Xander Schauffele was born in La Jolla, California, but the newly minted Rookie of the Year is a melting pot of cultures that reaches far beyond Southern California Surfer.
Taiwan. Japan. France. Germany.
“I have a very international background, but I haven’t had the opportunity to travel a whole lot,” Schauffele said from Malaysia this week, where he will start his sophomore season at the 78-player, no-cut CIMB Classic at TPC Kuala Lumpur. “My dad’s half French, half German. My mom’s Taiwanese, grew up in Japan. It’s cool that golf has kind of allowed me to start here in Malaysia, then Korea, then China.
“I’m just excited to start the year off kind of on a different foot instead of in the States.”
The CIMB marks the first stop on the PGA TOUR’s three-week Asian swing, which will continue next week with the inaugural playing of THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, South Korea, and finally the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
With two new international events, the TOUR’s 49-tournament FedExCup schedule includes nine tournaments in eight countries outside the United States. The schedule is increasingly reflecting the global makeup of the players themselves, guys like Schauffele or Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, who is also in the CIMB field and played golf for the University of Illinois.
Davis Love III, 53, remembers when he was a rookie on TOUR and it was a big deal to make the odd flight to Japan for the Dunlap Phoenix or the Chunichi Crowns.
“They just seemed so far away,” Love said from the CIMB, “and now it’s just part of our TOUR.”
It’s almost 10,000 miles from St. Simons, Island, Georgia to Malaysia, and Love mentioned the long hop more than once, as if he still couldn’t quite fathom that he’d come that far.
Justin Thomas has nevertheless made Kuala Lumpur his home away from home, and the two-time defending CIMB champion is looking for a strong start to this, his “encore” season.
Jordan Spieth won five tournaments and the FedExCup in 2015, then had to figure out a way to follow that up in 2016. Now it’s Thomas’ turn. Three weeks ago, he won the FedExCup, then the Presidents Cup and Player of the Year, his just desserts after a five-win season.
“The Presidents Cup was unbelievable, very enjoyable, a great experience, a lot of fun,” Thomas said from Malaysia. “And then last week was just kind of really trying to get some rest. This is, I think, my eighth event in 10 weeks, so I’m getting a little bit tired.”
The steamy heat won’t help. It never does.
“When you’re out on the golf course, you’re always drinking, eating,” said Anirban Lahiri, who won the 2015 Malaysian Open at the course when it was still Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. “It’s not just the liquids, electrolytes, but you also need a lot of food. You burn through your energy really quickly here. This is one of those cheat weeks where you can pretty much eat anything you want because you can be sure that by 2 o’clock it’s all gone.”
Schauffele admits he’s not used to the heat, or more specifically the humidity. Other than that, though, he’s not bothered to be so far from home. In fact, he’s so excited he’s already been asking for suggestions on what local delicacies to eat, and making up menus in his head.
“I’m kind of a foodie when it comes to that stuff,” he said, “so I’m excited.”
Pieters counts himself a fan of the local cuisine. “I really like Kuala Lumpur,” he said. “The food is great, people are so nice. Traffic’s bad, but the escort helps a lot.”
Love said it’s incumbent upon the players to embrace the changes, just as he always has since he played his first full season on TOUR in 1986. He’s of the persimmon generation, and now he’s flying 10,000 miles to play a rubber plantation-turned-golf course where monkeys patrol the lush foliage.
Two tournaments in Asia became three. One tournament in Mexico became two. The Dominican Republic’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, after a two-year run on the Web.com Tour, will be elevated to a TOUR event and debut March 19-25.
The changes are so great, Love said, he’s even changing the way he talks about golf.
“It really isn’t the U.S. tour,” he said. “It’s the PGA TOUR.”