Chocolate chip cookies.
Three months later, that's still what I think about when Stefanie Schaeffer comes to mind. And not just because she's sweet.
No, I think of baked goods because on a sunny Southern California morning in December, Stefanie did something I've never
seen in my 20-plus years in journalism: She arrived at a celebrity photo shoot on time, no less with a box of food for
the crew, quoting the Emily Post adage of never showing up to a party empty-handed.
by DARIN BUNCH
photos by FERNANDO ESCOVAR
And to show our thanks,
celebrity photographer Fernando EscOvar had her dress up
in a clean, white Lija golf skort ... and roll around on the filthy floor of a warehouse-turned-studio. And that's when we knew Stefanie Schaeffer isn't your typical
celebrity. No reality show pomposity here. Just a lot of fun, a willingness to
dive in head first and a love of golf. Plus, a pretty solid swing for
somebody who's only been taking lessons since August 2007, the same year she
catapulted into television history when Donald Trump famously uttered
"You're Hired" as winner of NBC's The Apprentice.
She's Not George Lopez.
I told Stefanie I was going to make that line the lead to this story. It's an inside joke of sorts, based on a profile the now-defunct Vegas Golfer wrote about her in July 2008,
in her post-Apprentice days working for Mr. Trump, first at the Cap Cana project in the Dominican Republic and then as vice president for sales and marketing of Trump International Hotel and Tower in Las Vegas, where she was the lone resident for a while as the grand opening approached.
"It was strange in a way, being the only person there at night, walking through the halls in my pajamas. I could order room service and the chef would experiment on me." Eating lobster benedict cooked by a culinary master while overlooking The Strip? There are definitely worse ways to get paid. But what about working for Trump? Is it all perks and penthouses? "I get along very well with him," Stefanie says. "He's a tough cookie very tough but very fair. And he'll always give you an honest, straight answer. There's no sugar-coating with him, no b.s." The respect is mutual, even now that Stefanie has moved on to the entertainment industry and her relationship with the Trump organization is tangential, mostly as a fixture at events like the CEO Challenge, which was held alongside the LPGA's ADT Championship played in November at The Donald's Trump International course in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"Stefanie is a great person, very talented," Trump says. "She's a lawyer who's very tough and smart. I kept her [working for me] more than the mandatory one year as she would like. Her swing is impressive, and the signs of success and a fearlessness on the course are beginning to show. "She's really got a nice golf game," Trump says. "I saw her play and was a little surprised at how she hits it. She goes after it. She was very funny. I said, 'OK, Stefanie, let me see you hit a ball.' Most people say, 'Oh no, Mr. Trump' or T'm not warmed up' they try to talk me out of it. But she didn't hesitate. She just stood over the ball and rapped it. She's got guts." What she doesn't have yet is a short game. And she's the first one to admit it. "Here's why," she explains. "At the end of the day, the way people drive on California freeways, there's a lot of rage that you want to take out at the driving range. Your coach tells you to practice pitching or whatever, but if you're supposed to grab your 56-degree wedge and your driver is right there looking at you, what do you choose? I say, the driver! So which one gets better?
"So I'm out there cracking drives. I might start with my 7-iron, but then I go right to the driver and spend the rest of my time with it. Do I spend half a day with my putter and carry it around in the trunk of my car? No. I mean, it is in the trunk of my car; I think about pulling over to practice with it, but I just can't make it into the parking lot. I'd probably take 10 strokes off if I practiced."
"Stefanie is very talented, very tough and smart. I kept her [working for me] more than the mandatory one year because she's so good. And she loves golf almost as much as she loves anything."
"They were going to put me on the cover, but they put George Lopez on the cover instead," she recounted over lunch at Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles. "If you put George Lopez on the cover whenever this runs, I'm going to be heartbroken." I figure true heartbreak is unlikely, but I didn't want to risk it, especially after finding out that karate is one of the sports along with tennis and skiing (both snow and water) she spent time practicing before becoming obsessed with fairways and greens.
