CROMWELL, Conn. — Xander Schauffele knows the rumors have been flying like the majestic approach shots he launched onto all 18 of the TPC River Highlands greens in regulation Thursday at the Travelers Championship.
Schauffele — at age 28, ranked 15th in the world, a five-time PGA Tour winner who’s finished inside the top seven of eight major championships since 2017 — has been a prime target for the Greg Norman-led LIV Golf tour.
He checks every box for LIV Golf: young, already accomplished as an Olympic gold medal winner and in his prime.
Word on the street among some players and caddies is that Schauffele will eventually follow Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, three fellow players in the prime of their careers who’ve made the leap to the deep-pocketed, Saudi-backed tour that’s ruffling the feathers of the PGA Tour establishment.
Schauffele has had a lot on his mind of late.
You’d never know it by the 7-under-par 63 he posted in the first round of the Travelers, leaving him one shot behind Rory McIlroy and J.T. Poston.
It was, indeed, a spectacular start for Schauffele. But questions linger about where he goes from here. Not the next three days at the Travelers, but after that. To LIV or not to LIV?
“I’m very comfortable with where I’m at right now … on the PGA Tour,’’ Schauffele told The Post after his round in a transparent, wide-ranging interview. “You’ve got to kind of speak in generalities, obviously, so you don’t get yourself in trouble [later].’’
Translation: See Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, all of whom said “no’’ in public to the Saudis before they finally caved in for their respective prices and said “yes’’ — moves that sabotaged their credibility.
Schauffele hasn’t closed the door on LIV Golf, and he’s unafraid about letting that be known.
“I was in contact with them, but honestly, it’s been a long time,’’ Schauffele said. “Initially, I was in contact with them, but recently I haven’t been.’’
Schauffele conceded “you do wrestle with yourself’’ about whether to stick with status quo or go for the money. Phil Mickelson was paid a reported $200 million to join, Johnson a reported $125 million and DeChambeau $100 million.
“My heart is telling me to stay here, and it’s telling me to just make this tour the best possible,’’ Schauffele said. “Obviously, I can’t individually do that. I need help from other players, and I need help from the commissioner, Jay [Monahan], and everyone else on staff to believe that this tour is going to be the best and they need to keep it the best.’’
Schauffele lauded Monahan for his Tuesday announcement about increased tournament purses and a condensed schedule, elements that cater to the tour’s top players, saying that announcement “may be helpful to keep guys on this tour.
“But it can’t stop there,’’ he added. “You got to keep pushing.’’
Schauffele then boldly went to a place no other players have gone. He called on the four major championships to follow Monahan’s lead in increasing purses.
“The majors have never revealed their finances,’’ he said. “If the Memorial, Genesis and Arnold Palmer can jump from $12 million to $20 million [purses], then I darn sure know those majors can go higher.’’
Schauffele said he “believes everyone has a number’’ that would lure them to LIV Golf, but he said he doesn’t know what his is.
“I’m 28 and I love playing golf, and the safer side is obviously to stay on this tour and make this tour better,’’ he said. “If I were to get some ridiculous offer from the other side, it would probably make me think. But at the same time, I’ve really got to think about why I like to be here, and why I’m motivated to practice and get better.’’
He said he’s spent much time talking to his “team’’ and his wife, Maya, about whether to stay or go.
“I’ve asked her many times, ‘Do you think I like to play for money?’ ” Schauffele said. “I don’t mind making money, but my true love is for the game. And that puts me in a tricky spot.’’
Part of the tug to stay on the PGA Tour is this: For at least the foreseeable future, LIV Golf cannot possibly create the electricity the game delivered Sunday at The Country Club in the U.S. Open final round.
“It really is about tradition,’’ Schauffele said. “The majors aren’t even part of the PGA Tour, but I feel like they run parallel. It comes down to how traditional of an individual are you versus how progressive do you want to be?
“The PGA Tour has kind of been caught in being very traditional, and they’ve been more progressive, trying to change and get better. They say the other tour is not a threat, but why else would they be dancing so fast to make moves?
“I’m not opposed to them becoming a little bit more proactive versus reactive.’’