KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Xander Schauffele played the front nine of the Plantation Course when he arrived at Kapalua for the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and then he couldn’t help himself.
Just beyond the ninth green was the 18th green, so he turned to caddie Austin Kaiser and said, “Let’s go hit that putt.”
Schauffele is good at moving forward, which is not to suggest he never forgets. A year ago, he was on the 18th green in two and needed two putts to win. He knocked his first putt 7 feet by the hole in 30 mph gusts and three-putted for par to fall into a playoff with Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed.
Schauffele was eliminated after the first extra hole and Thomas went on to win.
“I two-putted,” Schauffele said. “No, I didn’t hit it past the hole. It wasn’t as windy. My mind was in a much better place. Like I said, beginning of the year, no demons.”
Schauffele is just happy to be here. His girlfriend came down with COVID-19 in the middle of December, and a few days later, Schauffele tested positive and eventually had minor symptoms. His self-isolation ended in time to get out to Maui, and he feels healthy. The real test will be walking the Plantation Course when the tournament starts Thursday.
Schauffele is among 16 players at Kapalua who failed to win an official event, though he did have the lowest 72-hole score at the Tour Championship. The winners-only field is including players who reached the Tour Championship because golf was shut down for three months due to the pandemic.
Schauffele already has played four times in the new season, which began in September, and that includes two majors. Still, there’s something about January.
“The beginning of the year is more blue-eyed, more open-minded,” he said. “The middle of the year you have a pulse on what’s going on and where your game is at, how you’ve played and what you’ve accomplished. Everyone is excited at the beginning of the year, whether it goes well or not. And then you reassess in the middle.”
CINK AND SON
Stewart Cink is having as much fun as ever. He won the Safeway Open in September for his first title since he won the British Open at Turnberry in 2009. That brings him back to Kapalua for the first time in 11 years.
More than that, however, is having son Reagan as his caddie. They were together when he won the Safeway Open, and his son will stay on the bag.
But that means more work, and a little more walking.
“He’s never seen any of these courses,” Cink said. “He’s walked around a lot of them and he knows a lot about them, but he’s never seen them from a strategy and playability type of a standpoint. So my year is going to include more practice rounds than it did because of that.”
This is not a complaint. Cink wouldn’t trade the time with his son. But it became clear to him late last year at the RSM Classic, which uses two courses at Sea Island.
“It just really highlighted to me that I needed to plan for this stuff in advance, and so playing the tournaments that have more than one course this year are going to be really challenging,” he said, mentioning the AT&T Pebble Beach and its three courses as an example.
“I’ve done it my whole life, had to adjust to things playing the game of golf out here,” he said. “It’s well worth it for me to have Reagan caddying. He’s done a great job and it’s fun to have him and I’m relaxed. So if I have to add a few practice rounds, I’m not worried about that.”
Jon Rahm starts his fifth full year on the PGA Tour with new equipment and apparel.
Rahm, the No. 2 player in the world behind Dustin Johnson, has signed with Callaway Golf, the biggest name to switch equipment during the short offseason. He said he shot a 59 at Silverleaf Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, in his first round using his new clubs.
“I can’t wait to start the year,” Rahm said.
Rahm previously had an endorsement deal with TaylorMade. He used Callaway and Odyssey equipment when he played at Arizona State, where he won 11 times for the second-highest total in school history behind Phil Mickelson.
The Spaniard also is changing his clothing from adidas to TravisMathew.
REED AND THE RANKING
Patrick Reed is approaching the seven-year anniversary of saying he felt he was one of the top 5 players in the world when he won at Doral.
He still hasn’t reached No. 5, though he could get there this week at Kapalua.
Reed chuckled at the memory, mainly because he doesn’t get flustered by much. He also says that statement was more reflective of current form than the actual math involved in the two-year rolling points system of the Official World Golf Ranking.
He also realizes he has a tougher road considering how much he plays. Even after losing three months to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reed played 24 times in 2020 and has 58 starts dating to the beginning of 2019. He learned anew how hard it is to make up ground.
Reed offered the tail end of 2020 as an illustration.
He was No. 9 in the world when he tied for seventh at the Tour Championship (actual 72-hole score). He tied for 13th at the U.S. Open, tied for third at the BMW PGA Championship, tied for 14th at the Zozo Championship at Sherwood, tied for 10th at the Masters and tied for third at the DP World Championship in Dubai.
“And I dropped two spots,” Reed said with a laugh.
Bryson DeChambeau is still using a 45-inch driver. He said he is experimenting with a 48-inch shaft but recently snapped one from swinging too hard. “You hit enough balls, that happens,” he said. … The addition of players from the Tour Championship gives the Tournament of Champions its strongest field since the world ranking began in 1986. … Among caddie changes to start the year are Chad Reynolds going from Keegan Bradley to Cameron Champ and Brian Dilley going from Aaron Wise to Billy Horschel.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Stewart Cink made his Tournament of Champions debut in 1998 at La Costa. That was the year before the tournament moved to Kapalua, and before Sungjae Im and Joaquin Niemann were born.
“The reason I was pretty quiet in the offseason was I don’t want to show my cards. Hopefully, when I play this week there will be something to show and give people a little excitement.” — Bryson DeChambeau.