Can Xander go the distance?

2021 U.S. Open / Torrey Pines / 1st Round

US Open R1 – Schauffele

Round 2, Round 3, Round 4

SAN DIEGO, CA. Climbing the rungs to success on the major championship ladder is neither easy nor commences from the same starting position for the elite golfers in the world. 

US Open R1 - Schauffele: Can he go the distance?
(Robert Beck/USGA)

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The most celebrated champions — Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods — began their ascent at higher positions on the ladder — climbing much higher and faster than anyone else. 

US Open R1 – Schauffele

The aspirations of Xander Schauffele, like other talented world class golfers, is to climb that ladder. The most indelible way of doing so is through the four major golf events that validates one’s position and separates you from others seeking to do similarly.

This week’s 121st U.S. Open at Torrey Pines is well known to the 27-year-old Schauffele. Born in San Diego, Xander is familiar with this week’s 18-hole South Course having played golf matches there as a member of the Scripps Ranch High School golf team. As a 14-year-old, Schauffele was in attendance when Torrey Pines hosted its first Open in 2008 — the year Tiger Woods epically won the title in a grueling and memorable 91-hole contest and doing so on a broken leg.

US Open R1 – Schauffele

Shauffele is no stranger to the highest levels of competition and after turning professional in June 2015 made a clear ascension, climbing golf’s ladder to ultimate stardom. 

Entering the 2021 calendar Schauffele was ranked as the 8th best player in the world — he’s now 6th. He’s played in 16 events during the ’20-21 PGA Tour season — highlighted by 3 runner-up finishes and six top 10s and earning more than $4.6 million. The missing ingredient? Snaring a major championship and thereby climbing the golf ladder even higher.

US Open R1 – Schauffele

At April’s Masters he doggedly pursued eventual winner Hideki Matsuyama with four consecutive birdies in the final round from holes 12-15. When reaching the par-3 16th the coveted green jacket was within sights as he valiantly narrowed an early round seven shot deficit to just two. That opportunity ended with a tee shot finding the pond guarding the left side of the green and concluded with T3rd final position. Undaunted, Schauffele simply placed the situation in his rear-view mirror.

During Thursday’s opening round, Schauffele resumed the journey with a two-under-par score of 69 leaving him just two shots off the lead held jointly by the USA’s Russell Henley who completed play Thursday and South African Louis Oosthuizen who will finish his final two holes Friday morning.

Paired for the first two rounds with another local favorite — PGA champion Phil Mickelson — Xander was keen not to permit outside distractions deterring him from his objective.

US Open R1 - Schauffele: Can he go the distance?
(Robert Beck/USGA)

US Open R1 – Schauffele

Schauffele was proficient in hitting, reaching 14 of 18 greens in the regulation stroke and his confidence in playing U.S. Open courses is quickly understood when one looks at past performances at such venues. Schauffele has played in the championship of American golf four times — never finishing worse than 6th. In his debut U.S. Open in 2017 — Xander recorded a bogey-free 6-under-par 66. This marked the first time in U.S. Open history a player shot a bogey-free round of 66 or better in his national championship debut. 

In addition, he is one of only fifteen players to ever reach 10-under-par at a U.S. Open. Adding two victories in his first year on the PGA Tour — one of which was The Tour Championship, an accomplishment no first year player had achieved — garnered him Rookie of the Year honors for the 2016-2017 season. He has also earned runner-up finishes in the 2018 Open Championship and 2019 Masters respectively.

In short, Xander is knocking on the door consistently and winning this week on the course he played countless times as a youngster would be a story something nearby Hollywood could not script any better.

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US Open R1 – Schauffele

One doesn’t win a major event through a sold first round of play — but it’s very possible to lose one’s bearings and start from a major deficit. Schauffele’s preparations were geared not to have that happen. “I told (my coaches) on Tuesday, ‘I’m ready to do, we don’t need to do anything else,'” Schauffele said. “It’s me staying patient, knowing that I’m playing good golf and just doing it.”

Major championships are where reputations in golf are cemented. Like Mickelson who succeeded at age 50 at Kiawah just a few weeks ago, Schauffele is well aware the U.S. Open is a four-round event and proceeding one day to the next is the only prescription to ultimate success.

Stories from Torrey / Round one 

  • Play was delayed for 90 minutes when a massive fog bank enveloped the course. This was the first time such an occurrence happened since the first round of the 2004 event at Shinnecock Hills. 36 players were unable to complete first round play because of darkness and return Friday morning to conclude their rounds.
  • Henley’s four-under-par 67 came early in the round — 3rd group off the 1st tee — and accomplished by hitting 8 of 14 fairways and being ever efficient on the greens with just 27 putts. Henley also led after the opening round in the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
  • Oosthuizen is backing up his stellar play at the May PGA Championship where he shared runner-up position and stands at four-under-par and poised to earn a second major — the first coming at the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 2015.

US Open R1 – Schauffele

  • Nine amateurs are in the field and Auburn University’s Andrew Kozan fired the low opening round with an even par 71. The Auburn University star player earned his spot in the field through sectional qualifying at The Bear’s Club in Florida. The last amateur to win the U.S. Open was Johnny Goodman in 1933. 
  • 19 of the last 22 U.S. Opens — the winner was within four shots of the opening lead.
  • 6 of the last 7 U.S. Open champions have scored in the 60s in the opening round.
  • Scoring average for the 1st round was 73.8 with remaining groups to finish Friday morning.
  • Hardest holes? The par-3 11th stands at the top of the list with a stroke average of 3.429 and yielding a miserly five birdies. The next most difficult included the long par-4 12th and 5th holes respectively.
  • Easiest hole? The par-5 18th yielded the most birdies — 55 and there were 7 eagles.

US Open R1 – Schauffele

  • England’s Richard Bland — who went 427 starts on the European Tour before winning this past May at the Betfred British Masters was near the opening lead for much of the opening round before the 38-year-old finishing with a one-under-par 71.
  • Before darkness ended Thursday’s 1st round — 23 players were under-par for their play. In the 2008 U.S. Open held at Torrey Pines — a total of 11 players did similarly.
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello posted the lone bogey-free round Thursday finishing with a solid three-under-par 68. Last September, at Winged Foot the Spaniard opened with a 68 only to falter on the weekend. 
  • Patrick Reed, winner of the 2021 Farmers Insurance event played on the South Course, opened with a one-over-par 72.
  • World number-one-ranked Dustin Johnson and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy were paired together — scoring 71 and 70 respectively.

US Open R1 – Schauffele

  • PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson had a tough start — ending his play with a disappointing four-over-par 75 and unless his play dramatically improves will be heading home for the weekend.
  • Runner-up Brooks Koepka served notice when major championships are contested his name will be in the mix — firing a two-under-par 69. The two-time U.S. Open champion has finished in the top 10 in 14 of his 28 starts in major championship play.
  • Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and pre-Open favorite Jon Rahm got off to quality starts finishing with two-under par 69s.
  • Last seen in the hunt for a major championship at the 2019 Masters, Francesco Molinari, the former Open Championship winner shot a three-under-par 68. His brother Eduardo is also in the hunt — scoring a one-under-par 70. The Molinari brothers could become the first brother to make the cut in the same U.S. Open since Joe and Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki in 1993 at Baltusrol.  

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