Stephan Jaeger talks history, being on brink for three-win promotion
June 07, 2021
By Nick Parker, PGATOUR.COM
- June 07, 2021
- Stephan Jaeger has come so close to earning a three-victory promotion in recent weeks. (Tracy Wilcox/Getty Images)
Stephan Jaeger, a six-time Korn Ferry Tour winner, is one of, if not the greatest, Korn Ferry Tour players in history. Throughout this season, Jaeger’s been chasing the Three-Victory Promotion, and albeit unintentionally Jason Gore’s record of seven career wins and potentially putting his name in the record books. He was just a shot away from his seventh win at both the Visit Knoxville Open in May and again Sunday at the Rex Hospital Open, falling in a playoff at each. But is this piece of history one Jaeger wants or covets?
“No, no, no,” Jaeger says before capitulating. “Well…yes because I want the third win this year to be on the horizon, but have I thought about that record? No! Because obviously my goals are way higher than that.”
Jaeger knows how hard it is to win on the Korn Ferry Tour and is proud and appreciative of his victories, but he knows it’s a dubious record. It’s a record that can be taken either glass half full or half empty.
“I actually thought about this lately, oh, you know, you’re one of the better Korn Ferry Tour players in the history and you can take that two ways: You can be like well, he just hasn’t felt comfortable on the TOUR and hasn’t played that well, which is probably not a lie,” Jaeger said. “Or you could take it like this guy is talented, and he does fantastic on this Tour, let’s go see what he can do on the next level.”
At 32, he thinks his story is far from written as he heads back to the TOUR for the third time. In his two prior seasons after getting his card, he felt like it was easy to fall into the trap of looking around and comparisons. Why does so and so putt so well and what’s he doing? Why are certain players winning and he’s not? It was easy to want to compare yourself to “a Justin [Thomas] or a Jordan [Spieth]” when he needed to be just focused on being the best version of himself.
If this season’s any indication, he’s finding that version. In prior stints on the Korn Ferry Tour, although he’d get hot with the putter on occasion and win, he struggled to consistently give himself more than one or two chances a year. Not this season. In 29 starts, he’s got 10 top-10s including two wins. In 83 prior starts, he’d only had nine top-10s albeit four of them were victories.
“Obviously, for me, it was more long game. I’ve always succeeded in the short game, so I’ve got the long game more under control now to the point where I can compete more often,” Jaeger said. “I don’t have to black out on the short game to compete. I can hit it good enough now.”
To find the results he’s found, it was largely simple changes that came not at the behest of a swing coach but rather a caddie. His longtime friend Brett Waldman, who caddies for K.H. Lee now but has caddied for Charley Hoffman, David Toms, Ben Crane, and Camilo Villegas over a 20-year career, was between jobs last August and went to work for Jaeger for a couple months. After missing the cut in their first start together, Jaeger had a two-way miss going in the practice round and asked Waldman, a former Korn Ferry Tour player in his own right, for his help and thoughts on where he needed to tighten up.
“I said, ‘Well, I don’t particularly like the golf ball you’re playing and don’t necessarily think it fits you. You’re a high spin player and you’re playing a ball that spins and I think you need to play a lower spin ball.’” Waldman recalled.
Jaeger changed which Titleist ball he was playing. Waldman also offered an additional couple things he’d noticed in his swing and set-up from the prior week that were easy fixes. That was at the Albertsons Boise Open, which Jaeger went on to win that week.
“We changed a few things in his set up and in his swing to develop a little more consistency as far as a shot pattern goes, and obviously that was very helpful,” Waldman said. “Moved his ball position back a little bit with his putter and the rest is kind of history. He did all the work, played great that week and won.”
Added Jaeger: “We worked on a lot of stuff that I can’t see when I play. I learned a lot about why I personally hit some shots, and so you can self-diagnose pretty quickly. I think that helped a lot and then consistency with what I’ve been doing in the set-up. Just getting in the right spot every week. There’s a couple things that I look at every week to make sure the posture, setup, ball position, and aim are right, so all these super simple things that make a big difference on consistency.”
Armed with a newfound ability to self-diagnose and quickly fix his misses on the course, Jaeger’s confidence and consistency has skyrocketed as he’s posted eight top-5s, including two wins, in his last 16 starts and has vaulted up to No. 1 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points Standings.
For a guy who has always had the ability to go low, including a record 58 in 2016, Jaeger’s been going low a lot recently with four rounds of 65 or better in his last 12.
“One of the great assets that Jaeger has is he’s not scared,” Waldman said. “He’s not scared to shoot 58. Guys get scared when they get to 3, 4, or 5 under par, but he just wants to get 9, 10, 11-under-par. That’s not normal. That’s one of the great assets that he has is he’s just not scared to go low.”
Whether Jaeger returns to the TOUR in the coming weeks or in the fall, Waldman says he certainly has the game for the jump and thinks the golf world will see a different Jaeger on TOUR this next go around than his two prior seasons when he didn’t record a top-10 in 55 starts.
“I think it’s more just getting comfortable in his own skin out there and saying I belong out there,” Waldman said. “This is me. This is where I should be. Not on the Korn Ferry Tour. I’m a PGA TOUR player and now I’m going to stay out here for the next 15 years.”
For Jaeger, that’s all he wanted was another opportunity at the highest level. After losing his TOUR card at the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Finals in what he called “one of the lowest moments” of his career, he’s just happy to have another upcoming shot at the next level. It’s to be determined whether that shot will turn into massive success on TOUR or just simply an all-time Korn Ferry Tour great, but either way he’s not trying to make any comparisons this time.
“I just want to be the best I can be,” Jaeger said. “If it’s 10 wins on TOUR, fantastic. If it’s one win on TOUR, great. We’ve done the best job we can. But I’m 32, I’m still young, and we’ve got a lot of golf to play.”