Not that she had a lot of time for sports because she's so good. She loves golf almost as much as she loves anything. And she also happens to be beautiful, which never hurts." Certainly, he doesn't have to tell us that, not after Stefanie spent the day with Team EG, first in the photo studio and later on the course, where she went after each shot as if it were her last, cutting loose with her swing as few "new players" can do.
It's probably because she loves the game and she loves her driver, a new men's Launcher by Cleveland, which she can smack with the best of them, if not as consistently in a bottle during our late-afternoon game on the front nine at Trump National when she buried a 20-footer in front of the EG cameras (both photo and video) to card a birdie on the 121-yard No. 4. The putt elicited an impromptu soaring airplane dance from Stefanie as she high-fived the crew and relished her supremacy over me, if only for one, short hole. But the flash of brilliance did fulfill an earlier lunchtime prophecy: "If the good golfer shows up, I'm OK," she said during a moment of self-analysis.
Classic Finish: Stefanie swings for the cameras on the opening tee box at Trump National before hitting the course for a late-afternoon round in December. And she's getting better all the time, especially after a few hours of instruction from PGA Tour player Woody Austin at the Bob Hope Classic in January.
"If the bad golfer shows up and my drives are going right, forget about it. I might as well just go home." Not that she ever would dream of leaving the course early (well, she did once ... more on that in a minute); her sense of etiquette is far too strong for that. Plus, she's one of those junkie athletes who thinks she should be much better than she is, even though she's only been learning for a relatively brief time. "I'm new to golf and I love it," she says, "but it's hard to not want to be better. Because you think that if you practice, you're going to get better as much as you love it that your love for it should be enough to make you better. It's just really frustrating."
And that's why you'll find her playing and practicing as much as she possibly can usually with her fiance at their home course, Moorpark Country Club even if she can't bring herself to put in the work she knows she needs on the putting green. So how does she fare in the inter-relational battle of the sexes? "He's much better than I am," she readily admits, "because, A, he can putt and, B, he's got a short game."
Who is Danny Pino?
It's a wonder that Stefanie even tees it up at all after an ironic brush with disaster in October during the USD's Fourth Annual Celebrity Golf Tournament hosted by Joe Mantegna at the very course we played together just two months later. "All through the day when I was playing the course, every sand trap had this huge lettering carved into the sand that said cold case, and I'm thinking, what is Cold Case?" she says with a hint of mock outrage. "And it was upsetting me because even though I'm no longer officially working for Mr. Trump, I'm getting offended that somebody is messing with our sand traps. I'm gonna find this guy, and I'm gonna kick him.
"All of a sudden, I get clunked on the head and it knocks me off my feet. I'm in tears, my foursome's around me and they're checking on me and that's the end of golf for me for the day. "And here comes this guy asking me, 'Are you OK?' and it's Danny Pino. I had no idea who he was. Now I do, of course." Pino, who plays Detective Scotty Valens on the CBS crime drama Cold Case, ended up autographing the errant golf ball, which they later auctioned for charity. "He signed it, 'Danny Pino, with guilt and shame.'"
She suffered some residual effects, but a little bump on the head isn't nearly enough to keep her off the golf course. Stefanie's not one to give up easily, as anyone who watched her steely resolve and determination on The Apprentice well knows. "It left a contusion," she recalls, "and I had to go to a neurologist. And for a while, I was ducking and flinching every time I heard a golf ball. My friends were joking that they should get me a hockey mask or something to wear, just to be safe."
"The new Apprentice starts March 1, a celebrity version," Trump says. "We have 16 absolute stars, and it's gonna be amazing. Two hours on Sunday night, which is unheard of." The contestants of that upcoming Celebrity Apprentice [Joan Rivers, Dennis Rodman, Clint Black, poker player Annie Duke and our favorite, LPGA golfer Natalie Gulbis, among others] could learn a thing or two by studying the game film of Stefanie's 2007 survival inside the pressure-cooker, which included the memorable outdoor tent accommodations for the losing team. In retrospect, she implemented classic reality show strategy to outlast her competitors keep your head down, work hard and be consistent. It's a lot easier to win if you never end up in the boardroom.
