KAPALUA, Hawaii – Xander Schauffele almost missed his shot at Kapalua redemption thanks to a rough bout of COVID-19 during the holidays.
The 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions winner was runner-up a year ago when he was unable to two-putt the final green in regulation, sending him into a three-way playoff with Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed. It was Thomas who would ultimately claim the title.
Despite not winning at all in the 2019-20 season, Schauffele was granted a reprieve to try to rectify his sour finish from a year ago when the TOUR opened up qualification for the tournament at the Plantation Course to winners and those who made the TOUR Championship last season.
This decision is a one-off after a chunk of the season was lost to a COVID-19 shutdown, but a welcome one for Schauffele. His excitement was tampered though when his girlfriend came down with the virus in mid-December.
Schauffele was actually at a Callaway photo shoot with Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm when news came that she had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I got texted, my agent got texted that she tested positive for COVID, so it was a bit of a scare at the photo shoot for everyone,” Schauffele recalled. “I went and quarantined in a hotel away from her and my family for a couple days and I felt totally fine for a couple days but woke up soon after sick as a dog and dragged myself to the clinic, tested positive, and fortunately was able to quarantine at home with my dogs and my girl.”
Schauffele says the pair were unable to pinpoint how his girlfriend picked up the virus and that he was hit hard over the first few days – limited to bed rest short of watching TV and a little PlayStation time.
The 27-year-old had taken a 10-day break from practice shortly before getting sick and as such his preparation for the event this week has been severely limited.
“I tried to walk up a few holes today just as a test. Definitely not in great shape, in all honesty,” Schauffele revealed. “So, I’m kind of in a weird place physically. But mentally, I can fake it until I make it. I’ll have to fall back on some good memories from the past couple years.
“I don’t know how she got it. We traced everything. No one around her got it. My family didn’t get it. So, it’s a weird deal. It’s a bit scary just because there’s so much unknown facts about the whole COVID process.”
The silver lining – if there is any – is that Schauffele displays his best golf when he’s seen as an underdog. It’s a mentality he’s used from day one on the PGA TOUR after being left out of initial conversations that pinpointed the infamous high school class of 2011 that includes Thomas and Jordan Spieth. He also won the World Golf Championships–HSBC Champions in 2018 despite illness. Beware the sick or injured golfer, they say.
“I just like to sleep in that territory there,” he grinned. “I always play well here so happy to just be back playing at all.”
COVID-19 aside, Schauffele hopes to get back to his best in 2021 and get back in the winner’s circle to ensure a return trip again in 2022.
“Last year was a good mental year to build off of. It was one of my more consistent years on TOUR, even though I didn’t win a tournament,” he said. “To build off consistency is difficult, but if we can sort of give ourselves more looks like we did last year then keep knocking on the door until you knock it down… that’s the sort of the mentality we’re in.”