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Player Blog: Jayden Schaper
Player Blog

Player Blog: Jayden Schaper

In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Jayden Schaper reflects on a fast start to life on Tour, his biggest supporters, and playing junior golf with Wilco Nienaber and Garrick Higgo.

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Playing in the SA Open and winning the Freddie Tait Cup last year was an incredible experience for me, and to come back almost a year later as a professional is exciting. This tournament is very special to me, and that memory of walking on to the first tee box with Louis Oosthuizen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout last year is something that I will always remember. Getting to play with a Major Champion like Louis, and a player like Christiaan, was unforgettable. We had a great time on the course, and they were great with me, giving me advice to just keep doing what I was doing. I played well, and I really helped prove to myself that if I stick to my own game it’s good enough to be out here. Then hearing comments afterwards from Louis complimenting my game, it meant a lot. It was a huge boost for my confidence, and really helped me feel like I could belong on Tour.

But the best memory I actually have of that week is of my cousin Tristan, who is autistic, watching me for the first time. He’s only three months younger than me so we grew up together and we are really close, almost more like brothers. He’s a big part of my life, and he’s a big part of my motivation. I don’t take for granted how lucky I am to be out here doing this, because I realise there are a lot of people who aren’t as fortunate as me. I’ve been inspired a lot by Ernie Els, and the work he does around autism too, and together with Tristan it really pushes me to focus on being the best golfer, and person I can.

That week was so special because Tristan came out on the Saturday after I made the cut, and he’d been watching every other day in front of the TV – and he just didn’t leave the room. He absolutely loves it, is such a big supporter, and I’ve got lots of videos of him celebrating good shots I’ve hit or putts I holed. He’s fortunate that he’s very active and sporty, and actually a pretty decent golfer, and it helps being out here knowing that even though my family can’t be here to watch, I’ve got a supporter in him back home.

After that week at the SA Open, I wrote a note in my phone, telling myself that if I can be in this situation, I do belong out here with the professionals. The thought was a big reason why I turned pro when I did. I just felt that I’d done what I needed to do as an amateur and I’d proved I could be out there with the big boys. I had a chat with my coach and my dad, and it just made sense. Then COVID came and it changed the year, but I don’t regret taking the decision to turn professional.

It’s not the only note I have in there. I’ve always believed that you’ve got to keep your goals in front of you, and that if I’m constantly drilling into my mind what I want to achieve I’ll eventually get there as long as I keep focusing. I’m not someone who would set goals that would be around making cuts, because I always go into a tournament hoping I have a chance to win, so I keep a list of fairly big goals that are still realistic.

But I also have reflections in there, or pieces of advice or wisdom. The one I’ve got at the top of my phone is actually from Jacques Kallis, the legendary South African cricketer. My coach Grant Veenstra introduced me to him, and when we were at his house a few years ago, he told me ‘you must play golf like you hate it, but still love it’. It’s not the most typical one and hard to explain, but it made perfect sense to me. You’ve got to play golf out there with no fear, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. The kind of golfer I am is not to back down: you’ve got to give it 100 per cent and if doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out.

Grant now coaches Christiaan Bezuidenhout too, who I practice with when he’s in South Africa, but I was actually his first student. When I was 11-years-old I played a round of golf with him, and he told me he was going to start coaching. I went home to my dad and said “I don’t have a coach, this guy is a professional,” and we just clicked really well. In all honesty, he’s been so much more than just a coach, he’s been more like a mentor to me. He’s been a professional, he’s played in The Open Championship, so he’s been really great at guiding me about what to do, what not to do, and he’s also introduced me to amazing people like Jacques and Mark Boucher, who also played cricket for South Africa. Trevor Immelman was my idol growing up, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet him, so I feel very lucky.

I got in to golf when I was just two-years-old with a plastic set of golf clubs smacking balls on the beach, but I also played soccer until I was 11-years-old. I actually remember the day I quit: my dad and I had packed up from being at the chipping green and he drove me over to practice. I got my boots on, got out the car and before I closed the door I said ‘dad I want to focus on golf, that’s the sport I want to focus on.’ He said OK, I climbed back in the car and never looked back.

My dad has always been incredibly supportive, we’ve travelled the world together and I couldn’t be more grateful, but he was also really tough. He grew up playing soccer, he was always one of the fittest out there, so he made sure I also focused on gym work. One of the earliest memories I have is being in the gym with him at six-years-old, or even in the lounge doing sit ups and push ups. We used to go to the range every day growing up too, and he would fetch me after work to take me. We’d chip, we’d putt, we’d play a lot of games, and I played in my first tournament on the SA kids tour when I was six. He was definitely tough, but honestly I’m so thankful, because I think it proved to me that there’s really no short cuts to success. And he made me into a hard worker, which I really think is why I’ve got to where I am.

It feels like there’s a wave of young South African golfers coming through right now, and I think a huge part of that is because of how hard we all work. We have really pushed each other to be better. I grew up playing junior golf with Wilco Nienaber and Garrick Higgo, and we spent a lot of time playing together, travelling together and staying together. In 2017 Garrick and I were basically in a team together all year, playing in the Presidents Cup and all around South Africa, and I’ve travelled a lot with Wilco to places like the UK with the golf RSA Squad thanks to Mr Rupert. They are both doing well out here, and I’m pushing myself too. I think there’s that inner drive in each of us, and we’re a group that have all worked hard to get better, which started with us competing for titles against each other and has ended up with us competing out here.

I think the amateur career I had is a huge contributor to why I feel so comfortable out here. I put myself in a lot of pressure positions as an amateur – I think my first three wins as a junior golfer were all in play-offs – but I really enjoy that feeling.

I definitely had nerves when I played the SA Open, but I think finishing sixth just helped me feel comfortable that I can perform and compete with these guys. I think the most important thing for me is that I really try to treat it as the same as I would any other round of golf, give 100 per cent to every shot, forget everything else and enjoy it.

The back nine at the Alfred Dunhill Championship last week was disappointing, but I’m just going to use it as a learning experience. It was only my fifth event, and I finished second – which is my highest finish in a European Tour event. You have to put yourself in positions like that in order to learn, and the more opportunities I get to put myself in a final group the more I’ll learn. Grant has always said that you learn more from defeat and playing bad golf than you would by winning. I learnt that I didn’t need to play the most unbelievable golf to be in that position, but that I still need to get myself to focus and improve the decisions I make in the moment. If I’m ever in that position again I’ll be in a better space of mind, and I’ll come out better.

Schaper hits fearless approach to the 15th

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