Wiedmer: Stephan Jaeger has fireworks type future

Wiedmer: Stephan Jaeger has fireworks type future

July 3rd, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Stephan Jaeger

Stephan Jaeger

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Though Thursday will be his first Fourth of July spent in the United States, Stephan Jaeger figures he's got the Red, White and Blue's 237th birthday all figured out.

"I'm going to eat some barbecue and watch some fireworks," said the native German and former golfing great of both Baylor School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

"My golf coach from Germany is over here, and I guess we'll be tourists for a day."

After missing the cut at last week's Web.com Tour event at Evansville, Ind., Jaeger is hoping to become a titlist rather than a tourist at the close of next week's tour stop in Salt Lake City.

"I'm 101st on the money list right now," he said of the $23,169 he's won through seven events. "The goal is to get into the top 70 so I can qualify for the postseason and have a chance to earn a PGA Tour card.

"I'll be playing for six or seven straight weeks now, and if you can get on a hot run during a stretch like that, you can climb up the rankings big-time."

Jaeger, who turned 24 on May 30, is not the only former Moc on the Web.com Tour, which formerly was known as the Nationwide Tour. Jonathan Hodge made the cut last week in Indiana and stands 133rd on the money list.

"Even though I missed the cut last week, my game's feeling a lot better," Jaeger said. "At the beginning of the year I didn't know if I'd get into more than one or two events. Now I feel like there's no reason I can't win one or two tournaments before the end of the year."

Jaeger said his first adjustment from amateur to professional was "getting used to playing for a living. When you play a tour event as an amateur, you've really got nothing to play for -- just go out and have fun. But when you're playing for a living, there's definitely pressure. Certainly a different pressure from college golf."

To illustrate the difference, Jaeger pointed to the mindset he's learned to embrace over a tournament's first two days if he's not playing his best but comes to the final par-5 on Friday two strokes inside the cut line.

"In college you might be tempted to go for it -- make a birdie or eagle," he said. "But out here, if there's a water hazard in the middle of the fairway, you might lay up, take your par and move on. You learn you can make up a lot of ground on the weekend, but only if you're playing on the weekend."

Jaeger first arrived in the United States in 2006, becoming an instant sensation at Baylor before moving on to UTC two years later.

Though he previously always has returned to his family's home in Germany during the summer, he has grown quite fond of Chattanooga.

"I love this town," Jaeger said. "And every time I go back to Baylor to visit, I think about how I'd do everything exactly the same. I've had a lot of good times in Chattanooga. Whenever I'm here I think about when everything was a little easier."

Life got a lot easier for Jaeger's former UTC teammate Steven Fox last summer. By winning the U.S. Amateur, Fox earned automatic invites to a lot of tournaments Jaeger dreams of reaching, including the Masters and U.S. Open.

But with those exemptions soon coming to an end, Jaeger was asked what advice he would give Fox moving forward.

"Oh, I could give Steven plenty of advice," he chuckled through his cell phone. "You probably don't have enough room in your newspaper to print it all."

Condensing it to two thoughts, Jaeger provided the following gems of wisdom:

A) "It takes time to get better. You're not going to improve four shots over one summer."

B) "You're surprised by how many good players there are. Even on the mini-tours, guys can really play out there."

In other words, much like any fireworks show Jaeger will take in Thursday night (assuming they aren't rained out), there aren't a lot of duds once the professionals take over.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.