PGA rookie Stefani enjoying MLB.com partnership
The big baseball fan will be at FanFest and Home Run Derby at Citi Field
Among the many firsts Shawn Stefani has experienced in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, none compares to his first shot on No. 17 at Merion Golf Club during the final round of the U.S. Open last month.
After all, it was his only shot -- a hole-in-one that made history as the first ace hit at Merion in five editions of the U.S. Open played there. The shot was as surprising as Stefani's reaction to it was spontaneously exuberant. After jumping wildly in celebration on the tee and high-fiving his caddie, Stefani bent down to kiss the sloped patch of greenside rough the ball bounced off before it made a 50-foot beeline for the cup.
Stefani's remarkable ace on the 229-yard hole, and his reaction to it, became instant must-see video, and Stefani had a rookie moment that few can top.
"I guess when you do something like that or act as crazy as I did on the tee box, I mean, people are going to notice it," the tall Texan said earlier this week as he prepared for his next stop on the Tour, the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill.
Scoring low and placing high in tournaments is his focus, not getting notice for a single shot, but the 31-year-old from Houston said that moment was "vintage" Shawn Stefani.
"I'm actually a very fun, outgoing person," Stefani said, knowing his occupation sometimes belies that kind of personality. "I like to have a good time when it comes to the game, and that's just my personality. I enjoy what I do. For me to kiss the ground and get the crowd involved, that was just me being me. Even the reaction on the tee -- there was no rehearsing in any of that. That's just true emotion coming out.
"I think people want to see that in us out here. They want to see personality. They want to see people who are real, and people who are themselves. And, you know, that's me."
One memorable ace isn't all Stefani has going for him in his first full season on the PGA Tour. He has a pair of seventh-place finishes, has held weekend leads and, after rallying from a midseason slump, currently ranks at No. 121 in the FedEx Cup standings. The top 125 will reach the FedEx Cup playoffs and earn their Tour cards for 2014.
As part of his rookie journey, Stefani signed on in May to have MLB.com on his bag as a sponsor, a groundbreaking relationship between a golfer and another sport. He has taken that bag through his strongest run of the season, hoping another shot at the Tour in 2014 will be in the bag with a few more good rounds.
As he spoke by telephone from Illinois earlier this week, Stefani said the MLB.com logo has drawn plenty of attention from golf fans as he has made his way around the course.
"Still to this day, people are asking about it. I've got other sponsors, but they don't ask about them -- they're interested in MLB.com," said Stefani, pronounced "STE-fa-nee."
A lifelong baseball fan who supports both his hometown Astros and his home-state Rangers, Stefani enjoyed a behind-the-scenes visit to Rangers Ballpark and met Nolan Ryan earlier this year, and he has another big baseball event coming up. Once Stefani is done this weekend at the John Deere Classic, it's off to New York City, where he'll be at the T-Mobile All-Star FanFest on Monday, taking in the Chevrolet Home Run Derby before heading out on his next stop on the Tour.
It'll be another slice of baseball heaven for the golfer with MLB.com on his bag.
"If you asked me, 'What would you do if you didn't play professional golf?' -- well, if I could be a professional baseball player, I would," Stefani said. "I've always been an athletic guy and love all sports, and baseball was a lot of fun for me."
But as he got into his teens, golf began to take over, and Stefani played at Lamar University before joining mini-tours and then qualifying for the PGA Tour after finishing sixth on the Web.com Tour money list in 2012.
For a rookie establishing himself like Stefani, the biggest thing is to make it to the weekend, because that's not only where the prize money is, but where the points are. And that's the only way to win an event, after all. In March, he led heading into the weekend and wound up in a tie for seventh at the Tampa Bay Championship. He held the lead after three rounds of the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June, dropping back to another tie for seventh. He has made the cut at five consecutive events.
"I'm just trying to keep playing well and make cuts and keep getting all those FedEx Cup points each week," Stefani said. "As you do that, it takes some of the pressure off each week, to know that I've still got some events left, and to know that I'm a good enough player to have a hot week and maybe even win or have that top-five finish. If I have a good week from here on out, I can pretty much secure my card."
While he forges his mark on the PGA Tour, Stefani will continue to enjoy a new relationship with his old friend baseball while taking the kind of approach he envies of the boys of summer, with their dugout antics and clubhouse camaraderie.
"If you look at every sport, baseball players have more fun than in any other sport possible," Stefani said. "Every day, they're always cutting up, playing jokes on each other. I like that. Golf's a little more serious, and I take it serious, too. But I like to have a good time on the golf course. I like to talk with the guys, talk fishing or hunting or whatever. I'm just like a big kid out there."
All one needs to do is watch the video of a certain shot on No. 17 at Merion last month to know that.