of launch on some of them. He felt like he gained a lot just on the versatility of the driver, and the ability to maintain ball speed. And when he did use all the different areas of the face to hit shots, that was a big deal.
Q: I know he was playing the (Graphite Design) BB shaft before and I think he stayed in that. Does he do a lot of shaft testing, or once he gets comfortable with a shaft he stays with it?
Thompson: He has a really good relationship with the face when it comes to that shaft. And we have tested many different shafts. When he comes back to it, he consistently delivers center impact and a square face with that BB. Certain heads sometimes don’t always match up with the CG changes, with that shaft, but for whatever reason with that BB 7X, even though he played that in other drivers, it seemed to line up really well in the Flash Sub Zero. So we ended up just keeping it. We tried some different things to see if maybe we could pick up some more ball speed, get a little kick speed out of a shaft, but whatever would happen, the amount of control would go down. And, you know, he hits it pretty dang far, and we didn’t want to increase dispersion on it, we wanted to maintain, and if anything tighten it up. But everytime we came back to the gamer shaft, it was like boom, boom, boom, right down the middle, square face.
Q: Now he had irons in the bag for awhile that I think turned out to be the Apex Pro 19. But I think they were prototypes for a long time. Was that kind of the testing phase for that new iron? Was he basically consulting with the new product?
Thompson: Yeah, exactly. Him and there was other players’ input too. But he did help us with that iron. And he did get the first set of them to test. And we went back twice and made some small adjustments that he and some other players provided feedback. By the time those went into production, the Apex Pro, they had been played by Xander. But then, also tested by other players too. Maverick McNealy had one of the iterations and played. There was a couple other players that aren’t.
So the story with those is he had a fairly big part in helping us get that head going. He did test the very first version. And then from there, we actually made tweaks to, I believe the third set was the time that he kind of gave it the blessing and said ‘Yes, these are great.’ But in between the first and third, he wasn’t the only player to test them. Maverick McNealy actually had a set of one of the iterations and he helped with some really good feedback. And a couple other players played them too. There were multiple people that had some really good feedback from TOUR, but Xander was the one that kind of played them predominantly and helped us to get to where we mass produced them.
Q: What does he like about the irons now?
Thompson: A little bit thinner of a topline. A little less offset. Those were two big things. The blade length too was a big one. Same with Mav, blade length was huge. So it’s a little bit shorter from heel-to-toe. Just a very pure players iron, but with a cavity back.
Q: He’s still playing the prototype version? He’s not playing the one that’s actually on the shelf with the back badging, right?
Thompson: Correct. It is the final spec, but they’re not plated. He’s playing like a raw set. Even to this point, we’re going to have a few of those sets out here for him and others if they want to play them because he really likes the raw. You know, when you’re the sixth ranked player in the world, you get some treatment like that (laughs). But Leishman’s playing the exact same irons, he put them in play last week. Marc had a great week; he had new irons in the bag, the new driver, and a Chrome Soft golf ball and he finished fourth. So it was kind of a good week for all the new product.
Q: I heard Xander say in the post-round interview that he was playing a newer Chrome Soft X golf ball. Is that a 2019 prototype version?
Thompson: It is.
Q: What’s he seeing with that new ball?
Thompson: Like every company, we use these guys for our tour balls for a barometer of where we need to be and where we need to go. Him, as well as some others, are testing the new golf ball. And Xander actually won with the same golf ball in China last year. So he quickly gave us two wins with the new ball, which is really cool because it lets us know that we’re doing the right things.
Q: Being that you work with Xander pretty closely on clubs, and just working with him in general, is it surprising to see him go out on Sunday and shoot 62 and win a tournament in that fashion?
Thompson: Yes and no. I mean it’s surprising when any player can shoot 11-under on a golf course, Sunday final round. Golf is so dang hard, let alone these PGA TOUR courses. It’s surprising when anybody does it. It’s not surprising when he does great things, because getting to know him, I’ve never met someone who has the mental fortitude that he does at that age. It’s actually bizarre how well-minded he is. A lot of that… his mother and father are incredibly smart and they’re great people. And you can tell they just raised a very good, smart kid, with some incredible mental fortitude. He’s well ahead of most people his age.
Q: Yeah, he seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders and obviously can make a bunch of birdies. Are you guys working on making any changes to the bag going forward or are you pretty set?
Thompson: Well (laughs), it’s kind of hard to want to change anything right now. But he is testing the new Flash fairway woods and I do think that those are going to be pretty good for him. But, you see the shots that he hit into 18 over the weekend, and I think he hit it to like 8 feet on Friday with a 3 wood. So yea, it’s hard to push new fairways on him because they are really good and he does like them, but as of right now, that’s the next step is to see where we can go with the Flash fairway woods.
Q: Have you done any testing with the PM grind wedges?
Thompson: I don’t think so. I don’t think he’s a fan of that look. And that’s fair, I mean that wedge isn’t for everybody. For the guys that love it, they love it. For the guys that don’t particularly care how that looks, they’re fine with like an MD4 style wedge.
Q: Fair enough. Is there anything else I’m missing?
Thompson: Not really, I think if you’re going to talk about his game, you have to give a lot of credit to his caddie, too. Austin (Kaiser) and him have an incredible relationship. They’re very close as friends, but the amount of belief and trust that Xander has in Austin is pretty unique. You don’t get that out of a lot of player-caddie relationships out here; you do on the top, you know the ones who’ve been out here forever, those relationships with veterans, but, they work… I remember his rookie season, watching him in the Web playoffs and obviously his game stands out. So when he came out in the Fall, I kind of wanted to see this kid’s game because I saw his swing on camera, the name is something you remember. I remember in Jackson watching him hit balls, and I was like ‘Wow.’ After that, and throughout the rest of the Fall series, he’d come on the Truck every now and then check his putter specs because he’d been using an Odyssey putter for his whole career up to that point. And just watching how disciplined him and Austin were in practice it was very different. A lot of young kids come out here and sit inside the ropes and talk and chat, Tweet and post and whatever, but those guys came to work man. They had their heads down. They were just very disciplined in their work, and I was just super impressed by that. It was funny because I kind of saw that, and I was like ‘this kid’s different.’ And even though he didn’t really have the quite resume coming into it, from college and the Web.com for that matter, him and Austin looked different inside the ropes than most people their age in their situation.
Q: That’s good to know that when he got on TOUR that the relationship stayed the same, because I think a lot of guys end up changing, or feeling like they have to change caddies.
Thompson: Yeah, I mean things happen, nothing’s for sure in this world when it comes to this golf stuff. But the team that he’s surrounded himself with is one of the best that’s out there. He’s gotta great agent, he’s gotta great caddie, a great set of parents and his dad’s also his coach. And I think Callaway, we’re lucky to have him and I hope he feels the same about us. I think it’s been an unbelievable match for us and I think he would agree.
Q: I think that’s also good advice for some of the young guys coming up, to make sure you have a good team around you.
Thompson: Yeah, there’s a lot of sharks out here trying to get a piece of you. It’s good to have that good team around you because it keeps that at bay. And like I said, him and Austin come to work, and they just walk inside the ropes and that’s what they do. Go to work and then they leave. This is his job and he treats it as is. He loves the game. He loves the role that… he’s now a top-10 player in the world, so he’s going to have to get used to that pressure a little bit more often. He likes being the underdog. I loved what he said in the interview, he said ‘until you’re number 1, you’re always the underdog.’ That’s him. He’s super intelligent. He’s really really smart. Pretty good dude, too. Been to a lot of dinners. He’s fun to hang out with. He’s unlike many other guys, like I’ve said probably six times, he’s unlike many other players out here at his age.