CROMWELL, Conn. – During the Travelers Championship media day on May 2, defending champion Xander Schauffele spoke remotely from Charlotte, N.C., where he was preparing to play in the Wells Fargo Championship.
A member of the media took the opportunity to jokingly ask Schauffele if he was speaking remotely instead of in person because he didn’t want to drive by a sign congratulating the UConn men’s basketball team on winning its fifth NCAA championship.
UConn defeated Schauffele’s alma mater, San Diego State, 76-59, in the NCAA championship game last month.
Schauffele smiled and replied, “You can’t even make fun of the situation. We were just massive underdogs on the spot. I’m very proud of the Aztecs. They held (it) together.”
Schauffele watched the UConn-San Diego State game on television with his former San Diego State golf teammate, Austin Kaiser, who has caddied for him since they graduated.
“It’s basically family at this point,” he said. “There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for one another.”
Schauffele gave Kaiser two shots on each side when they played back home in Las Vegas recently, but Kaiser didn’t fare well.
“He’s a really good player,” Schauffele said. “His body just doesn’t hold up well after carrying the bag for three weeks straight.”
Schauffele will try to join Phil Mickelson (2001, 2002) as only the second golfer to win in back-to-back years in the 71-year history of the Travelers and the San Diego connection could work in his favor. Mickelson grew up in San Diego.
“It’s obviously more added pressure,” Schauffele said of trying to repeat. “You feel you have a higher expectation just because you’ve played well on site so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Last year, Schauffele led by five after 36 shots after shooting a pair of 63s. He said the water and other potential trouble of playing TPC River Highlands make for exciting golf because a 5-shot lead entering the back nine on Sunday isn’t necessarily safe.
“For me to feel comfortable,” he said, “I’d want like a nine-shot lead on that property.”
Schauffele trailed on the 18th tee on Sunday. He ended up winning by two when he birdied 18 after Sahith Theegala double-bogeyed it. J.T. Poston shared second with Theegala.
“What a weird spot, to be honest,” he said, “just sitting on the tee, kind of waiting and watching stuff unfold in front of me.”
The Travelers Championship, which will be held June 22-25, is the only PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions, LPGA Tour or LIV Golf event in New England in 2023 and it will be a designated event, assuring the tournament of a star-studded field.
The top PGA Tour players are allowed to skip only one of the 17 designated events, each of which has a purse of at least $20 million. Rory McIlroy will be docked $3 million for missing his second, the RBC Heritage, last month.
Schauffele, McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Cameron Young and Tony Finau have already committed to play in the Travelers. No. 1 John Rahm has yet to commit, but still has time.
The PGA Tour staged designated events with their elevated purses this year in an attempt to prevent more golfers from jumping to the big money, no-cut tournaments of LIV Golf.
The $20 million purse and first-place check of $3.6 million this year are by far the most in Travelers’ history. The previous highs were last year when Schauffele pocketed $1,494,000 of the $8.3 million purse.
Last year, the Travelers took place the week following the U.S. Open, which was held about a two-hour drive away at The Country Club in Brookline. There was also an LIV Golf event in Massachusetts at the International in Bolton on Labor Day weekend. LIV Golf is not returning to the International this year.
Schauffele enjoys playing against the top golfers in designated tournaments.
“It’s the best part of sports for me,” he said. “It almost feels like we’re at the playoffs everything we’re at these elevated events.”
Designated events aren’t as popular among the low-tiered golfers because they feel left out.
“It’s a mixed feeling, to be completely transparent,” Schauffele said. “Some guys are very happy with it, some guys are not as happy with it, feeling like there’s less opportunity.”
Designated events could become limited-field, no-cut events next year, providing even fewer opportunities to lower ranked golfers. Schauffele thinks those golfers should wait to see what happens.
“We are trying to pick the best package possible moving forward to sort of hold the tour together,” he said, “and then, two, if things aren’t right or don’t feel right or the competition isn’t right moving forward, the tour is willing to change and make it better.”
The tour plans to avoid scheduling non-designated events between designated events next year so all golfers will be more likely to play them.
Schauffele said seeing LIV golfers for the first time in quite awhile at the Masters wasn’t awkward.
“The interaction was fine, it was nice,” he said. “A lot of smiles. It was nice to see some familiar faces, guys I haven’t seen out here on the normal circuit. Just catching up, asking how they’re doing and congratulating whoever won at whatever event it was, saying hi to all the caddies and the players. So it was cool. Everyone seemed in good spirits and I didn’t feel there was any sort of animosity towards anyone.”
There’s no reason for animosity among the golfers considering the fact that LIV Golf helped boost the purses on the PGA Tour.
Schauffele will be announced on the first tee at TPC River Highlands as the defending champion. He’ll also be announced as the reigning Olympic gold medalist, an honor he earned in 2021 in Tokyo.
“It awesome,” he said. “It almost sort of marinades. It gets better as time goes on.”