Xander Schauffele gets validation and records with one memorable putt at PGA Championship

Published 3:57 pm Monday, May 20, 2024

By Doug Ferguson, AP Golf Writer

LOUISVILLE — Xander Schauffele might have to watch the replay of his 6-foot putt to see how it dipped into the left side of the hole and looked as though it might spin out. When it comes to him winning the last two years, that’s what usually happens.

And then it quickly slipped out of sight, and the rest was a blur.

“When it lipped in — I don’t really remember it lipping in,” Schauffele said Sunday at Valhalla, a course named for the heaven of Norse warriors in mythology, and the PGA Championship felt every bit like a battle.

“I just heard everyone roaring,” he said, “and I just looked up to the sky in relief.”

That one putt — 6 feet, 2 inches, to be precise — brought more than he ever imagined.

Until that final hole of great theater, so typical of the PGA Championship at Valhalla, Schauffele was wearing the wrong kind of labels.

He was among the best without a major, the back-handed compliment that acknowledges the talent and questions the heart.

That could fall to a number of players over the years — Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay, Rickie Fowler — it’s just that Schauffele was the current flavor as an Olympic gold medalist in Japan in 2021 and the No. 3 player in the world.

“It’s just noise,” he said.

Now it’s quiet.

Worse than not winning a major were the whispers he couldn’t close. Schauffele had won a Tour Championship and a World Golf Championship, yet he was coming up on the two-year anniversary of his last win at the Scottish Open in the summer of 2022.

And that noise got even louder this year when he played in the final group four times — the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Genesis Invitational, The Players Championship and the Wells Fargo Championship.

The last two were particularly tough because he had a 54-hole lead. Scottie Scheffler tracked him down with a 64 to win The Players Championship (Schauffele didn’t help himself with two bogeys on the back nine) and Rory McIlroy had an eight-hole stretch of 8 under in closing with a 65 to beat him at Quail Hollow.

“Definitely a chip on the shoulder there,” Schauffele said. “You guys are asking the questions, probing, and I have to sit here and answer it.”

And he does it well. Schauffele is not big on excuses, and that much was evident when he shared one of many life lessons from his father, Stefan, the man he affectionately calls “Ogre.” Commit, execute and accept. He only struggled with the first two.

But then he looked over at the Wanamaker Trophy — silver and shiny, and more valuable than the gold he won at the Olympics.

“It’s a lot easier to answer it with this thing sitting next to me now,” he said.

It was quite the test. Schauffele started out tied with Collin Morikawa, grabbed the lead with a 30-foot birdie putt on the opening hole, shot 31 on the front nine and was mildly surprised to see he still had little margin for error with Bryson DeChambeau and Hovland at his heels.

DeChambeau turned out to be the biggest threat and got the kind of breaks that typically fall to major champions. There was the tee shot that was going a country mile to the left until smacking a tree and going back into the fairway, from where DeChambeau hit an 8-iron from 219 yards — yes, 8-iron — to 3 feet for a most unlikely birdie.

His 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th was up the same slope Schauffele later faced and looked to be one turn short until it took that last dip into the cup for a 64.

Schauffele never got down. He prides himself in what he calls “strokes gained attitude,” a play on word of the most reliable statistic in golf. When he briefly lost the lead, he answered with two straight 7-irons that covered the flag and set up short birdies.

All that mattered was the last one, and it came with a bonus. Schauffele now is in the record book for the lowest score in the 132 years that majors have been played over 72 holes. His 65 put him at 21-under 263 (the score to par is a record, too).

None of that mattered. He was a major champion, a victory that ends questions about his ability to close or to win the four biggest tournaments of the year.

“Proud of Xander for finally getting the job done,” DeChambeau said. “He’s an amazing golfer and well-deserved major champion now. … Not only he’s just a great human being, but an unbelievable golfer, and it shows this week. Super happy for him.”

Schauffele kept this in perspective amid a flush of emotions from winning. He has thrived on having a chip on his shoulder, and even at No. 2 in the world, Scheffler is a long way off.

“All of us are climbing this massive mountain,” he said. “At the top of the mountain is Scottie Scheffler. I won this today, but I’m still not that close to Scottie Scheffler in the big scheme of things. I got one good hook up there in the mountain up on that cliff, and I’m still climbing.

“I might have a beer up there on that side of the hill there, and enjoy this.”