This much you likely know: PGA Tour rookie Stephan Jaeger shot the first 58 in a Tour-sanctioned event during the opening round of the 2016 Ellie Mae Classic. He followed that up with sizzling rounds of 65, 64, and 63. The result was a staggering 30-under par, 250, as Jaeger won by 7 strokes for his first Web.com Tour victory. This part you likely don’t know: Jaeger is a self-knowing, intensely focused, and patient young man who will not be stuffed into some pre-packaged, vanilla template of a professional golfer. The 28-year-old German newcomer plays golf the way he lives life: searching out the thrill of fulfillment over the comfort of guarantees.
Growing up in Munich, Jaeger preferred playing soccer and tennis to golf, but the sport was always on the back burner. The German-native’s parents and sister all played golf and they lived close to a course. “I decided to quit those other sports when I was about 14 or 15 years-old,” Jaeger said. “I started my journey then, hoping I had the stuff to compete at the highest level.” His journey got off to a preposterously ridiculous beginning.
Upon arriving in the United States from his home in Germany, the teenager competed in his first American tournament. Jet-lagged from a 10-hour flight, speaking little-to-no English, and playing the hardest course in Tennessee, Jaeger beat everyone on his Baylor School team. He went on to lead Baylor to consecutive Division II TSSAA state titles in his junior and senior years. The foundation for Jaeger’s excellence was cemented in place. The Jaeger folklore, however, was just beginning.
In his freshman year at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Jaeger and a teammate came across Chattanooga Country Club. It was pouring rain outside and the conditions were horrible. Jaeger asked his teammate to pull over so he could practice his putting. His teammate waited in the car, and Jaeger returned… some two-and-a-half hours later. It’s often what players do in preparation for competition, the things few people witness, which makes them great. Jaeger refuses to let others outwork him. While the rest of us are still rubbing the sleep out of our eyes, Jaeger has already finished up practice.
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After earning All-American honors his senior year and graduating with a Psychology Degree, Jaeger joined the Web.com Tour. The golfer’s determination and love for the game continued to take shape. The demanding travel schedule was exhausting for Jaeger at first, and he missed 15 of his first 19 cuts. However, Jaeger sees the good and the possibility in everything. That difficult time taught him that opportunity is made more often than it’s found. “A few years ago, one of our flights to Mexico was delayed by a day, so five of us Web.com pros and our caddies decided to play a 10-some on a course in Nashville,” Jaeger said. “It was an absolute blast with all of us in the same group, and it turned out to be the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course.”
Success on the Web.com Tour was slow ripening for Jaeger, but his breakout win at the Ellie Mae Classic opened the floodgates to three victories in an 11-month period. All this culminated with a fifth-place finish on the money list to lock up his 2017-18 PGA Tour card. “I want to make it as far as possible in the FedEx Cup Playoffs,” Jaeger said when asked about his goals this season. “The main goal is obviously to make it to the TOUR Championship, but honestly I just want to feel comfortable out there and compete every week, get better, get in contention. I love that feeling.” Jaeger now embraces nerves as a positive. Sundays have become an adrenaline rush. The spotlight just deepens Jaeger’s focus.
Jaeger’s favorite food is schnitzel, his favorite players to watch are Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, and if he wasn’t a professional golfer? Well, he’d probably be a Formula One or NASCAR driver because he likes to “go fast”. What Jaeger relishes the most is the prospect of a difficult chip or putt, and more often than not, he rises to the challenge. “I like the up-and-down game with chipping and putting,” Jaeger said. “That’s what you have to do if you’re going to win on any tour.”
Jaeger displayed a remarkable blend of vision, precision, and dexterity on the Web.com Tour. In a very short time, the PGA tour rookie established himself as a formidable short game maestro with a dazzling array of shots. If Jaeger’s sublime touch continues in his rookie campaign on Tour he won’t merely be competing against the greatest golfers in the world, he’ll quickly ascend into their ranks. But that won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows him. Jaeger is wired to always put the pedal to the metal.