Jaeger Reflects On First Tour Win As He Prepares For Upcoming Masters Tournament

  • Tuesday, April 2, 2024
  • Paul Payne
photo by With trophy

Like any golfer with aspirations of playing the sport as their livelihood, Stephan Jaeger had envisioned how winning his first PGA Tour event might feel – the adrenaline rush of victory, hoisting the winner’s trophy, sharing the moment with family and the post-tournament celebration.

The former Baylor School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer saw that dream unfold Sunday afternoon when he claimed his first victory in the Texas Children’s Houston Open. But the glamour of winning was suddenly interrupted by the duties of being a father, so his Sunday evening took a different path.

“It was funny because when we got back to our Airbnb from the golf course, it was bedtime for my son,” Jaeger said. “So, it was straight into bath time and then we put him to bed around 7:15. Most of our friends out there now have kids and they just can’t come over to celebrate, so it was a very mellow evening. My wife and I had some take-out food and then went to bed, but I was too wired to go to sleep.”

Learning to make adjustments on the fly has been something Jaeger has come to accept while fighting for status and relevance on the PGA Tour the past few years. But that will not be a concern for the foreseeable future following the win in Houston.

Instead, he is adjusting his short-term schedule to figure out a time to sneak away to play a golf course he’s never seen - Augusta National Golf Club - in preparation for his first Masters Tournament next week.

Jaeger has had plenty of opportunities to play the hallowed grounds of Augusta in the past, but politely declined. He wanted to earn his way inside the gates, something that will take place for the first time later this week.

“I’ve never set foot inside of Augusta National,” Jaeger said. “I’ve had my fair share of opportunities, but I’ve always said that the first time I go I want to be there because I’ve earned my way into The Masters. I’m going to do a little scouting trip on Thursday before the craziness of the week starts on Monday. We can get a little bit of work in being out of the limelight, starting the process with my caddie to figure out how we want to play the course.”

Jaeger, 34, will add to a distinct Baylor presence at this year’s Masters, joining former Red Raider golfers Luke List and Harris English in the field. Entering the year’s first major with momentum, he is hopeful to become the first player since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win The Masters in his first try.

“I’m not a big believer in ‘courses for horses’ in a sense,” Jaeger said. “I think you’ve got to have the right mindset first. We’re all good enough to compete at Augusta. You’ve had long hitters win, and you’ve had short hitters win. It’s not like there’s only one type of game that’s won there. I’m going to have a really good attitude because we’re still on a little bit of a high and I’m going to enjoy the fact that I get to play in The Masters because I earned it.”

The quick turnaround leaves precious little time for Jaeger and his wife, Shelby, to celebrate his initial PGA Tour victory among Chattanooga friends. He recognizes there will be time to reflect on his success in Houston later in year.

 

“I’ve got a couple of big events coming up and I don’t want to show up unprepared,” Jaeger said. “We’ll have a small get-together on Saturday and have some friends over to the house to celebrate a little bit. You want to enjoy it because it was a hard-earned victory. But I also feel like we’re still in the middle of the season and I want to be able to take this momentum and do so many things this year. If nothing else, we’ll celebrate when the season’s over after the Tour Championship and have a big party together.”

Jaeger’s victory over the world’s No. 1 ranked player, Scottie Scheffler, not only earned his entry into The Masters, but also the PGA Championship and the remaining 2024 Signature Events. He is now listed 10th in the FedEx Cup standings and 43rd in the world golf rankings. He also stands a good chance to help represent the U.S. in the Paris Olympics this summer.

But more importantly, it validates the effort he’s invested into his career since turning pro in 2012 after graduating from UTC. Jaeger had periods of success – winning six times on the Korn Ferry Tour – before joining the PGA Tour in 2018.

But there were also periods of doubt that left him struggling for answers. Through it all, his unrelenting determination to succeed along with the steady encouragement – and chastisement, if needed – from Shelby brought last Sunday’s celebration full-circle.

“When you have success as a pro athlete competing at the highest level, you think back on the difficult times that everybody goes through at some point,” Jaeger said. “Through those dark times, sometimes you learn the things that are going to make you better in the long run.

“For me golf-wise, I struggled big-time with my driver for years. There were two or three years when I had trouble keeping it on the golf course. That was my lowest point, and it was mentally exhausting, because all the other parts of my game were great.”

But Jaeger was undaunted, continuing to work at finding consistency with the driver that now has him ranked sixth in total driving on the Tour this season.

“It was just a mental block for me, and you finally figure it out,” Jaeger said. “I can now appreciate what I endured, and the purpose of perseverance is so rewarding. I went from being one of the worst drivers on the PGA Tour to where I call it one of my strengths. It gives me huge confidence now, and it shows junior golfers and young professionals that if you continue to do the right things – even though there’s not a textbook for success – you can overcome any obstacle that stands in your way and make your weakness a strength.”

Jaeger arrived in Chattanooga as a 17-year-old from Germany to attend Baylor, then remained here to compete at UTC. Being on his own at an early age forced him to learn to become self-sufficient, but it also limited his visits with his family back in Munich to only a few times a year which made the death of his father, Klaus, two years ago even more difficult.

But a stroke of divine providence took place on Sunday that made the win even more special in remembering his father. Jaeger carries three customized ball markers with him designed by Paul Mason of 423golfcustoms in Chattanooga. One is for his 16-month-old son, Fritz, another for his dog, Phil, who was his long-time traveling companion, and the third for his late father who introduced him to golf.

“I always have these three coins that my wife gave that are very important people in my life,” Jaeger said. “I pick one of these three coins every time I play as a ball marker, and it’s a blind pick out of this bag. Last Sunday, my dad’s coin came out. I just kind of smiled and knew it was a really good omen for the day. You never know how the round is going to unfold, but it put me in a nice frame of mind. It was like, ‘I know he’s got my back today.’”

Jaeger’s decision to continue to call Chattanooga home stems from several factors. Shelby, who he met in 2015 when he sat in her chair for a haircut, is from Soddy-Daisy. The couple, who has been married five years, recently moved into a new home on the North Shore Also, the accessibility to championship level golf facilities to hone his skills makes Chattanooga an attractive option.

“If you go around Chattanooga on the golf course scene, you’ve got great variety,” Jaeger said. “You’ve got the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club that’s tree-lined and has some tough shorter holes. Council Fire and Black Creek are both different and challenging. The UTC facility for me is huge. I can go out there and get my work in and not be bothered, and it’s in unbelievable shape.”

After years of perseverance, Jaeger finally reached a long-awaited pinnacle of success with the win in Houston. But he’s far from satisfied. There is still plenty ahead for him in his professional career.

“Of course, I want to enjoy this win, but I’m the kind of guy that gets more determined when something good happens,” Jaeger said. “I loved that feeling last weekend, and I love being up there winning a tournament. I now want to recreate that feeling as often as possible so I’m ready to get back to work.”

Seeing Jaeger’s name near the top of leaderboards has become a common occurrence lately. Hopefully, he will get the opportunity to tuck Fritz into bed donning a green jacket in the near future to further validate his comeback story.

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Paul Payne can be emailed at paulpayne6249@gmail.com

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