Twelve months ago, Xander Schauffele was 379th in the Official World Golf Ranking when he made his first start of the 2016-’17 US PGA Tour season.
Today the certain Rookie of the Year is 32nd, after his victory at the season-ending Tour Championship.
There have been similar or even more dramatic meteoric rises in golf but Schauffele’s wasn’t entirely expected.
He started out well enough with a T-5 in his second start, in Mississippi, but at one point missed five cuts in six starts during the season. The rookie growing pains were wearing on him, until he survived a five-for-two playoff in US Open qualifying and tied for fifth in his first Major.
A month later he won at the Greenbrier and kept it rolling in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, riding a hot putter to, appropriately, the Calamity Jane putter trophy at East Lake.
“It took a little pressure off me knowing I couldn’t win the [FedEx Cup on Sunday],” he said. “It fed into my whole nothing-to-lose mentality.”
Now comes the hard part: managing expectations – his, and everyone else’s.
“It’s going to be hard to set realistic goals,” Schauffele admitted. “I’m just going to try to go back to the basics. I don’t need to change anything.”
Except his schedule. Just getting into the Tour Championship qualified him for next year’s Majors and WGCs, the Players Championship and more.
As of now, he’s planning to play in the Dunlop Phoenix this northern autumn, as well as Malaysia, Korea and China. But there’s a lot to figure out.
“We’ll see,” he said in terms of his schedule. “Have to go back to drawing board with everything.”
File this one under nice problems to have at age 23.
CASEY’S GRAPES OF WRATH
Another Sunday, another disappointment for Paul Casey, who did nothing to dispel his ‘Mr Thursday’ nickname, following a 65 the day before with a final-round 73 to blow a two-shot lead at East Lake.
You get the sense that this one stung a little for Casey, who declined to speak to the media afterwards. He was also in a hurry to get home to his family, with his wife having given birth to the couple’s second child, a baby girl, while he was on the road during the Playoffs.
How long will it take him to get over it? Asked on Saturday about wasting a three-shot lead going into the last day at TPC Boston a year earlier, he gave a pretty good indication.
“Probably about one bottle of red wine,” he cracked. “Used to be two or three.”
Still, Casey has been in impressive form for a while now, racking up 26 top-10s since the beginning of 2015, including seven finishes in the top-three, and has shown no signs of slowing down.
It’s the kind of play that Europe could use next year at the Ryder Cup. Though it wasn’t on his mind last week, Casey said he will look into possibly rejoining the European Tour to again make himself eligible for the team.
Last Sunday, while the US PGA Tour was getting ready to wrap up its season, Peter Malnati, a 30-year-old journeyman pro who has bounced between the big tour and its minor-league little brother, the Web.com Tour, broke golf’s silence, becoming the first player to openly share his thoughts on President Donald Trump’s “son of a bitch” comment directed at NFL players ‘taking a knee’ during the playing of the American national anthem as a sign of protest.
Malnati posted a thoughtful, heartfelt statement on Twitter that said, in part, “So when players take a knee today during the national anthem, and the gut reaction of so many people is to call them a ‘son of a bitch’, I ask you, what do you stand for? As for me, I stand for freedom. I stand for ‘justice for all’. I stand for equality, for empathy and for compassion.'”
The reaction to the post, particularly in a sport that doglegs hard to the right politically, was more than Malnati was prepared for, even though his statement wasn’t about Republican, Democrat or race. It was about having a conversation, he said.
“I didn’t know I was 640th-ranked golfer talking about that was going to explode way it did,” he toldon Tuesday. “I got a heck of a lot of blowback. The scope of it all, just wow, I should’ve had the foresight to see. I knew it would be big but I didn’t realise it would be this big.
“The statement wasn’t about getting myself attention but it turned into that. That’s the only regret I have. I wanted the message to get attention.”
It certainly did, with 759 retweets, 1,818 likes and 288 comments for a player who has fewer than 9,000 followers.
Malnati heard directly from several in and around the game, too. The messages were a mix of positive, negative and at times surprising with some thanking Malnati for saying what he did because they felt they couldn’t. But the latter was among the minority of responses, however, as you might imagine.