It was a plan of attack not lost on Trump, who wondered aloud during the finale whether it would be enough. "Stefanie, you've gone under the radar and you've gotten along with everybody. You're obviously brilliant based on your academic background, your marks, everything you've done. And I want to really commend you you've done a fantastic job. But by going under the radar, I'm a little bit concerned. We'll find out." Nothing like a little classic reality show dramatic buildup from the Big Man. But although Trump might have been concerned on camera, anyone who's seen Stefanie's resume understands why it's certainly no surprise she was victorious.
She's worked as a lawyer, primarily defending employers against workers' compensations claims and spending the majority of her time in the courtroom, which led to Los Angeles Magazine recognizing her as a Super Lawyers Young Rising Star in both 2006 and 2007. Her college years were spent at the University of California, Riverside, where she graduated in 1996 with a double major in English and Psychology and a minor in Communications. She'followed that with entry into the prestigious scale program at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles, where she graduated with her Juris Doctor degree in two years, one year ahead of schedule.
Just thinking about her college schedule would make most of us tired, but it also illustrates the work ethic behind everything Stefanie does and why the Apprentice-related audio that greets you on her website, www.stefanieschaeffer.com, says simply: "If you don't give 100 percent, you will be the one who goes home." She's clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Ronald S.W. Lew in Los Angeles and worked as a trial lawyer defending large California real estate developers in construction defect litigation.
Most importantly, she's never one to rest on her achievements. When she took the sales and marketing job in Las Vegas, the first thing she did was get her broker's license "It just made sense. If I was going to have this position in the real estate world, I needed the training that was expected for the field."
Birdie Dance: Sinking a putt to put a 2 on the card is enough to make anyone tap their toes, and Stefanie was no exception after her 20-footer dove into the hole on No. 4 at Trump National Los Angeles.
Apprentice No More
So what does an Apprentice do after her time is up with the Trump Organization, especially a savvy business type who has all the options of the private sector at her fingertips practicing law, selling high-end real estate or launching multimillion-dollar developments worldwide? "I'm really enjoying the entertainment aspects of what I'm able to do now, and how golf fits into everything," she says.
Not that Stefanie is straying too far from what she knows best. She's a motivational speaker and has a business book in the works, along with a new program called "Strut Your Stuff." And you can still find her on the Internet with her webisodic series Know Your Rights TV (available on YouTube, with a higher-resolution version on her personal website). "It's basically, How not to get ripped off; Is your ticket really non-refundable at the airport; Do you need an attorney to draft a will for you? No, you don't have to pay two-grand you can get a pencil or pen and a piece of paper, and it holds up just as well in court."
Obviously, she's finding herself on the golf course quite a bit these days, too and not just at her home course. When I tried to track her down for a phone interview in January, Stefanie was hanging out during the practice rounds of the Bob Hope Classic, shooting a spot for Cleveland and getting a bit of hands-on help from PGA Tour player Woody Austin. "He was on the range, drinking a Dr. Pepper and teeing up balls for me, helping me with my swing while [The Golf Channel's] Rich Lerner was watching." You'll find her at more tournaments in 2009, showing off that Tour-instructed swing. Already, Stefanie is confirmed to play in the Champions Tour Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at TPC Tampa Bay, April 17-19, and the Nationwide BMW Charity Pro-Am in South Carolina, May 14-17. Plus, she'll be in FG's backyard July 14-19 as part of the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Edgewood along the shores of Lake Tahoe, and at the Seena Magowitz Pancreatic Cancer Tournament, Dec. 5-7, at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale.
In between, you just might see her on TV again, co-hosting the new Hidden Jewels of Golf travel show now in production. But even with her manic schedule and love for the game, Stefanie's kind-hearted, charming spirit shines through along with a compassion that led her to get involved as a national spokesperson for the American Cancer Society and volunteer with the Boys and Girls Clubs and Habitat for Humanity. "There's just so much that golf does for charities and organizations, and I love being part of that in any way I can." Under the radar? Not anymore. And we'll be watching to see where Stefanie Schaeffer soars next. - FG
Additional reporting by Vic Williams
photos by FERNANDO ESCOVAR