KAPALUA, Hawaii—Xander Schauffele, like everyone else at this week’s sun-splashed Sentry Tournament of Champions, is happy to be teeing it up in paradise. But not for the reasons one might think.
First, he’s one of 16 players in the field who failed to win an official event last season (though he did have the lowest 72-hole score at the Tour Championship). But this tournament that is usually for reserved for winners includes players who reached the Tour Championship because the PGA Tour’s season was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
More importantly, Schauffele is just glad to be able to play after contracting the coronavirus a week before Christmas.
Schauffele, 27, was at a Callaway photo shoot—along with Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm—in the San Diego area on Dec. 16 when he got a text from his girlfriend that said she had tested positive for coronavirus. He self-quarantined at a hotel the next two days and then woke up feeling ill.
“I felt totally fine for a couple days and woke up 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,” said Schauffele, who then underwent a 10-day quarantine at his condo. “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. But just happy to be here and slowly getting my strength back day-to-day.”
At least he has good vibes to fall back on. Sort of.
A year ago, Schauffele was on the par-5 18th green in two and needed two putts to win when he smoked his first roll eight feet by the hole and three-putted for par to fall into a playoff with Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed. Schauffele was eliminated on the first extra hole and Thomas went on to win.
The year before, Schauffele won the tournament, shooting a spectacular final-round 62 to edge out Gary Woodland by a stroke.
This year, Schauffele, a four-time tour winner who begins 2021 ranked No. 6 in the world, arrived a little less prepared than usual. After spending the first few days of his quarantine in bed and on the couch, the rest of it was mostly spent playing the “Call of Duty” video game and watching movies. Eventually, he got in two rounds of golf before heading to Maui.
“That was my only 18 holes, and I played nine holes each day here,” he said. “So minimal golf for me for the most part, which sucks, but it’s nice to be playing again.”
Especially considering he didn’t win a tournament in 2020. At least, not officially. Schauffele shot the lowest four-round total (15 under) at the Tour Championship, but lost to Dustin Johnson, who won the title and the FedEx Cup with a 21-under total after he started the event at 10 under. Schauffele had three runner-up finishes last season and started the 2020-21 wraparound campaign with a fifth in the U.S. Open and solo second in the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek.
“Officially, yes, it is very strange,” Schauffele said. “I joked, I got COVID and the reason I am here is because of COVID, so there’s always a couple ways to look at it. But, yes, it is very strange to play in a Tournament of Champions without an official win.”
And then there’s the matter of the hilly Plantation Course.
“I tried to walk up a few holes today just as a test,” he said. “Definitely not in great shape. … So kind of in a weird place physically, I should say. But mentally, I can fake it until I make it.”