PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Xander Schauffele said he smiles every time he’s announced, on the first tee at tournaments, as the 2020 Olympic gold medal winner.
On Tuesday, in advance of this week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, the 28-year-old Schauffele was asked where the gold medal he won last year in Tokyo is.
“It feels like the last time I saw it was on the podium,’’ Shauffele said. “My parents have it. They’re just showboating [it] around. I have no idea where it is in all honesty. It’s in the house I grew up in. I don’t know if there’s like a safe place now that I’ve moved out or anything like that, but I have no clue where it is right now.’’
When it was suggested to Schauffele that many Olympic champions have a period of time during which they show their medal around, he delivered a fantastic zinger on 2016 gold medal winner Justin Rose when he said, “Is that based on all Olympic gold medalists or just Justin Rose? Sorry, Rosey.’’
Asked about encounters with the medal, Schauffele recalled a bizarre airport incident with a TSA security agent.
“I had to travel to Japan with it and I had it in my backpack and I went through TSA and I kind of put it in the back side of my bag that I travel with where my iPad goes,’’ he said. “I took everything out obviously through TSA and my bag got pulled aside. I’m sitting there, like what?
“I totally forgot that I had [the medal] in my actual bag just because I just slipped it in there when I was going to go travel, and the guy was like, ‘There’s something circular in your bag.’ I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, sir, you can take my bag apart. I have no clue what this is on your screen.’ He’s ripping through the bag, and then I was like, ‘Oh, dangit.’
“So, I pull it out, and he’s like, ‘Wow, what is this? Is this like a replica or something?’ And I looked at him like, ‘No, it’s real.’ And he looked at me and he’s like, ‘What did you … is it yours or is it someone else’s?’ I was like, ‘Man, I guess I need to keep playing good golf.’’’
Because so many players spoke of being beaten up by the course setup and conditions last week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, there has been speculation that a lot of top players might avoid playing the event in the future.
Rory McIlroy was one of the most vocal in railing about the Bay Hill course.
“It wasn’t misconstrued, I was definitely complaining,’’ McIlroy said Tuesday. “Unless you were out on the golf course, you wouldn’t understand in a way. Look, it was the same for everyone. I certainly get that. But there was a lot of alcoholic beverages being drunk in the locker room when I went in there on Sunday afternoon by a lot of players, so it wasn’t just me out there having a rough time.’’
One player who had no issue with Bay Hill was Jon Rahm, who played the tournament for the first time last week.
“I liked it,’’ Rahm said Tuesday. “I enjoyed the golf course, I enjoyed the design and I enjoyed the challenge. Going forward, I’ll be back. As a family we liked it. There’s a lot of things to do for my wife and baby out there, and if I’m enjoying the golf course, it seems like it’s a week that I’ll probably go back to.
“I’d rather play at Bay Hill every single week of the year than a golf course that challenges you in no other way than putting. We’re trying to be the best players in the world. We’re playing at Arnold Palmer’s place; it’s Arnold Palmer’s legacy. I think he would like us to suffer a little bit. I have nothing to complain about honestly.’’
The comment of the day came from Patrick Cantlay, who was asked about the Sawgrass Stadium Course.
“I would have liked to have seen what I would have shot the COVID year,’’ Cantlay said, referring to the 2020 Players, which that was canceled after one round. “I think I was 6- or 7-under the first day [actually 5-under], so that’s just lost to the ether.’’