Xander’s Victory Cigar
For Xander Schauffele, the taste of victory in the Ryder Cup turned out to be a cigar.
The American star posted three points in his matches as he and his team dominated the European squad in Wisconsin at Whistling Straits in September. Team USA posted a 19-9 win—the most scored by any Ryder Cup team since 1975—and while Schauffele didn’t win his Sunday singles match against Rory McIlroy, he and his partners won all three of the team matches he played on Friday and Saturday.
And there he was late Sunday, puffing away on a victory cigar on the course after his round, a smoke he continued puffing later at the media conference. How sweet it was.
It wasn’t part of the plan, and Schauffele didn’t come to the course packing a smoke. After the match with McIlroy a fan handed Schauffele the cigar. Another one gave him a beer.
“I got dropped off near the 16th tee by one of the vice captains,” Schauffele tells Cigar Aficionado. “There was a guy with a cigar waiting for me and I thanked him. Someone tossed me a beer. You’ll see Aaron Rodgers at a Milwaukee Bucks game, camera will go on him and he’ll chug.” Xander had a few, caught up in the celebration. “I chugged five to seven too many,” he says. “I needed the nicotine from the cigar to level me out. It worked out nicely.”
Now don’t think this is anything like an everyday occurrence for Schauffele, who didn’t get to the upper reaches of the golf world over the last five seasons by being a party animal. The 28-year-old is flat out dedicated to his craft and is a consistent top-10 player. This year, he brought home the gold medal from the Tokyo Olympics, he was a major factor in bringing home the Ryder Cup trophy and while he didn’t have a PGA Tour victory in 2021, he posted three second-place finishes on the tour, as well as tying for third in the Masters. He also had a top-10 finish in the U.S. Open.
“Here at the Ryder Cup it was a combination of a gold medal celebration and the Ryder Cup celebration—a USA celebration—and maybe that’s why I let it all hang loose because I wasn’t really able to celebrate anything else,” says Schauffele.
Schauffele isn’t a regular smoker, but he’s no cigar rookie. He savors a nice cigar when he can, and the Montecristo No. 2 is his preferred puff of choice. “I smoked with my dad when I was younger. He taught me how to handle them, storing them correctly. My dad would let me take a few puffs here and there. Dip it in Cognac. Taught me as many things as you can teach a kid about a cigar,” says Schauffele, who makes his home in Las Vegas. “I don’t really drink or smoke just because of golf and the need to perform at a high level. In terms of celebrating and having a good time, to me a cigar is always part of that equation.”
Schauffele wasn’t handed a Montecristo in Wisconsin. He wasn’t sure what kind of cigar it was. “I was happy that a fan gave me one. I peeled off the ring, it was a cheaper cigar, but it did the job.”
Stefan Schauffele, Xander’s father, is a devoted cigar smoker, and an extension of his personality was certainly evident in his son’s post-Ryder Cup celebration. Stefan loves the Nicaraguan Oliva Serie V Melanio, and might smoke two of them a round if he is following Xander at a tournament. He taught Xander about the good life from an early age.
“I introduced him to cigars when he probably was 10,” says Stefan. “You need to realize that you don’t inhale at a very early age. I gave him Montecristos when he was 12 for birthdays, special occasions, New Year’s. No inhaling. You do it once and then you know.”
There is much to celebrate about Schauffele, who is part of the 2011 high school class that included Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Schauffele was not so much on the radar coming out of his hometown San Diego State University in 2015, and toiling through the Korn Ferry Tour in 2016 to qualify for the PGA Tour in 2017. But that year he made his mark on the game, winning the 2017 Greenbrier Tournament and then the Tour Championship that September—the only rookie to ever do so. Schauffele beat a star-studded field in that event, shooting 12 under par and besting such golfing A-listers as Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Spieth and Thomas. The strong performance helped secure him the Tour’s Rookie of the Year award. Schauffele has won four PGA Tour titles, and has six top five finishes in the majors.
