CROMWELL, Conn. — Xander Schauffele knows the buzz has been flying like the majestic approach shots he hit to the 18 greens of TPC River Highlands in regulation Thursday at the Travelers Championship.
Schauffele, at 28, ranked 15th in the world, a five-time PGA Tour winner and has finished in the top seven of eight major championships since 2017, has been a prime target for the Greg Norman-led LIV Golf tour.
It ticks every box for LIV Golf: young, already accomplished as an Olympic gold medal winner, and in his prime.
Word on the street among some players and caddies is that Schauffele will eventually follow Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, three fellow players in the prime of their careers who have made the jump to the Saudi-backed big-money tour that is ruffling the feathers of the PGA Tour establishment.
Schauffele has had a lot on his mind lately.
You’d never know from the 7-under 63 he posted in the Travelers’ first round, leaving him a shot behind Rory McIlroy and JT Poston.
It was, indeed, a spectacular start for Schauffele. But questions remain about where it goes from here. Not the next three days at Travelers, but after that. To LIV or not to LIV?
“I feel very comfortable where I am right now…on the PGA Tour,” Schauffele told The Post after his round in a transparent and wide-ranging interview. “You have to speak in general terms, obviously, to avoid getting into trouble. [later].”
Translation: Watch Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, who all said “no” in public to the Saudis before finally caving in on their respective prices and saying “yes,” moves that sabotaged their credibility.
Schauffele hasn’t shut the door on LIV Golf, and he’s not afraid to let it get out.
“I was in contact with them, but honestly, it’s been a long time,” Schauffele said. “Initially, I was in contact with them, but recently I haven’t been.”
Schauffele admitted that he “struggles with himself” over whether to stick with the status quo or go for the money. Phil Mickelson was paid $200 million to join, Johnson $125 million, and DeChambeau $100 million.
“My heart tells me to stay here, and it tells me to make this tour the best it can be,” Schauffele said. “Obviously, I can’t do that individually. I need help from other players and I need help from the commissioner, Jay. [Monahan]and all the other staff members to believe that this tour is going to be the best and that they need to keep it that way.”
Schauffele praised Monahan for his Tuesday announcement of increased tournament purses and a condensed schedule, elements that cater to the tour’s top players, saying the announcement “can go a long way in keeping the guys in this game.” tour.
“But it can’t stop there,” he added. “You have to keep pressing.”
Schauffele then boldly went to a place no other player has gone. He called on all four major championships to follow Monahan’s lead in increasing purses.
“The big ones have never disclosed their finances,” he said. “If Memorial, Genesis and Arnold Palmer can jump from $12 million to $20 million [purses]so I’m sure those races can go higher.”
Schauffele said he “thinks everyone has a number” that would draw them to LIV Golf, but said he doesn’t know what his number is.
“I’m 28 years old and I love playing golf, and the safer side obviously is to stay on this tour and make it better,” he said. “If I had a ridiculous offer from the other side, it would probably make me think. But at the same time, I really have to think about why I like being here and why I’m motivated to practice and improve.”
He said he spent a lot of time talking to his “team” and his wife, Maya, about whether to stay or go.
“I’ve asked him many times, ‘Do you think I like to play for money?’ Schauffele said. “I don’t mind making money, but my true love is gambling. And that puts me in a difficult place.”
Part of the pull to stay on the PGA Tour is this: At least for the foreseeable future, LIV Golf can’t create the electricity the game delivered Sunday at The Country Club in the final round of the US Open.
“It really is about tradition,” Schauffele said. “The majors aren’t even part of the PGA Tour, but I feel like they run parallel. It all comes down to how traditional you are as an individual versus how progressive you want to be.
“The PGA Tour has gotten stuck in being very traditional, and they’ve been more progressive, trying to change and improve. They say the other tour is not a threat, but why else would they be dancing so fast to make moves?
“I’m not opposed to them becoming a little bit more proactive versus reactive.”