Xander Schauffele, US golf's rising star, opens up about his cosmopolitan roots and desire for equality as a proud American

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Xander Schauffele finished tied second to Tiger Woods at the Masters in April
Xander Schauffele finished tied second to Tiger Woods at the Masters in April

Growing up surrounded by fanatical Arsenal supporters or being at the receiving end of a stern telling off in German is not exactly the childhood that might be imagined for the next great hope of American golf. Yet as the son of a German-French father and a Taiwanese mother Xander Schauffele wears his cosmopolitan upbringing with pride.

The 26-year-old, who finished tied second to Tiger Woods at the Masters in April, is almost defined by contradictions. With Woods, who will be his captain for his Presidents Cup debut in Melbourne this week, Schauffele shares being a mixed-race Californian. But Schauffele stands out for the way he embraces his sense of otherness as well as being a proud American.

“I feel very American, but my upbringing was quite the opposite,” he says, reflecting on his formative years spent in San Diego and briefly Hawaii, where father Stefan, who was a hopeful for the German Olympic team in discus and javelin and then reinvented himself as a golf pro. Mother Ping-Yi, who grew up in Japan, provided the nurturing environment for the precocious talent to blossom. “I like to consider that I have a good insight into other cultures because I grew up with my parents having different views on things. It makes travelling a lot easier, I do enjoy other cultures.”

Schauffele is not one of those players on either an Open or Ryder Cup excursion to Europe who demands their favourite brands of peanut butter and jelly to be flown across the pond.

Schauffele admits he does not socialise with many of his American peers, preferring the company of his caddie Austin Kaiser, who he met while the pair were collegiate golfers at San Diego State University. Throwing up another contradiction, he is careful to express that there is a sense of camaraderie between his fellow pros on the PGA Tour

“It is like a fraternity – everyone looks out for each other. We are competitors, but we get along well. But I am not too close to anybody, I travel with my caddie most of the time,” he says.

Xander Schauffele
Schauffele is an ambassador for professional services firm Aon, which is responsible for the Aon Risk Reward Challenge

Adding to this sense of otherness is how Stefan has been his only swing coach in his career. It is with a hearty chuckle that he responds to the question of how father and son split the professional and personal aspects of their relationship. 

“I probably cross the line in terms of respecting him. But he says I am the boss on green grass and he is the boss off,” he laughs. “We are very good friends now and it is great to share my experiences of professional golf with him. Prior to that it was probably like most kids arguing with their father on the range. It is never easy to have your dad as your swing coach.”

In keeping with his strong sense of self, Schauffele does not shy away from the debate on the pay gap between professional male and female golfers. “It is very skewed to the male side unfortunately and I think the women are capable of doing the exact same work and they should get the same amount. If the market value is fair and the same, there is no reason why they shouldn’t get paid the same.”

In his capacity as an ambassador for professional services firm Aon, which is responsible for the Aon Risk Reward Challenge – one of the rare competitions in golf where men and women have the chance to earn equal prize money in which American Brooks Koepka and Spanish LPGA golfer Carlota Ciganda each earned $1 million (£760,000) as the winners of their tours this season – Schauffele believes sponsors need to take an active role in driving pay equality. 

“Equal pay is something that has been talked about but more behind closed doors,” he says. “To take an open stance on it in public and have equal pay shows commitment to doing the right thing.”

Xander Schauffele - Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Schauffele is an avid supporter of the German national football team Credit: GETTY IMAGES

The Schauffele family sporting genes are strong. Even before Stefan, whose Olympic aspirations were ended by an eye injury sustained in a car crash with a drunk driver, there was grandfather Richard “Molly” Schauffele, who played professional football for Stuttgart before finishing up with the javelin and shot put in his forties. 

This football tradition remains in the family and Schauffele is an avid supporter of the German national team and misses playing football as regularly as he would like due to fear of sustaining an injury. But he draws the line at his elder brother Nico’s Arsenal obsession.

Perhaps it is this formative experience of playing football that has Schauffele so enamoured with the concept of being part of a team. By elite golf standards he considers his unit to be relatively small, with Stefan working alongside his putting coach and physiotherapist. But the key man is Kaiser, who he describes as his “trusted adviser”.

He says: “Trusted adviser is easy to say, but hard to find. We played together in college; we were friends before he caddied for me, which helped a lot. In my rookie year, we were rookies, me as a player, and him as caddie.

“We went through the fire together, it is nice to have a friend on the bag. He is a funny guy; he is very meticulous and hard working.

“I am a lot more carefree than he is, I need to keep my mind free to play and keep an open mind. I try not to worry about too much and I let Austin worry about the small details.”

It is strange to hear Schauffele describe himself as “carefree” as he speaks at length about the importance of taking a statistical approach to the game, but one aspect that he tries to keep natural is his swing. 

“It is a free motion. My dad’s dream was that I could have a natural motion and play for a long time without worrying, so it is about having as free or as athletic a motion as possible, rather than the super-mechanical route.

“It is a common trait for all golfers to get concerned and worry, but whenever anyone is playing well they are not worrying about a whole lot. When I am playing my best I am not worrying about a whole lot.”