Stephan Jaeger carries three ball markers in his bag. One is for his son Fritz, another for his dog Phil, and a third for his late dad Klaus, who passed away two years ago this month.

Jaeger reached into his bag Sunday morning, as part of a five-way co-lead at the Texas Children’s Houston Open, and pulled out the ball marker for his “Papa Klaus.” It made him smile. It was an extra push to play hard for his dad – who helped introduce him to the game in Germany as an elementary schooler, riding in the cart as his parents and sister played – against a tightly packed leaderboard that included young phenoms Nick Dunlap and Akshay Bhatia, several pros seeking their first TOUR title, and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler – the oddsmakers’ overwhelming favorite into the final round at Memorial Park Golf Course.

Scheffler seemed inevitable as he eyed a third win in as many starts, looking to become the first Tour player since 2017 to do so. After Jaeger two-putted for par on No. 18 Sunday for a final-round 67 and a 12-under 268 total, Scheffler had a 5-footer for birdie to force a playoff. Scheffler missed, and Jaeger earned his first TOUR title at the Texas Children’s Houston Open, one stroke clear of five players: Scheffler, Tony Finau, Alejandro Tosti, Taylor Moore and Thomas Detry.

Scheffler is nearly impossible to beat over a season-long race, Jaeger admitted earlier this week. But anything is possible over 72 holes on the PGA TOUR, especially for a seasoned competitor like Jaeger, a six-time Korn Ferry Tour winner who has focused on becoming a better person in recent years, on and off the golf course. That motivation was sparked in 2022 when his dad passed on March 11, and his son Fritz was conceived that same week. “You lose a life and you gain a life,” Jaeger said Sunday.

With his win in Houston, Jaeger’s career takes on a new life as well. He’s fully exempt on TOUR through 2026 and will compete in his first Masters next month. He’ll forever be known as a PGA Tour winner.

“I couldn’t have thought, dreamed up a better week to do it,” Jaeger said Sunday. “Obviously playing (with) Scottie last couple days, he’s been on a tear, so to kind of slay the dragon a little bit this week was amazing. He’s such a good dude, such a good player; I was just happy to play with him a couple days.”

Jaeger’s career evolution is part physical – he has been diligent in speed training, ranking No. 24 this season in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee (he ranked No. 184 in 2022). It allows him to attack longer holes with more freedom and safeguard against disaster on certain shots like the par-4 17th Sunday – which played 329 yards from the forward tee, water down the entire right side. He hit a “spinny heeler” off the tee that easily cleared the hazard, leading to an easy par (his eighth of nine straight closing pars on a windy Sunday).

His evolution is also very much mental. A previous version of Jaeger, who twice lost his TOUR card before earning 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year honors and not looking back, was too quick to take a bad round home with him. Struggles would compound into missed cuts, and he found himself in mini-ruts that were difficult to escape.

“If he had bad rounds, he was just so down, so down,” Shelby Jaeger said Sunday. “I call it a golf hangover, and he would have those.”

“There are grumpy golfers out there, and he did, he took it very hard,” added Jaeger’s longtime friend Joel Dahmen (each January, the Jaegers spend a week with the Dahmens in Scottsdale, Arizona, before opening the Tour season in Hawaii.)

“He took it almost personal when he played bad.”

Jaeger’s fiery competitiveness brought plenty of good, including six Korn Ferry Tour titles (in just 118 starts), one off Jason Gore’s record seven.

“When (Jaeger) just gets a whiff of the lead no way can (anybody) catch him…. end of story. I’m not sure the right way to describe it other than having the heart of a champion. 4 (Korn Ferry Tour) wins in under 2 years. That’s crazy good,” posted Keith Mitchell on X, formerly Twitter, in 2018.

Mitchell and Jaeger were high school teammates at the Baylor School in Tennessee (along with Harris English), and Jaeger’s talent was on display from the first day, literally. As the story goes, Jaeger showed up in Chattanooga – jet-lagged, speaking minimal English – and beat his Baylor School teammates across 36 holes at The Honors Course. “It was our first tournament of the year, and I had played that golf course hundreds of times growing up in Chattanooga,” remembered Mitchell. “I think I shot 78-81, maybe even worse. We didn’t know if he was going to shoot 110 or what … and shot 74, and the next round was 68.”

Jaeger traveled from Germany to Tennessee as an exchange student for his junior year of high school. He never really left, staying for his senior year and then playing college golf at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. The Jaegers reside in Chattanooga to this day; they even moved into a new house last week, occupying a large part of their time. After a missed cut at The Players Championship two weeks ago, the clubs stayed packed up in the travel case for nine days, until last Sunday.

A previous version of Jaeger might’ve allowed The Players missed cut to fester – on the heels of back-to-back closing 76s at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, no less. Not the case this week, as a mentally sharpened Jaeger outlasted a contingent of worthy competitors with rounds of 69-66-66-67 at Houston’s beloved public municipal golf venue.

“He’s rock-solid in what he’s doing, he believes in what he’s doing, and it shows off out there,” said Dahmen, who congratulated Jaeger greenside at No. 18 Sunday, as did fellow Tour pros Mark Hubbard and Nate Lashley.

“If you win on the Korn Ferry Tour, you can win on the PGA Tour, and to do it six times, it’s not an accident,” continued Dahmen. “That means that when you get in that position, you know how to win. You’re not afraid of it. He’s not afraid of it, and he showed that today. The drive he hit on 17, over the water and sent it right at it, that’s just what he does now.”

Jaeger had been building toward this moment, and he relished the challenge of playing alongside world No. 1 Scheffler for the final 36 holes at Memorial Park. Scheffler hung tough down the stretch – making birdie at 16 to pull within one, then narrowly missing birdies from 12 and 5 feet on the final two holes. Jaeger’s bogey-free back nine, though, delivered his first Tour title in his 135th start – a memory he’ll cherish forever.

By refusing to bring the result home with him, he earned the ideal result.

“It was tough, and it made him realize golf wasn’t everything,” Shelby Jaeger said of Klaus’ passing. “That was the start of him not taking this so seriously … He’s so much more patient … in all aspects of life. He doesn’t always look like it on the golf course because he’s very fast, but he doesn’t get mad if he has a bad round or a bad day. I think he just knew this was coming eventually, and he was so patient, so patient.

“Something switched after (Klaus’ passing), and it was just like, there is so much more to life.”

Klaus Jaeger would be “rolling over right now happy,” his son said Sunday. In the name of a PGA Tour title, and of the Jaeger name doing good – this week, and perhaps for generations to come.

“This is wild,” Shelby Jaeger said. “We have a son, and I’m just so happy. He has no clue what’s going on, but one day he’s going to know his dad’s awesome.”