Sports 3 Presidents Cup Contenders on Golf’s Life Lessons

by Mike Varallo | December 06, 2019

Cameron Smith

It’s often said that the game of golf mirrors life. Not every day — or round of golf — goes according to plan.

Fortunately, progress isn’t a linear path, and growth develops during the less-expected moments and along the indirect routes of life’s journey.

In advance of the 2019 Presidents Cup — the men’s golf competition held in Melbourne, Australia, of which Citi is a global partner — Life and Money by Citi caught up with Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas of the U.S. and Cameron Smith of Australia to discuss the parallel paths of life and golf. The three Citi-sponsored pros also shared how they make an impact off the course through Citi’s support of First Tee, an organization that focuses on youth development through golf.

What about Presidents Cup is different from other competitions? What do you look forward to most at Presidents Cup?

Xander: The Presidents Cup is a team tournament, which we don’t typically get to experience in golf, so the format and dynamics will be very different. Plus, this will be my first time representing the U.S. in the cup, so it will be an all-around exciting experience.

Cameron: This is also my first Presidents Cup. I tend to thrive in team competitions…my first PGA TOUR victory was a team competition. This year will be even more special since I get to play at home in Australia. I look forward to the comradery, having our families together, hanging out with my teammates and playing in front of my home fans.

Justin: Being a team format, it’s all about the team first. Having those moments with the guys in the team room and memories that we will have forever is something you can’t recreate. I look forward to showing my emotions and having a blast with my teammates the entire week.

Being a team format, it’s all about the team first.
End Quote

Presidents Cup players don’t compete for prize money. Instead, they nominate charities or golf-related projects of their choice to receive a portion of the funds raised through the staging of each competition. The event has generated more than $49.1 million globally since 1994. Tell us about the causes you’re passionate about.

Xander: I am forming my own foundation that will focus on a multitude of issues. The two main categories are, one, helping kids through golf to get ahead. I have donated in the past to some scholarship foundations that I find very deserving. And, two, as a San Diego native, the beach and the ocean are like treasures to me. Thus, my other focus is on marine sustainability, cleanup and pollution prevention.

Justin: This year, I started the Justin Thomas Foundation, which benefits children in need, junior golf and military families. It is something I have wanted to do since I first came out on tour but knew it was important to wait until the time was right. We are all very fortunate to receive such a large amount of money to benefit whichever charity we choose, and I am very excited to be able to use that money to help my foundation.

Citi is helping to launch Australia’s first chapter of First Tee as part of The Presidents Cup. First Tee focuses on youth development through the game of golf by teaching resilience, planning for the future, conflict resolution and appreciating diversity. How do you think golf can help youth build character and instill values?

Xander: I am very familiar with First Tee — it does great work! The most important function is that it gives purpose by introducing the kids to something that they would otherwise never experience. Once they learn and play the game, it’s common to see golfers self-regulate their play and their demeanor – psychologically this introduces the invaluable concept of self-discipline.

Cameron: If you look at golf, players essentially self-police themselves under rules and infractions — how many other sports do you find that in? That alone helps build character. Golf is built upon values that are not only relevant to the game itself, but to life, too. I hope a lot of these young people can utilize what they learn from First Tee in the course of their lives and careers…it will suit them well.

Golf pro Justin Thomas swinging a golf club

Justin Thomas

Golf can teach you a lot about life and vice versa. How has golf contributed to your personal development?

Xander: The guys at this level have been growing up with golf from a rather early age. Thus, for us, it is not so much a transfer of life skills from life to golf and vice versa, but more of a symbiosis from the get-go. I’d say that golf has formed me. I grew up learning what is necessary to compete at every level mentally and physically; and that has clearly determined and conditioned who I am as a man today. 

Cameron: Golf has helped me develop personal connections with people. We come in contact with people from all walks of life and from all across the world when we are playing in tournaments, at Pro-Am parties, out at restaurants and even at airports. It has become one of my favorite parts of being a pro.

Justin: I have learned patience and appreciation for everything going on around me. In golf you must be very patient and understand that things don’t always go your way. That is very similar in life as you have to roll with the punches and deal with whatever situation you are put into.

What’s it like playing on a team with people who are typically your competitors?

Cameron: It’s awesome. We are all friends away from the course. Some of my closest friends are on the team this year, it will be a very special environment.

Xander: It’s funny, during the cup you don’t really know how your teammates or competitors are performing — you are only competing against what’s right in front of you. It actually fires us up and creates a lot more excitement because we have to do our best independently to support the team.

Justin: It can be weird at first, but it’s also a blast. The great part about the team events is your team members are all amazing players, so having them on your team for a week is a great thing!

In golf you must be very patient and understand that things don’t always go your way.
End Quote

Why is competition healthy? What do you learn when you win? When you lose?

Xander: In golf in particular, one needs to learn to lose before you can win. We lose all the time, even coming in second is considered a loss. But when you win…it’s the sweetest feeling that motivates some to go years without giving up.

Cameron: I think you learn about yourself whether you win or lose. How you handle yourself with a trophy in hand is as important as how you handle a tough finish. Competition is good in any endeavor, and it can really intensify commitment to the game.

Justin: Everybody is different with their competitiveness, but I am very competitive. To me it’s good because it’s what I judge myself on and how I am performing. Although the wins are great, I have learned a lot more from the losses than the wins. The goal is to learn something every week I play.

Golf pro Xander Schauffele

Xander Schauffele

Name a trait golf has taught you about.

Xander: Focus. It is the one trait that can continually improve. As a small kid everyone has trouble focusing. Over time, you learn to not let your mind wander. I regularly apply methods to improve my focus. Things like: proper nutrition and hydration; a meaningful and precise routine; breathing techniques; continuously improving and implementing proper strategy.

Justin: Determination. Since I have spoken on patience already, I feel determination always drives me to get to the next level. I am always determined to become a better player and better person than I was the previous week, month, year, etc. The goal is to always become better and be the best version of myself I can be.

Cameron: Luck. There are things you can’t control on the course. A bad bounce, someone else’s play… you can do everything right…but something out of your control changes the outcome. You need to just accept it, learn from it and move on. I try and carry this philosophy over into my daily life.

Mike Varallo

creates digital content for Citi across personal finance and entertainment.