The unorthodox upbringing that led Xander Schauffele to PGA Tour success
By Tod Leonard
As Stefan Schauffele recalls it, his son, Xander, could not have been more than about 12 years old when he offered him a first puff off a cigar.
"He went green as leaves on a tree," the father said with a laugh.
It was not some cheap stogie, Stefan noted, but a $20 Cuban. Along with it, the dad offered a slow sip of fine cognac.
In a Scripps Ranch household run strictly but whimsically -- if that's possible -- by a German-French father and a Chinese-Japanese mother, Xander Schauffle and his older brother, Nico, got an early taste of the pleasures and responsibility of adult life.
By the age of 16, they were considered by their parents to be men in control of their own destinies. Before that, their father sometimes delivered orders, in his thick accent, as if they were privates in the German air force for which he'd served.
Hands on the table! No elbows! Sit up straight!
Any lie was considered a capital offense. "Game over," Xander said.
Friends who ventured to the household "got a little bit of the ogre's medicine," Nico recalled of his dad's playfulness.
Added Xander, "I pretty much figured out in grade school that we weren't the stereotypical American family."
Parents with prospective geniuses in sports or elsewhere, don't try this at home. It's a road map drawn in pencil, eraser dust blown everywhere.
But it would be silly to argue with the results.
Nico Schauffele, 28, earned a master's degree in Europe in ecosystem science and policy and recently returned to San Diego from Japan after interning with a global research think tank. He's considering environmental law.
His younger brother by three years, Xander, has experienced nothing short of a meteoric rise in golf. Heading into the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines that begins on Thursday, Schauffele has climbed to No. 6 in the world rankings in two-plus years on the PGA Tour.
Schauffele, 25, already has captured two significant tournaments this season in only two starts -- the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October, and the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui two weeks ago.
With four tour wins, the 2017 Rookie of the Year already has lifted as many trophies as successful fellow San Diegans Charley Hoffman (three) and Pat Perez (four), who have toiled on the PGA Tour for a combined 35 years.
Born in San Diego and an alum of Scripps Ranch High and San Diego State, Schauffele has walked through the fire of his early career with a sheepish smile and a hardened resolve. Signs, no doubt, of his rather unorthodox upbringing.
"I always felt like I was mentally tougher than the other kids," Schauffele said while taking a break from a rainy putting practice session this week at The Grand Golf Club in Carmel Valley. "I always wanted it more. I was sort of this grinder who would never quit. If I ever felt sorry for myself, my dad and I would have this two-hour talk.
"He bred an underdog mentality into me from a younger age. 'You need to go get it, because nothing is going to be handed to you.' "
DESTINY BORN FROM TRAUMA
Stefan Schauffele and Ping-Yi Chen literally crossed each other's paths one spring day at San Diego's United States International University (now Alliant) in 1988. She was 20 and didn't speak English; he was 23 and couldn't fathom Japanese. They somehow found an instant chemistry.
"Through touch," Stefan said with a grin.
"It was feelings and instincts," Ping-Yi added.
Three months later, they were married on Cinco de Mayo.
They'd both come from difficult situations in their own countries. Ping-Yi was born in China, but raised from an early age in Japan. She'd always faced discrimination for her heritage, and she got the chance to escape that by coming to America for college.
Stefan had suffered his own serious trauma. At 20 in his hometown of Stuttgart, he was in a horrendous car accident, caused by a drunken driver. His windshield shattered and glass pierced his left eye.
He spent nearly two years in and out of hospitals, though the eye couldn't be saved. All he'd known through sports -- as a soccer and squash player, ski instructor, and promising track and field athlete -- was gone to him.
"It was a rough time," Stefan said. "There was some depression and alcoholism. That's what led me to moving to America. I didn't want to get suckered into negativity by driving by the burned-out spot on the freeway every day on the way to school."
"As with most things in life, it turned out for the best."
After marrying, Stefan and Ping-Yi returned to Germany for a time, came back to San Diego, then Hawaii, where Stefan was an assistant golf pro in Kauai, and finally back to San Diego for good.
Stefan had a vision for his boys as athletes. He tested them at an early age to see what their skills were. Each of his grandfathers played professional soccer in their home countries of Austria and Germany, so that game was his first love.
Stefan's German grandfather, Richard "Molly" Schauffele, a mountain of a man at 6-feet-8, would later become one of the country's most accomplished discus and javelin throwers, winning more than 40 titles.
At 6 years old, Xander could volley a soccer ball with both feet, and the game became the primary sport for him and Nico. But after playing for years on his club team as a defensive sweeper, Xander yearned for more offensive opportunities. Playing defense just meant that you were giving up goals.
"The takeaway from soccer is that I hated losing," Xander said. "The team aspect was fun, hanging out with other kids, but we'd lose and it would just piss me off more than I thought it would."
He wanted more control over his own destiny.
Promised more offensive playing time as a 12-year-old, practice started and Xander was still on defense. Livid, the boy strode up to the coach and told him he was quitting. He never played organized soccer again.
