I’m sitting on a large, rust-flaked rock next to the VIP parking lot behind the Stonebrae Country Club in Hayward. One rock over is Xander Schauffele, 21, born and raised in San Diego. He starred on the SDSU golf team, which recently won its third Mountain West championship in five years. We are here for the Web.com Tour Stonebrae Classic golf tournament.
I say, “So, you turned pro...”
“Three weeks — a month ago, tops. I graduated in June from San Diego State,” Schauffele says. “I played in Idaho; that was my first Web.com Tour event. I qualified [for this] on Monday.”
“What’s your first impression?”
“You’ve got veterans out here for the most part,” Schauffele says. “The smallest thing puts you at the top of the leaderboard or makes you miss the cut. The hardest part of a rookie season is not being familiar with all the courses. I would love to play this course five more times, get a better feel, know a couple more reads.”
Suddenly I want to know, “How competitive is the Web.com Tour?”
“It’s gotten a lot more difficult in the past three, four years. Everyone is getting better. I know a ton of kids who have gotten starts on the PGA Tour and they’re still in school. Jordan Spieth is three months older than me. I played against him when he was still in school...”
“Did you think, Wow, this guy is somebody, or was he just another player?”
“He seemed a little checked-out at the time. There was talk about him moving on. He already had success playing at the pro level even though he was an amateur. He looked disinterested; anyone would. He was ready to go.”
Aside to non-golfers: the Web.com Tour is owned and operated by PGA Tour; it’s their Triple A feeder league. There is a clear path to the PGA and the jumbo money found therein. Ignoring details, the top 75 players on the Web.com money list are thrown in with players 126 through 200 on the PGA Tour money list. They compete in three Web.com Tour tournaments; the top 50 players out of those tournaments get a PGA Tour card for the following year.
Back to the VIP parking lot. I ask Schauffele, “Do you have to qualify week to week?”
“Yes. I’m new to this. If I come in the top 25 in this tournament I would be exempt next week.”
So, if you don’t make top 25 you...”
“Collect your money and play the Monday qualifier again.”
This tournament, 1 winner, 155 losers. Competition is so intense you can feel the grind of it. I ask, “Do you have time for a social life?”
“I have a girlfriend. I’m ashamed to say she gets the short end of the stick. You see some tour wives out here. They can eat with their husbands in player dining, and then hubby goes to work. This is work: husbands go out on the course, wives hang around and wait for them to be done.
“My social life has been limited growing up, that’s part of the sacrifice. Same for anyone in any sport who wants to play at a high level.”
I ask, “How many practice hours were you putting in at San Diego State.”
“I had a limited class schedule, so I could play a lot of golf. I like to play and practice. An average weekend is probably 16 hours. My shortest day of golf is 4 hours.”
“What’s your daily routine?”
“A minimum of an hour of putting, hour of chipping, and an hour of hitting. So, that’s three hours right there, minimum. And that’s just maintenance. Some days you want to play, that takes five hours. And then there are days when you want to do all of it, which takes eight hours. I’m going to try and play 18 holes every day. I heard Spieth was doing that, so I figure it might work for me.”
Do you have a fallback plan, like, I’ll do this for X number of years and then...”
“You’re not supposed to think that you’re done. As an individual, you’re not supposed to believe that you’re maxed out, that you don’t have a shot anymore. I’m one of the youngest guys out here. I’m 21 years old. I’ve seen guys as old as 35, 40 play. I’m sure they’ve been on the PGA Tour and they played their way off and now they’re trying to get back on. It’s brutal. It’s hard. It’s a tough way to go.”
Schauffele missed the Stonebrae Classic cut line by three strokes. Next up, the California State Open, teeing off on Thursday.