Austin Kaiser got to experience what only one other caddie (Mark “Fooch” Fulcher) in the last hundred years has tasted this past Sunday at the Olympics in Tokyo: a gold medal-winning week for his player in the Men’s Olympic golf individual stroke-play event.
Kaiser’s player, Xander Schauffele, delivered his first win while holding the 54-hole lead with a final round 4-under 67 Sunday which was good enough for a one-stroke win over silver medalist, Rory Sabbatini.
Kaiser left Tokyo understandably thrilled with the outcome.
“I’m definitely going to remember the Sunday. Being in the lead you definitely think about how you will handle future times when you have the lead and how you will respond and what not,” Kaiser said. “That final feeling of him making that putt was such a euphoric feeling that’s something that’s going to be ingrained in me, so that’s one thing I’ll remember. I love Tokyo, I love the culture and the food. It was just all around a great week.”
The moment @XSchauffele became an Olympic CHAMPION 🥇@TeamUSA x #TokyoOlympics pic.twitter.com/NcqOubC21d
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) August 1, 2021
It’s a rare moment, but for a caddie, how does it feel when your player is making the clinching putt for gold?
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“I don’t know if you could see on camera, but in the background you could kind of see me fist pump because I was sitting there and I didn’t know if I should look at the putt or at the board on 18,” Kaiser said. “I looked on 18 as soon as he was about to take it back and I peeked over at the putt and saw he was about to take it back and I saw it go in and then I threw up a fist pump. He didn’t even throw up a fist pump, but I did. It was just such a good moment, those are the ones you dream of, making the last putt on the final hole to win it all. It was just an unbelievable feeling.”
Justin Rose’s former caddie, Fooch, is the only other caddie alive right now who also knows that feeling from when Rose beat Henrik Stenson for gold at Rio de Janiero in 2016.
“For me, it was the best thing ever,” Fooch said. “When I saw Xander’s gold medal (Tuesday at the WGC in Memphis) it gave me goosebumps. He’s the perfect man to continue the legacy of golf’s most unique prize. I’m delighted for him and Austin. I think in time they will appreciate what that little bit of medal means, it is the best thing ever.”
Kaiser, Schauffele, and Schauffele’s father, Stefan, certainly celebrated accordingly that Sunday night as they took a bus from the course to their hotel.
My boy Kais having the time of his life right now! Little celebration with the Team on the ride back #TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/ZbhCdU5DAR
— Xander Schauffele (@XSchauffele) August 1, 2021
“That van ride meant a lot to me as we were sitting in there and talking about the day and how crazy everything was,” Kaiser said. “You could tell a lot of weight was lifted off Xander’s shoulders that night. Just by the way he was acting and his smile, I hadn’t seen that smile in a long time. That van ride was really cool to me. We’re all a close-knit team, just the fact that it was us three and no one else was a really good moment for all three of us as a team because it was like so much weight lifted off our shoulders, such a big day and it ended up being a great experience. In fact, we had the medal in there with us, it was awesome, I can’t put it into words.”
Kaiser said he hadn’t seen Xander smile like he did Sunday night in Tokyo since his last PGA Tour win at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in 2019. In fact, Kaiser is quick to point out that they still haven’t qualified for next year’s winners-only event and their focus will be on doing so in the coming weeks.
The meaning of big wins in golf often hit players and caddies at different times. For Kaiser, the emotion from the win hit home almost immediately.
“When I called my wife (Tiffany) about 20 minutes after we finished, the first person I called, she was bawling so I got emotional then,” Kaiser said. “I had tears in my eyes because I realized that this is a big deal. I had people stay up, a lot of my friends texted me like ‘dude we stayed up until 2 a.m. to watch’ so at that point I thought, ‘OK, this is maybe a big deal’.”
Fifteen minutes after Xander putted out, Kaiser had 219 text messages waiting for him.
“I didn’t even know I had that many friends,” Kaiser joked. “I was getting texts from people out of the woodwork and that was really the cool part because it helped put into perspective how big of a deal the Olympics was.”
