The SDSU Duo at the Top of the PGA Tour
Caddie Austin Kaiser and golfer Xander Schauffele, former Aztec teammates, are best friends on and off the course.
By Ryan Schuler | Photograph by AP/Matt Slocum
July 21, 2021
It was a once-in-a-life opportunity. After graduating from San Diego State University in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in public administration, former Aztecs golfer Austin Kaiser was preparing to become a police recruit when he received an email from his friend and former teammate Xander Schauffele (’15): “Hey, I need a caddie.”
Schauffele was preparing to embark on his professional golf career on the Korn Ferry Tour, a stepping stone to the PGA Tour.
“I know you’re doing this police thing and I know it’s something you want to do — but if you’re interested, let’s try it out,” Kaiser recalls the email saying. A career as a caddie was not something Kaiser had ever thought about, but he was intrigued by the idea of being out on the course as a partner to one of his closest friends. He said yes.
Four PGA Tour wins, nine top-10 finishes in major championships (including a tie for seventh at the U.S. Open last month), and a top-10 world ranking later, the duo is rolling like a downhill putt. And it all started at SDSU.
Schauffele and Kaiser both took the long way to Aztecs golf. Kaiser was league MVP and an all-conference pick as a senior at Atascadero High School in Atascadero, California, before spending two years at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. There he logged top-five finishes at the community college state tournament in consecutive years.
Schauffele, a decorated golfer from Scripps Ranch High School, spent his freshman year at Long Beach State University before transferring back home to SDSU. At Long Beach, he was named Big West Conference Freshman of the Year and earned First Team All-Big West honors in 2012.
The pair met at the first team meeting of the 2012-13 season and bonded through practice rounds, tournaments and attending SDSU men’s basketball games. “We became really close really fast,” Kaiser says. “We like to joke around, but we want to work hard and get the job done. We have the same goals, so I think that aligns really well with our personalities.”
After transferring to SDSU, Schauffele picked up right where he left off at Long Beach State. Over his three seasons with the Aztecs, he won two tournaments, while posting 22 top-10 finishes and 16 top-5 efforts, garnering All-Mountain West honors each year. Schauffele capped off his collegiate career by earning third-team All-America honors from both Golfweek and PING his senior year.
“He knew he would be on tour,” SDSU men’s golf head coach Ryan Donovan says. “He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever had in 18 years of coaching, and I think that says a lot. He’s playing to win every week ... and that’s something hard to teach.”
During his two years at SDSU, Kaiser was also a significant contributor to the Aztecs, earning starts in 12 of 13 tournaments and posting four top-20 finishes during his junior year.
Schauffele and Kaiser introduced themselves to the pro golf world at the Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in July 2017.
Tied for the lead heading into the final hole, Schauffele pulled out a pitching wedge on the par-3, 161-yard hole surrounded by bunkers and took a powerful swing. When the ball came to rest three feet from the hole, Schauffele calmly tapped in for birdie, securing the duo’s first win on the PGA Tour.
“When we did get that win, it was even more special being best friends,” said Kaiser. “There’s not many caddie-player relationships like ours.”
From there, Schauffele would go on to win the Tour Championship and claim Rookie of the Year honors.
“Our rookie season was crazy,” said Kaiser. “After Greenbrier, he just went on a tear, and I remember everything so vividly from that point: Winning the Tour Championship later that year, having rookie stats that no one’s had since Tiger Woods. I knew it was going to be special from that point.”
Donovan credits Kaiser as an integral part of the duo’s meteoric rise. “He’s got a calmness about him that’s very soothing,” Donovan says. “He’s learned the game, and he definitely puts in the work to do his best and create the best gameplan for Xander to execute.”
Kaiser does whatever it takes to make Schauffele comfortable. “My mantra is ‘Be more than a caddie,’” he says. In the early days that meant waking up early to make breakfast with a hotplate in a hotel room and driving between tournaments in his 1999 Honda Accord.
“I wouldn’t caddie for anyone but him,” says Kaiser.
To Kaiser and Schauffele, they are not caddie and golfer; they are teammates, continuing the strong bond they built at SDSU.
“He keeps it easy on me and I keep it easy on him,” Schauffele told SDSU’s magazine in 2017. “We just have a lot of fun out there.”
Close to the Pin
Like the Farmers Insurance Open each January, this year’s U.S. Open returned the pair to familiar ground: Schauffele’s hometown, now adopted as such by Kaiser. “I live 20 minutes from the course,” says Kaiser. “It’s my favorite week when we play the Farmers because you have that hometown feel, everyone is rooting for you.”
Known for its breathtaking views on the coastal cliffs of La Jolla, Torrey Pines Golf Course is anything but a vacation. When asked about his thoughts on the course, Kaiser responds with two words initially.
“It’s hard,” Kaiser says, laughing. “You have to do everything correct to score well. You have to drive it really well, you have to putt it really well. But Xander is the kind of well-rounded player who can do well there.”
Earlier this year, Schauffele and Kaiser tied for second at the Farmers, their highest finish at the tournament. “That was huge for us and our confidence going forward for the U.S. Open,” says Kaiser.
Another booster: The fanfare from the SDSU contingent they receive every time at Torrey Pines.
“The fans are amazing,” Kaiser says. “We hear ‘Go Aztecs’ quite a bit and we try to give the thumbs up and try to acknowledge everyone who roots for us.”