After the U.S. Open last June at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Xander Schaffele was asked about the knack he has developed for playing well in the championship, having posted finishes of T5, T6 and T3 in three starts.
“There's a big ‘A’ my team likes to talk about, which is Accepts,” explained Schauffele, 26. “If you can't accept, then you're never going to play well in the U.S. Open.”
If Schauffele knew that kind of attitude would stand him in good stead last year, he is downright banking on it this year on the demanding West Course at Winged Foot Golf Club.
“I’ve been playing 18 holes a day here, and as we were finishing up today, we were playing some chipping games around the green,” said Schauffele after his Monday practice round. “It was a bit of a nightmare, honestly. If you’re in a bad spot here, 6 is a pretty easy score to make.”
Schauffele shot 66 in the first U.S. Open round of his career in 2017 at Erin Hills, which is the lowest bogey-free score ever shot in a debut round. He has no false illusions about how the 2020 championship will play out, though.
“This course reminds me of a true USGA-style course,” said Schauffele, of San Diego, Calif. “It’s got the rolling fairways, which are narrow; it’s got ridiculous rough, massive greens. Me being from the West Coast, this embodies all that I envision East Coast golf to be. It’s a true test and I would definitely say that over par is going to win.”
Bring it on, reasoned Schauffele, who already owns a pair of runner-up finishes in majors: the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie and the 2019 Masters.
“Difficult courses fit the MO of my game,” Schauffele said. “You don’t have go out there and make a bunch of birdies, and sometimes bogey is a decent score. Whenever the course is set up difficult and you need stay really patient is when I play all the better. Staying very patient, staying coolheaded is really important.”
The only thing left to do now is to improve slightly on the result.