Of course, a big discussion all week during Olympic golf centered around whether caddies should also get a medal with their player. Kaiser doesn’t feel too strongly for or against.
“I’m kind of on the fence about it,” Kaiser said. “Would it be cool to have one? Yes, but I’m not coming home with any negative ideas because I didn’t get a medal. So it doesn’t affect me too much. Would it be nice? Yes, but I’m not getting too picky, I just really wanted the win.”
Kaiser certainly earned his keep as caddie during a crucial moment Sunday when Schauffele surrendered the outright lead with a bogey on the short par-5 14th.
The two had a conversation before teeing off on 15.
“After 14 I kind of just told him ‘hey, we’re tied for the lead. If I would have told you on Thursday that we’d be tied for the lead with a few to go you would have taken it right then and there and he was like, ‘yeah, let’s do it’,” Kaiser said. “From that moment on he was all attack, so I’m really proud of the way he handled himself there. Most guys would have lost their mind after that 14th hole. You bogey a par 5 when you have a one-shot lead and you’re looking for birdie, that was the moment that definitely propelled us to the end.”
Looking back on the week, Kaiser acknowledged that the putter won Schauffele the gold.
“100 percent it was the putting. We switched back from the armlock before the British, at the Scottish Open, and I think it made a world of difference,” Kaiser said. “He was just really clutch with the putter all week.”
Schauffele did many things well that put him into position for a 54-hole, one-stroke lead at 14 under, but it was his play during Saturday’s 3-under 68 when he didn’t have his usual prowess tee to green that stuck with Kaiser.
“Round three was honestly the most important day looking back. I know we had that 8 under on Friday but if Saturday didn’t turn out the way it did we wouldn’t have been able to have that chance,” Kaiser said. “It could have easily been a 3-over par day the way he was hitting it and he got up and down from some spots that were not great and putted amazing.”
Xander’s rare emotion
We almost never see Schauffele get emotional on the course, and he kept things pretty close to the vest even after his winning putt Sunday. The 27-year-old would go on to the medal podium and then straight into media duties after his round. But it wasn’t until after those duties were done that he got to soak in what he accomplished and let his guard down a little.
“After he was done, they told us we were good to go and so we went to the locker room to go clean out his locker and that’s when I think it finally hit him because he came up to me and we gave each other a hug again and we were just, we were acting like brothers and just having fun, and you could tell at that moment that, ‘yeah, we did that, and this is where it’s at,’ and I think that was the moment,” Kaiser said.
Bringing home that gold!🥇 #TeamUSA #USAGolf #TokyoOlympics pic.twitter.com/3HIrb0n3UP
— Xander Schauffele (@XSchauffele) August 3, 2021
How sweet it must have been after so many close calls in major championships and huge Tour events after not converting the 54-hole lead. Kaiser said he saw the emotion from Schauffele pretty clearly at that moment in the locker room.
“He comes up to me, punches me in the chest a couple times and I don’t want to say what he said because I’ll probably get in trouble for it, but there were some expletives and it was a lot of happy moments in there and that was probably the moment where the weight was completely lifted off of both our shoulders and we were just, I guess that’s just all you can say was that we were relieved.”
The two former San Diego State Aztec college teammates had tasted some early success in Schauffele’s rookie season in 2016-2017 with two wins, but overcoming some missed opportunities at the Masters, CJ Cup and a few other close calls the last couple years made this one taste sweeter.
Kaiser sees their player-caddie partnership, which is six years running, as a strong one built on honesty with one another. The two have known each other for 10 years.
“I know what makes him tick and his capabilities on and off the course and we’re not afraid to tell each other what’s on our mind. I’ll tell him, he tells me and we both expect the cold, honest truth so I think there’s just no boundaries with us to where we’re not afraid to say something,” Kaiser said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat anything and he puts that out on the table, like, ‘if you have a problem let’s get this out and say it so there’s no miscommunication,’ and that’s kind of what we strive for and I think that’s what makes it so strong.
“I think it’s just that natural brotherhood. I see him as a brother, he sees me as a brother, so that makes it easy for both of us.”
And these brothers just won in the Olympics, an awesome feat no doubt.