Xander Schauffele capped his PGA Tour Rookie of the Year season in 2017 with a win at the Tour Championship.
Over the last six years the 29-year-old has made the Tour’s season finale his personal ATM with consecutive finishes of 1-T7-2-T2-T5-4. It’s safe to say Schauffele, 29, knows a thing or two about the event and its esteemed host, East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, and he didn’t hold back his opinions while discussing both ahead of this week’s 2023 Tour Championship.
As the culmination of a season-long race for the FedEx Cup, the Tour Championship features a staggered start system that aims to reward players for their performance over the season. The top player in the FedEx Cup standings, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, will start at 10 under, with Viktor Hovland in second at 8 under, Rory McIlroy in third at 7 under and so on. Schauffele will start 15th at 3 under.
“I can happily say I’ve been on both sides of it. I’ve never won the (FedEx Cup), but I’ve won this event and I was given a trophy and I’ve won it and was not. So I can’t really comment on that, just because I haven’t thought of a way to make it better,” said Schauffele of the staggered start, who also claimed he didn’t “even know how the tournament works” earlier in his pre-tournament press conference.
“I still believe that when I talk to some friends and people they still feel like a little confused on how it all happens,” he continued. “I think this is supposed to be like our most important event all year. It kind of comes down to this moment. And, like, for people to be like a little bit confused, it’s still not a finished product to me in that sense.”
Jon Rahm hasn’t been shy with his opinions on the Tour Championship, and while he admitted the format is easier to understand, he still believes some work needs to be done.
“I don’t think it’s the best we can come up with,” said the world No. 3. “I think I’ve expressed my dislike towards the fact that you can come in ranked No. 1 in the FedEx Cup. You can win every single tournament up until this one. You have a bad week, you finish 30th, and now you’ll forever be known as 30th in the FedEx Cup this season. I don’t think that’s very fair.”
The Spaniard liked the old format because if a player entered the week as No. 1 they rarely fell out of the top three.
“But when you’re in fifth place you are, what, 5 under, so you’re five shots from the lead,” he explained. “But you’re also five shots from 30th place. So that to me just doesn’t make much sense.”
“So if you ask me I think we can come up with something better.”
However, as Schauffele points out, after Thursday and Friday, when the opening rounds even out the scores, everyone is on the same page through to the finish.
“Like it doesn’t even matter anymore how it started, it’s all about how you finish it,” said Schauffele. “And everyone knows what’s going on when guys are coming down this nice final stretch here at East Lake and everyone knows what’s at stake.”
That final stretch will look drastically different this time next year as the club is set to undergo a “dramatic renovation” to everything from the golf course to East Lake’s entire infrastructure, including drainage and irrigation.
“Man, I’m a big believer in not changing anything that’s already really great,” said Schauffele. “When you go to a restaurant and order something that tastes really good, I usually order it over and over and over again … So when this course is set up great and the condition it’s in right now, with really fast greens, rough is up, it’s awesome. It’s hard. You have to golf your ball.
“So the guy that’s going to come, Andrew Green is going to come in and he said he’s going to take out a lot of trees and it’s a little concerning, to be honest,” Schauffele explained. “I’m not a member here. I hear members are excited. But as a Tour pro, we talk about distance and all those things, but the thing that we can’t do is hit it through trees. So when you start taking a bunch of trees off a property it definitely can change how it plays. And I’m hoping that East Lake keeps its teeth. Because when it plays hard you shoot 10- or 12-under you’re going to win this golf tournament.”
Schauffele and Rahm may be competitors this week (and at next month’s Ryder Cup), but the two are in total agreement on both the Tour Championship and its host course.
“So if it was up to me, there’s not much that this golf course needs changing,” said Rahm. “With that said, the golf course does belong to the members, so the members should do whatever the members think is best for the golf course. That’s what I would say. I think it’s great the way it is right now, but if they want to make it member-friendly, I am nobody to object against that.”
Just like the PGA Tour, East Lake serves its members. The club has listened to its constituents, will the Tour?