By his side through this journey has been Stefan, his lifelong mentor. And the support of his mother Ping-Yi Chen cannot be overstated. Schauffele is the product of a German father and a mother who was born in Taiwan and raised in Japan. Stefan’s own journey has been well-documented; he was an all-around athlete with Olympic aspirations as a decathlete, dreams that were tragically ended when his car was slammed into by a drunk driver in 1986, and he eventually lost an eye. That made Xander’s Olympic gold all the more special.
Xander Schauffele’s maternal grandparents live in Tokyo, but they couldn’t attend the games because of a ban on spectators. His victory was very much a symbol of his determined, reasoned, insightful personality. Tied for the lead on Sunday playing the 17th hole, he drove into a green-side bunker on the shortened par-four and calmly made a six-footer for birdie and the lead. On the 18th he drove the ball to the right, blocked by some trees from going for the green, and laid up to 98 yards. He spun a lob wedge to four feet, knocking that in for what would be the winning par, one shot better than Rory Sabbatini. And Stefan was there, of course.
Stefan—well-read, worldly, multilingual, driven, delightfully impish—eventually embarked on a career in golf while in Japan, a stop on his life’s travels. And he became accomplished enough to become a teaching professional in Hawaii. He enjoyed teaching kids, and could shoot well below par. Those two attributes allowed him, in a sense, to teach his son. Xander’s exacting nature, even as a child, might not have let him accept his teachings if dad couldn’t play the game himself.
“Xander would never listen to me if he wouldn’t have seen me shoot in the mid 60s,” says Stefan. “Your child needs to see you stripe it. I was long when I was younger. He just caught the end of that when I could still play and had enough eyesight where I could hit the ball in the middle. He was awed by that.”
Derek Uyeda has been Xander’s sole putting coach, and he began working with him in 2015 while Xander was in his senior year at San Diego State. Uyeda, director of instruction at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar Resort, has been Southern California PGA Teaching Pro of the Year. He has an enormous collection of swing tapes and is a self-taught PhD of sorts in putting. He has seen the evolution of Schauffele’s game from aspiring tour professional to world-class player and the evolution of his relationship with his father.
“Early, Stefan used to tell me they would really go at it,” says Uyeda. “He gave Xander a choice: Do you want to know nothing and I just teach you and you do what I say, or do you want to be like Tiger Woods and know exactly every little detail about everything? And Xander said ‘I want to be like Tiger. I want to know why, I want to know everything about it.’ That’s why he puts a dot on his glove at the top of it. It’s a reminder of how he has to put his hands on the club for a full swing.”
One thing about Xander stands out above the others to Uyeda. “Xander’s hard work ethic and desire to be the best player in the world is why he’s great,” says Uyeda. “Has his putting gotten better? Yes. Has his short game gotten better? Yes. Has his knowledge of playing golf on the PGA Tour gotten better? Yes. He’s faster. His ball speed is 185. He used to be high 170s, low 180s. He’s diligent about looking at his stats. He’s the best putter from four to eight feet.”
In fact, Uyeda thinks he’s more than that.
“I think he’s the best putter in the world and I don’t say that because I’m his putting coach,” he says. “I say that because I know that when he makes a putt and when he misses a putt he knows why.”
Uyeda says that Schauffele has become an excellent greens reader, a product of their work together. Schauffele’s reads are an amalgam of what his eyes tell him and what his feet tell him. “He didn’t know how to read greens [when I first started working with him],” says Uyeda. “If you can’t read greens, putting is luck. With Xander we’ve calibrated him to the point where his eyes and his feet see and feel the same thing.” And that bodes well for Schauffele in the future now that greens reading books, which have become rife among pros, are likely to be banned from the PGA Tour. “Now with greens books going away, we are going to have a huge advantage,” says Uyeda. “That is like the best thing that ever happened to us.”
Putting is Uyeda’s sole input into the Schauffele golfing persona. “One of the things that makes Xander’s team great is that we all stay in our lane,” he says. “When we go to the putting green, Stefan walks away. He doesn’t want to know anything about putting and that’s where I come in. He said this is yours. You are the one. I’ll go watch him hit balls and that’s all I do, watch him hit balls.”
