Stefan Schauffele took an unconventional route to the top

By Tod Leonard
San Diego Tribune-Union
Xander Schauffele has climbed to No. 6 in the world rankings heading into the Farmers Insurance Open that begins on Thursday.

San Diego — As Stefan Schauffele recalls it, his son, Xander, could not have been more than about 12 years old when he offered him a first puff off a cigar.

“He went green as leaves on a tree,” the father said with a laugh.

It was not some cheap stogie, Stefan noted, but a $20 Cuban. Along with it, the dad offered a slow sip of fine cognac.

In a Californian household run strictly but whimsically — if that’s possible — by a German-French father and a Chinese-Japanese mother, Xander Schauffle and his older brother, Nico, got an early taste of the pleasures and responsibility of adult life.

By the age of 16, they were considered by their parents to be men in control of their own destinies. Before that, their father sometimes delivered orders, in his thick accent, as if they were privates in the German air force for which he’d served.

Hands on the table! No elbows! Sit up straight!

Any lie was considered a capital offense. “Game over,” Xander said.

Friends who ventured to the household “got a little bit of the ogre’s medicine,” Nico recalled of his dad’s playfulness.

Added Xander, “I pretty much figured out in grade school that we weren’t the stereotypical American family.”

Parents with prospective geniuses in sports or elsewhere, don’t try this at home. It’s a road map drawn in pencil, eraser dust blown everywhere.

But it would be silly to argue with the results.

Nico Schauffele, 28, earned a master’s degree in Europe in ecosystem science and policy and recently returned to San Diego from Japan after interning with a global research think tank. He’s considering environmental law.

His younger brother by three years, Xander, has experienced nothing short of a meteoric rise in golf.

Heading into the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines that begins on Thursday, Schauffele has climbed to No. 6 in the world rankings in two-plus years on the PGA Tour.

Schauffele, 25, already has won two significant tournaments this season in only two starts — the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October, and the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Maui two weeks ago.

With four Tour wins, the 2017 Rookie of the Year already has lifted as many trophies as successful fellow San Diegans Charley Hoffman (three) and Pat Perez (four), who have toiled on the PGA Tour for a combined 35 years.

Born in San Diego and an alum of Scripps Ranch High and San Diego State, Schauffele has walked through the fire of his early career with a sheepish smile and a hardened resolve. Signs, no doubt, of his rather unorthodox upbringing.

“I always felt like I was mentally tougher than the other kids,” Schauffele said while taking a break from a rainy putting practice session this week at The Grand Golf Club in Carmel Valley.

“I always wanted it more. I was sort of this grinder who would never quit. If I ever felt sorry for myself, my dad and I would have this two-hour talk.

“He bred an underdog mentality into me from a younger age. ‘You need to go get it, because nothing is going to be handed to you.’ “

In Stefan’s homeland of southern Germany, the family name goes back hundreds of years to a time when construction was their trade. “Schauffele” literally means “man with a small shovel.” Stefan was never afraid of work, and neither was Xander.

Stefan approached golf like he did the rest of Xander’s upbringing.

The boy would listen and act on what his father said, without question. That worked just fine until the kid reached puberty, and then the sparks — and household objects — flew.

“We once destroyed a whole bathroom,” Stefan recalled of one particularly heated argument.

“I went through this rebel phase where I would argue with him for no reason,” Xander said. “I was aggressively against anything he would say. … We’d have these huge arguments. We fought all the time.

“Now that I’m older, I realize how patient he was with me. I realized that I was combating him for no reason.

“He was a lot better to me than I was to him.”

Tiger Woods

Tiger at Torrey Pines

Tiger Woods makes his 2019 PGA Tour debut this week at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Woods has won the tournament seven times.

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