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SAN DIEGO – Given the traffic in the San Diego area, and the $4.59 gas prices around here, a student at Scripps Ranch High School might want to ride a bike to Torrey Pines Golf Course this week to see the 121st U.S. Open. The ride would be about 10 miles straight west. Sure, there are some hills between the home of the Falcons and the South Course, but nothing like the hills near the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Xander Schauffele went to that school before moving on to nearby San Diego State University. He never biked here, but he has played the South Course at Torrey Pines countless times. Last week, in preparation for the U.S. Open, the 27-year-old played 64 holes here. He was also here as a 14-year-old in 2008 when Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open, and he was here back in January and finished in a tie for second behind Patrick Reed at the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open.
So, it should come as no surprise that Schauffele carded a 2-under 69 Thursday that left him two shots behind the morning wave’s leader, Russell Henley. The No. 6 player on the Official World Golf Rankings is playing a home game this week.
Professional golfers always think they could have done things better, being perfectionists by nature. Schauffele, however, knows that his low-drama opening 18 is precisely what you need in a U.S. Open.
“I was strong off the tee. It’s something I look forward to maintaining all week,” he said. “I felt like I didn’t really hit a bad putt. I lipped out a few. I made a few. But, overall, I felt really comfortable.”
Part of that comfort may come from growing up on poa annua greens. Brooks Koepka, who also shot 69 Thursday, said he hates putting on poa because the ball often bounces and wobbles offline. Schauffele is used to it.
“Brooks grew up on Bermuda, probably Champions Bermuda, which is really pure and nice. If I grew up on that, I also would be bothered by poa annua,” he said. “I’m just used to bumpier greens. It’s just a mental thing.”
Schauffele may also be getting comfortable with his new style of putting and a new way of looking at the greens.
After being critical of the arm-lock method of putting and stating that he thinks it should be against the rules, Schauffele started employing it himself two weeks ago at the Memorial. He uses the same putter head, but it is attached to a longer shaft, has more loft to offset the forward press and Schauffele locks the putter to his left arm with his right hand.
On Thursday, in addition to using the new putting method, Schauffele also got on the putting surface in a push-up position to read the greens from a lower angle.
“I figured I could just fill out my shirts a little more, so if I could throw in a few push-ups on every hole it would be good for me,” he joked. “I think I’m a really good green reader, and sometimes when I get even lower, I may pick up something that I missed just kind of hunched over or crouched over. Just like the arm lock, I’m trying to find any way to get myself an advantage.”
Xander Schauffele lays flat to read the 14th green during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Golf Course. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)
As the morning wave concluded, Schauffele ranked third in strokes gained putting.
At a time when golfers are starting to look like linebackers, Schauffele smiles easily and looks like someone who would be at home surfing down the road at Windansea Beach. Until he picks up a club. Then you would see who he really is, a guy with every shot in the book, who is sneaky long off the tee and reliable on the greens.
There is a saying that golfers are only as good as the weakest part of their game. Schauffele has no weaknesses, none. He is 18th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee to green and eighth in strokes gained putting. In 16 events this season, he has three runner-up finishes, six top 10s and has earned more than $4.6 million.
This is his fifth U.S. Open, and he has never finished worse than a tie for sixth.
None of that, including the home-course knowledge, means that Xander Schauffele will win this U.S. Open. Arnold Palmer knew everything about Oakmont Country Club in 1962 and had an army of fans cheering for him and still lost in a playoff to Jack Nicklaus. In his prime, Jim Furyk, from West Chester, Pennsylvania, lost at Oakmont to Angel Cabrera at the 2007 U.S. Open too.
What can help Schaffele win this year’s U.S. Open? More of what he did today, in other words hit a lot of greens (he was 14 of 18 in greens in regulation), make a few putts and stay patient.
“I told (my coaches) on Tuesday, ‘I’m ready to go. 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.”
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