"I'm not kidding you," Stefan said. "The next day, this is exactly what I said: 'Let's get you on the PGA Tour. Let's go.' "
'MAN WITH A SMALL SHOVEL'
A father-son relationship can be complicated enough. Throw in hours of intense work together in sports, and you get a concoction of testosterone and emotions that Stefan Schauffele described rather cheerfully as "explosive" and "electric."
"There is no great golfer or sportsman who isn't an alpha male," Stefan said. "You have to have this fire and avoid all emotion -- destroy your opponent and later take him in arms.
"Xander is very stubborn and very alpha male, and I'm certainly exactly like that. We are two guys who were absolutely programmed to collide."
From the age of 9, when Stefan introduced Xander to golf and they joined Bernardo Heights Country Club, the father has been his only swing coach, though The Grand's Derek Uyeda would become the putting instructor in college.
Though he hadn't played the game as a young man, Stefan took it up in San Diego, attended a golf academy and learned instruction from well-known local teacher A.J. Bonar.
"The ball couldn't move, so maybe I could hit it," Stefan said.
In Stefan's homeland of southern Germany, the family name goes back hundreds of years to a time when construction was their trade. "Schauffele" literally means "man with a small shovel." Stefan was never afraid of work, and neither was Xander.
Stefan approached golf like he did the rest of Xander's upbringing. The boy would listen and act on what his father said, without question. That worked just fine until the kid reached puberty, and then the sparks -- and household objects -- flew.
"We once destroyed a whole bathroom," Stefan recalled of one particularly heated argument.
"I went through this rebel phase where I would argue with him for no reason," Xander said. "I was aggressively against anything he would say. ... We'd have these huge arguments. We fought all the time.
"Now that I'm older, I realize how patient he was with me. I realized that I was combating him for no reason. He was a lot better to me than I was to him."
Outsiders, of course, might view this with a wary eye. There are plenty of cautionary tales of tyrannical, overinvested sports parents.
"It never went south," Xander said, "because there was a lot of trust there. The cards were always on the table.
Stefan didn't smooth his possible reputation in San Diego junior golf circles when he didn't let Xander pose with trophies or even tee the ball up on par-3 courses. He didn't watch tournaments, dropping the boy off at the first tee.
Unlike his peers of the same time, such as Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, Xander got little national recognition as a junior because he played in only one American Junior Golf Association tournament. The family couldn't afford upwards of $20,000 a year on travel.
"It was a money grab," Stefan said. "And they make these kids feel entitled. They blow smoke up their (behind) -- 'you're so good; you're so great.' "
To this day, Stefan needles Xander with, "You still suck."
"He still needs more short-game shots," Stefan said. "He's getting closer to hitting all nine shots, but maybe at a 5 or 6."
A lover of math, Stefan's planning for Xander has been like a geometric problem to solve. They attack each flaw of mechanics in a methodical way. The idea is for Xander to need only a couple of swings to correct anything.
Uyeda has watched the player's growth in awe and fascination. Few people spend more time with Xander, and of the family dynamic, Uyeda observed, "Father and son have developed the utmost respect for each other.
"With Stefan being an athlete, that was a huge advantage in teaching his son. Xander's biggest asset is his mind. He's going to outwork you, and he's not afraid of you.
"Both parents created a culture where Stefan would kick his (behind) and Ping-Yi was there to calm him and reassure him."
Nico said of their mother, "She was the ringmaster keeping all the boys in check. Similar to my dad, the Japanese side was like the German work ethic. It was a reinforcement. When something went wrong, she had a little more soft side, but she was strict when she wanted to be."
THAT WINNING FEELING
For Xander's two wins this season, all of the family has been together.
In Maui this month, the Schauffeles and Xander's longtime girlfriend, Maya Lowe, couldn't wait for his rounds to be over so they could all snorkel. When he stormed from behind with a course record-tying 62 in the final round to win, it was like adding sweet cream to their shaved ice.
"We're on Cloud 20 at this point," Stefan said.
Said Nico, "They said that he could move into the top 10 in the rankings with a win. Then I checked on it and had to take a second look. No. 6. It's been crazy to watch. It's business on the course, but he'll still my little brother. We still goof around a lot."
To win three starts in a row, Schauffele will have to overcome a shockingly poor record at Torrey Pines, where is he 0-for-3 in making the weekend and has shot 74 or worse in five of his six rounds.
"One of my big goals for 2019 is to make the cut at the Farmers," Schauffele, only half-joking, said after the Maui win.
When Xander is at his most candid, he says he never dreamed of winning on the PGA Tour. He simply hoped to play for a living. Lifting those trophies is getting more comfortable each time, and Stefan isn't going to stop anybody from taking his picture.
Grappling to come up with a thoughtful description of what it's like to win at the highest level, Xander said, "It's very rewarding and ... whole-hearted. You feel very full."
This article is written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.