By the margin of a single golf shot, San Diegan Xander Schauffele is making his PGA Tour debut this week in La Quinta.
He also is preparing for an even larger personal milestone — competing next week at Torrey Pines, his former home high school course, in the Farmers Insurance Open.
One shot at Qualifying School. That was the difference between the 22-year-old Schauffele earning fulltime status on the Web.com Tour for 2016 — and strengthening his case for PGA Tour sponsor exemptions — and putting him in the also-ran category with far less cachet.
“It’s pretty crazy when I think about it,” Schauffele said with a grin last week after a practice session at his longtime home course, Bernardo Heights Country Club.
In December, Schauffele parred the final hole at Web.com Tour Q School to shoot 1-under-par 70 in a gusting Florida wind, and then had to wait more than an hour to confirm that he was among six players who tied for the 45th – the last group to earn full Web.com privileges.
Then the campaigning began.
Dozens of tour pros request exemptions into every event. Resumes are examined by tournament committees, who consider aspects both political and athletic. Who has been loyal to the event in the past? Among young guys, who can make the biggest splash or carry the biggest long-term upside?
Schauffele, who attended Scripps Ranch High and San Diego State, and his father, Stefan, had lobbied the Century Club for a spot in the Farmers Open since he won a 2011 CIF championship. It didn’t happen that year or even after Schauffle beat Beau Hossler in match play to capture the 2014 California State Amateur Championship.
Securing the Web.com card pushed Schauffele (pronounced shoff-lee) over the top this time, and the committee at the CareerBuilder Challenge (formerly Humana) bought in also.
“It was kind of a relief to get it,” Schauffele said of the Farmers exemption. “Obviously, we planted the seed with the Farmers a long time ago. I got lucky. I earned it, but it’s special. And then to get the phone call for the CareerBuilder, that was the cherry on top.
“I’m trying to keep calm,” he added. “Of course I get excited, and I get anxious as the date nears.”
A chance meeting at The Grand Del Mar Golf Club recently calmed some of those nerves. Schauffele was hitting balls on one end of the range with San Diegan and USC player Danny Ochoa. On the other end was Phil Mickelson. Then another San Diego tour pro, Charley Hoffman, showed up.
Derek Uyeda, Schauffele’s short-game instructor at The Grand, introduced him to Hoffman, who then set up a game with Mickelson. For nine holes, it was Hoffman/Schauffele vs. Mickelson/Ochoa.
“I was really nervous teeing off on that first hole, going head-to-head with Phil Mickelson,” Schauffele said. “As weird as it may sound, that helped me, playing nine holes with those two guys. It helped take the edge off – how casual, how cool they were; how nice they were to me.”
How’d the match go?
“Charley and I won,” he said, “so that was even better.”
Schauffele was not a high-profile youth player because he didn’t play on the national junior tours such as the American Junior Golf Association. He laughed when he recalled his only encounter with Jordan Spieth in a hotel elevator.
He watched the same players dominate the rankings through the years.
“I always felt there was a chip on my shoulder at the junior stage, the amateur stage,” Schauffele said. “Now it’s all me on the pro stage, and that’s the cool thing about it.”
Schauffele commanded his first headline here at home in 2010 when, while playing Barona Creek as a 16-year-old, he scored a double eagle, birdie and eagle on consecutive holes to shoot 6 under for three holes – an almost unheard of feat.
He chose Long Beach State for college, but transferred in his sophomore year to SDSU, where he won twice in his career. Easily Schauffele’s biggest victory was prevailing over Hossler in the State Am at La Costa.
For most of Schauffele’s golfing life, he and his dad have been an inseparable team.
Stefan Schauffele was a German Olympic hopeful in the decathlon until a head-on car accident with a drunk driver changed his priorities. He moved to San Diego to attend U.S. International University, where he met his Taiwanese wife, Ping Yi.
Stefan eventually attended the San Diego Golf Academy, spent time in Hawaii as an assistant club pro and landed back in San Diego when Xander was a toddler. Stefan steered his son toward golf and has been his only swing instructor. At times, he also was his caddie.
“It’s been hard,” Stefan said. “From the ages 13 to 16 it was pretty brutal, right when kids realize they’re men. That wasn’t easy, but we have a pretty good deal now. On the range, he’s the boss. Outside, we’re equal.”
Said Xander of the relationship, “As much as I hated confronting him all the time and us butting heads in the middle of tournaments, which was bad, there was a feeling of comfort when he was with me.
“I grew out of that. He’s taught me everything he knows about golf. I feel like I know my own swing now and I tinker less. And I can always call him if I need some help. I think we get along better now that he’s not on the bag.”
Stefan smirked when he said he was “fired” as caddie at last year’s Web.com Tour event in Hayward, where Xander Monday qualified but missed the cut. The two argued there and Stefan said he also couldn’t track the location of a couple of drives.
“The deal was that I had to shut up when I’m caddying, and that was hard for me,” Stefan said. “Now I’m actually watching the golf tournaments, and it’s fun.”
Xander’s dream had always been to play his first PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines. But now he can’t simply look at the CareerBuilder as a warm-up. There is too much to be gained should he fare well in the desert.
“In my head I’m thinking I need a warmup for the CareerBuilder,” Schauffele said with a laugh. “I don’t want one tournament to offset another. I want to be fresh and take full advantage of the opportunity I’ve been given. If you play well, you can open doors.”