Grinding Stephan Jaeger showing improvement in second PGA Tour season

Grinding Stephan Jaeger showing improvement in second PGA Tour season

May 14th, 2019 by David Paschall in Sports - Golf

Stephan Jaeger plays a shot from the woods on the ninth hole during the second round of the Texas Open golf tournament, Friday, April 5, 2019, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Photo by Eric Gay

Gallery: PGA Tour

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Nothing is coming easily for Stephan Jaeger during his second season on the PGA Tour.

Which is exactly what he expects.

The former Baylor School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer is coming off a 17th-place finish at last weekend's AT&T Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas, which earned him a season-high paycheck of $118,500. Jaeger produced four rounds in the 60s for a 14-under 270 that earned him 49 FedEx Cup points, but his FedEx ranking of 152nd is still behind that magical mark of 125th that serves as a surefire way to retain one's PGA Tour card for the ensuing season.

Jaeger finished 165h in the FedEx standings last year and had to earn his card through the Web.com Tour Finals.

"Last season I had a pretty long spell during the middle of the year, which was obviously pretty frustrating," Jaeger said. "This year I haven't played as well as I've wanted, but the bad moments haven't been as bad. Sometimes I'll make the cut and then not have a great weekend, which isn't exactly what you want, but at least I am making the cut and getting rounds in.

"I think things are coming around, and I'm looking forward to a long, successful summer."

Jaeger is experiencing much more of a grind than two of his former Baylor teammates, Harris English and Keith Mitchell, had to endure. English turned pro in 2011, won two PGA Tour events in 2013 and has gone on to amass $12.5 million in career earnings, while Mitchell was among the five finalists for PGA Rookie of the Year last season and won this year's Honda Classic in early March and the $1,224,000 and 500 FedEx points that accompanied it.

The better comparison for Jaeger may be the fourth Baylor grad on tour, Luke List, who turned pro in 2007 but didn't experience a breakthrough until last year, when he was the Honda Classic runner-up, placed third at the RBC Heritage and earned $2.7 million.

"You've got to realize that things have a way of building," Jaeger said. "Keith had a really solid finish to last year and advanced in the playoffs, and Luke has been out there for a while and finally last year broke out and had a lot of really good finishes. It does take a while in most cases to get to where you want to go.

"I've gotten better and better for five or six years, really, and if it takes me another three years to win, that's fine. I feel like I'm ready, but the patience is tough, especially when you're not playing well."

Employing two of the simplest measuring sticks, Jaeger's 174 FedEx Cup points nearly matches the 211 he compiled all of last season, and this year's earnings of $403,213 is on the verge of overtaking last season's $422,260 haul.

Jaeger is a four-time Web.com event winner and admitted last season that he couldn't carry his comfort at that level to the PGA Tour. He believes he has improved on that front.

"This past week really helped," said Jaeger, who was a guest this week of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "I had been struggling a little bit, and my performance in Charlotte was awful. I missed that cut by a million, so I regrouped a little bit. Golf is weird in that you can miss the cut by 12 one week, and then you have a chance to get up there with the leaders.

"I really did feel comfortable this past weekend, and you want to experience those shots when you're under pressure a little bit, because that's when you can draw confidence in your game. It was a great weekend for me as a confidence-builder."

Jaeger needed a confidence-builder this time last year, so he played in the Web.com's Knoxville Open, where he finished first and won $99,000. He has decided not to defend that title this week, instead focusing on an upcoming U.S. Open qualifier in Dallas and the summer challenges ahead.

As the events and experiences pile up for Jaeger, so has the perspective, including the importance of Friday afternoons.

"Sometimes you just don't have it," he said, "and you're grinding there on the cut line just wanting two more days. You can find something on a Friday afternoon or on a Saturday morning on the range to where you have a great weekend, and that's where you can get the backdoor top-10s and backdoor top-15s.

"I've realized that the money is great, but it's not the main goal anymore. It's to get as many (FedEx Cup) points as you can, and those 50 points rack up quicker than those 2.5 points you can get by finishing 72nd."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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