Why did he decide to go public with his thoughts in the first place?
“I had seen several in my world, the golf world, with harsh things to say that sort of echoed the words of our president, being very harsh and very negative,” he said. “My objective was, if you can consider what might motivate someone to kneel, if that question was ever asked and considered then maybe we’d come up with a healthy talking point or two. But there was an emotional reaction to ‘son of a bitch’. People can’t overcome that part of it and I think it’s important we try to, that we as a society think beyond a gut reaction.”
As strongly as he feels about the topic, though, Malnati said he had “huge” hesitation in posting the statement. He is self-aware and knows his audience.
“I was scared to death,” he continued. “Even though I felt I was extremely clear with my statement, there are people who can’t separate that it wasn’t a statement against the military or the national anthem. I’m so supportive of the military and thankful for the people who fight for our freedom. I was trembling when I hit send but it was worth it to open some minds to the conversation.”
The conversation is an uncomfortable one in golf, however. Few players reacted publicly and whenreached out to several of them about Malnati’s comments, and the topic at large, almost none of them wanted to touch it, even anonymously or off the record – though Brendan Steele did say it was a “courageous” decision by Malnati to speak out the way he did and that he applauded him for doing so, “supporting him 100 percent.”
The largely deafening silence from most hardly came as a surprise to Malnati, who also understood why his peers wouldn’t voice their opinion out in the open, particularly given how sponsor-dependent the game is.
“How can I blame them?” he said. “I don’t begrudge anyone for not doing it publicly.”
He also wanted to add another point in the aftermath.
“I think it’s important to note the ideas I believe in that are being [supported by] protests by NFL players and others, they don’t affect us in golf,” he said. “We’re a homogenous world.”
So much so that an incident from a couple of years ago struck a chord with Malnati and helped shape his thinking. He was registering for a tournament and was given the registration form by a volunteer. The player next to him, who is black, was informed that caddie registration was outside.
Malnati doesn’t cast blame on the volunteer as being racist so much as the unconscious bias that exists in society, he said. Golf is, by fact, a largely white sport.
“I don’t the think PGA Tour has a problem in that regard, but I played golf at my club this morning and there’s not a lot of diversity out there,” he said. “I think there is a problem. It’s pretty undeniable to say there’s not equal opportunity in golf.”
That said, Malnati wanted to emphasise his earlier statement wasn’t about political persuasion, or race, rather a gateway to larger, underlying issues that have bubbled over. He has just only one regret.
“My words at the end of my statement weren’t an entirely accurate description,” he said. “I kneel to the ideas of greed and hubris and power. Those are the trademark characteristics important to our president. Every action he has made has been about greed and power.
“This isn’t a statement about politics, conservative vs liberal. It’s not about the military. This is about basic human rights.”
THREE THINGS I THINK
I think I’ll be curious to see if President Trump shows up at Liberty National, what the reaction is and how golf handles it. No sitting president has ever shown up at the matches, which have been around only since 1994 …
I think if we see another blowout in the Presidents Cup, the powers that be might consider shaking up the format. The Ryder Cup wouldn’t be what it is today if it didn’t realise the same thing years ago, moving from a team that included just Great Britain & Ireland to all of Europe …
I think I love the idea of the Presidents Cup going back to Royal Melourne in 2019, albeit later in the year (December) to be nearer to the height of Melbourne’s summer. It’s one of the great courses in the world and bolsters an already strong lineup of international team matches that includes upcoming Ryder Cups in France (2018) and Italy (2022) with New York’s Bethpage Black sandwiched in between.
WHO I LIKE THIS WEEK
Let me just run some numbers by you on the Presidents Cup. The average world ranking of the US roster is 15.7. The International team? 32.7. The average margin of victory for the US at home is 5.2 points. On the road? 0.2. The average margin of victory for the US in the past six Presidents Cups? 3.5. There’s no reason to think these trends won’t continue this week at Liberty National, where the Americans are loaded: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Reed. You get the idea. It has been nearly 20 years since the International team beat the US – 1998 at Royal Melbourne – and that streak isn’t ending this week. The Americans will win going away.