PGA Tour Inc.

07/31/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/31/2021 05:40

Xander Schauffele, Hideki Matsuyama meet again with gold medal at stake

The Schauffeles were engaged in serious business, however. Stefan rubbed his son's shoulders briefly before Xander started hitting shots. Stefan leaned forward, his hands on his knees to get a closer look.

Simplicity is key to Xander's success. It's why - despite disagreements caused by their shared stubbornness - Stefan has remained Xander's lone coach. Xander's caddie for his entire TOUR career has been his former college roommate, Austin Kaiser. Despite being perplexed by Saturday's ball-striking Saturday, Xander took solace in the fact that there were just four potential fixes.

'I can tell you it's probably one of four things,' Xander said. 'Hopefully I don't have to hit too many balls to run through all four of those things.'

The basics are always a good place to start, so Xander hit balls with two alignment sticks perpendicular to each other. One aided his aim. The other let him check his ball position.

He repeatedly rehearsed his takeaway, at one point taking the club back a foot, then pausing before proceeding with his backswing. It looked a bit like Sungjae Im's methodical backswing.

Xander's address position was the next thing they analyzed. Stefan leaned over, putting all his weight on his right foot, to illustrate that Xander had too much weight on one side. Stefan looked like he was pantomiming 'I'm a Little Teapot.'

Xander carefully placed his right hand on the club before several swings, replacing it on the grip when it didn't feel comfortable. He hiked his pants a couple times to see where his feet were pointed. It's hard to make a good swing when things are off-kilter from the start.

Kaiser filmed swings on a smartphone before leaving to get the Trackman after about 20 minutes. Eventually Matusyama arrived on the range, as well. There was plenty of room on the range - only two players remained - but he hit balls directly behind Xander.

Despite the perceived pressure of playing in his homeland, Matsuyama's camp was light. He squirted water at one member and laughed at jokes even while standing over his ball. Japan's 51-year-old captain, the effervescent Shigeki Maruyama, wore a flat-brim hat and a pair of miniature fans that looked like a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

'I'm going to focus on having fun and trying to play well,' Matsuyama said in his post-round press conference.

Matsuyama may be one stroke back but he has the upper hand on Xander this year. They were in the final group of another important competition, this year's Masters. Matsuyama started the final round with a four-shot lead, but Xander birdied Nos. 12-15 to pull within two shots and make Matsuyama sweat.

Xander hit his tee shot into the water left of the 16th green, however, to hand Matsuyama the tournament. Xander was awkwardly asked about the Masters on Saturday while Matsuyama was waiting in the interview room.

'He obviously was firing on a lot of cylinders when he won the Masters,' Xander said. 'I think he's maybe not as in his realm of perfection, maybe he's not hitting it as good as he would like to, but he's one back. … He didn't have his best stuff potentially, too, and he made some nice putts to stay in it.

'Unfortunately, we fed off each other in the wrong way.'

Matsuyama is making his first start since contracting COVID-19. He went four weeks without playing a competitive round, but he's been surprised how well he's held up under this week's high heat.

'My endurance level is not up to 100%, but saying that would be an excuse,' Matsuyama said. He had enough energy for a post-round practice session Saturday. He had a launch monitor out but seemed unconcerned with its readings. He made a couple practice swings between shots but there didn't seem to be any 11th-hour swing changes underway.

Xander emptied one bag of range balls and Kaiser twice went back to grab two more handfuls for his boss to hit. Stefan kneeled on the grass, then tipped over a water bucket and turned it into a seat before someone brought him a chair.

Finally, after a few more iron shots, the Schauffeles' work was done. It was almost an hour after they'd set foot on the range, which was now bathed in shadows.

The sun was setting on Kasumigaseki Country Club. An Olympic medal awaited.