Why Jaeger swapped ball markers before win, and why it mattered

Before every round, Stephan Jaeger plays a game of ball-marker roulette. He reaches into his golf bag and blindly pulls out one of three options, all made by his wife: 1. His son Fritz’s name with a four-leaf clover; 2. His dog, Phil; 3. Papa Klaus, for his late father.

Before notching the first PGA Tour victory of his career on Sunday at the Texas Children’s Houston Open, the 34-year-old German, after three straight days of drawing the Fritz marker, drew the one honoring his father, who died just over two years ago, during the week of the 2022 Players Championship.

“I just kind of smiled,” Jaeger said. “That was my good omen for the day, for sure.”

For the week, Jaeger ranked third in the field in strokes gained putting.

Jaeger made nine pars on his final nine at Memorial Park to finish off a 3-under 67 and hold off Scottie Scheffler, the world No. 1 who missed a 5-foot putt on the last that would’ve forced a playoff, and Alejandro Tosti, who bogeyed his final hole, each by a shot. Two years ago, though, Jaeger was reeling from Klaus Jaeger’s death; he missed the cut at TPC Sawgrass, and he’d trunk slam before each of his next three weekends as well.

“That was the low part of my life,” Jaeger said Sunday. “I was playing terrible golf. The silver lining in that story is my son was conceived that week. That was kind of you lose a life and you gain a life, right? [My dad] would be rolling over right now happy. Yeah, we miss him. And my mom’s coming over next week, so we’ll celebrate with her a little bit. Yeah, it will be great.”

Jaeger’s win is his first on any tour since the 2021 Emerald Coast Classic, which marked his sixth on the Korn Ferry Tour circuit. It’s also his first since becoming a dad to now-16-month-old Fritz. Not that Jaeger hasn’t come close; he entered this week with a pair of T-3 finishes, at the Farmers Insurance Open and Mexico Open.

While Jaeger admittedly was feeling mentally fatigued after a missed cut at The Players two weeks ago, a move into a new home and putting his clubs away for over a week, until last Sunday, helped him reset. So, too, has being a dad.

“I think [my dad’s death] and the birth of my son, two things where I felt like hey, you know what, this is just golf,” Jaeger said. “It’s so hard sometimes. We want to make it way more than it is you, but at the end of the day, like I said, you still have a family to come back to, they still love you and there’s worse things in golf than not winning a golf tournament or missing the cut.”

But winning a golf tournament? There are few things better.

“I always say winning golf tournaments is not going to make us happy,” Jaeger said, “but it sure as hell feels really good. That feeling we chase for a lot of times over our careers. To be able to share that with the most important people in your world is amazing.”

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