Stefan agrees about this situation, what might be called the separation of church and state between him and Uyeda. “Derek does putting and I shut my mouth about what I think about putting, and I do swing and Derek shuts his mouth about swing,” he says.” One major difference between the two is their philosophy on video. The elder Schauffele is less reliant on the medium, and even kept his son away from it when he was younger. “From a young age I didn’t want him to see his own swing because they start fiddling around too much. First time he actually looked at his swing on video was just before his 18th birthday. Derek would teach with video all the time, that’s where our differences from a teaching standpoint would come from.”
Despite his gold medal and the Ryder Cup victory, Schauffele remains critical of his year. “Based on my own personal goals I would say I came up short in some regards,” he says. “At the same time I don’t feel let down. Winning the gold medal, winning with a lead was a really big goal of mine, right up there with winning a major, just because I knew I needed to get it done. Get that monkey off my back. Making the Ryder Cup team was a big accomplishment and contributing to the team winning was another.
“I missed out on a lot of PGA Tour season goals but at the same time I made it up in sort of miscellaneous tournaments if you want to call it that, ones that aren’t on the schedule, but they are the big ones that are off to the side. All in all, emotionally I feel like it was a success, but I have a lot to chase for coming up over the next couple of years.”
Schauffele and his father are constantly analyzing statistics, using them to pinpoint the areas of Xander’s game that are his weakest. To the casual observer there’s nothing that could be considered weak, but after looking at his stats for the past season Xander sees that driving and chipping are areas he needs to work on. “It was one of my worst driving years in the last three, and I chipped worse than I did last year, which was a big goal of mine,” says Schauffele. “Scrambled worse as well. My approach to the greens was maybe the best it’s ever been and my putting came back to life late in the season.”
With dad as his swing coach and Uyeda as his putting coach, Schauffele has left the short game to his own devices and pays keen attention to what his fellow pros do. “I’m my own chipping coach,” he says. “I’ve been chipping away at it, quite literally, trying to learn from the best professionals. I’ve become close with Patrick Cantlay and he was No. 1 in scrambling last year, if I can pick his brains on how to hit shots. Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, my Ryder Cup teammates, all top scramblers in the game.”
Shawn Cox is the director of golf at the Grand Del Mar and while not directly involved in Schauffele’s mentoring, he has seen and been awed by the dramatic rise in the quality and stature of his game.
“One of Xander’s goals is just not to play on the Tour, but to be the best player in the world,” says Cox. “You have to be careful walking around talking like that, but that’s the attitude that him and his father have created is the belief that he can be that good. Which leads to things like winning the gold medal. His putting coach has a lot to do with it. His putting has improved dramatically over the years. Part of that is mental. It’s been a great team they have created.”
Cox sees another element to Schauffele that goes well beyond the physical game. “He’s got that quiet confidence, he’s got the drive to want to be the best,” he says. “I’ve always thought because Xander comes from two different cultures he’s got this blend of personalities that is made for golf.”
Because Schauffele didn’t win a PGA Tour event this past season, he wasn’t originally eligible for the Sentry Tournament of Champions, scheduled to take place in January in Kapalua, Hawaii. But the Olympic hardware opened doors. “We used the gold medal as an entry,” says Stefan. “The sponsors want him there. They want him there with the gold medal.”
That doesn’t mean that Xander brings the gold everywhere. “At Whistling Straits, we purposely left it at home because this is a team event and the gold medal is an individual event” he says. “Although it’s for the same pride of America, it would have taken away from the team spirit that needed to be achieved.”
But you can bet that Schauffele will have that gold with him when he goes back to the Sentry at Kapalua. He’s relishing the trip. And this time, just in case of victory, he will be prepared with some serious celebratory heaters.
“I’ll bring along the gold medal, and some cigars for hopefully another celebration,” says Xander. He’s looking forward to that next big smoke.