Xander Schauffele was in Maui to kick off the PGA Tour season. But his most important work came before the first ball was struck.
Schauffele, a Carmel Valley resident, was eager to spread his dose of the aloha spirit to those needing a lift.
“It’s a special place,” Schauffele said. “I think this year is a little bit more unique with what happened.”
The historic Lahaina area of Maui, near where the Sentry Tournament of Champions was held at the Kapalua Plantation Course, was devastated on Aug. 8.
The deadliest fire in the U.S. in more than a century claimed 100 lives and destroyed or damaged more than 2,000 structures.
Those are big numbers for anywhere, but especially an idyllic spot that has brought joy to so many. That includes visitors and its tight-knit community.
Schauffele, who’s competing in next week’s The American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, is a San Diego native, but he spent his first two years living in Kauai. The No. 6-ranked player in the world doesn’t remember much, except that Hawaiians look after each other with a passion.
That had Schauffele contributing to the Maui Strong initiative, aiding those Hawaiians who have been through so much.
He grabbed his golf bag and made the somber trek to Lahaina, where he was greeted with no despair but the youthful grins of children with a golf club in one hand and hope in the other.
“Anytime you are working with kids, it makes you feel like a kid again,” Schauffele said. “They’re very blue-eyed and just happy. It reminded me of when I was a kid trying to hit a golf ball, just really nervous to hit in front of people and then really excited once you get the ball airborne.”
While the balls were in flight, they carried more than distance. They took those affected by the searing fires to a different place.
“I think in that moment (they) sort of forgot what happened and what was happening and were able to sort of laugh and smile,” he said.
Schauffele, a Scripps Ranch High and San Diego State graduate, was once on the receiving end of those tips. His father and coach, Stefan, introduced him to golf at age 9, when they joined the then-Bernardo Heights Country Club.
Once Schauffele booted soccer for golf at age 12, his aim was to reach the PGA Tour. He was the Tour’s rookie of the year in 2017 and has become among the game’s finest players.
This year Schauffele, who missed the 2023 Sentry with a back ailment, hopes to defend his gold medal at the Paris Olympics. He won it in Tokyo in 2020, which later made for a fun round with Rancho Santa Fe’s Phil Mickelson.
Schauffele needed to mark his ball on the green and he did so with his gold medal.
Schauffele, 30, is looking for the touch to return to the winner’s circle. This seven-time Tour champion with career earnings of nearly $40 million walked away from ’23 minus a victory.
So the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Schauffele renewed his commitment to his fitness. He dove into a 10-week regimen to improve, especially his length off the tee.
“It was a bit of a wake-up call and my first injury,” said Schauffele, a two-time member of the Ryder Cup and President Cup teams. “I put my head in the sand, and I figured I might as well be as disciplined as possible and try to make some sort of gain in the distance department.”
In the category of empathy, Schauffele hit an ace.
“When you drive through from the airport, it’s sort of like you don’t really believe it until you see it and it’s brutal,” he said. “So if I could provide a little bit of relief in that way, that would be awesome for me.”