Xander Schauffele’s PGA Championship win changes the narrative forever

Xander Schauffele’s PGA Championship win changes the narrative forever

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — He says it so many times you stop believing him. First it was “just Thursday.” Then it was “just 36 holes.” Then it was “just another result.” No, really, it’s just another result. Xander Schauffele either truly cares this little or cares so much he has to push it away deeper and deeper so nobody in the world ever knows how much he wants to win this thing.

He walks each hole like it’s just another hole. He plays the course like it’s just another tournament. Step. Swing one arm. Step. Swing the other arm. Schauffele is this good because he operates this way, a 30-year-old golf robot who keeps his head down and treats golf like an Excel sheet, and to some, he can’t win more than he does for the very same reason.

Until he steps to the 6-foot putt with his legacy on the line. He’s nervous, he admits. He sees a left-to-right break. Wait, no, is it right to left? He goes back and forth. “Oh my gosh, this is not what I want for a winning putt,” he thinks. If he makes it, he wins the PGA Championship. If he misses, he makes a short par putt and goes to a playoff. If he loses that, he’s cemented as this era’s quasi-Greg Norman coming closer and closer without a major, giving away a two-shot lead on the back nine.

He plays it straight, and it does go left. So left it catches the lip of the hole, and from there Schauffele practically blacks out for a moment, not even processing the putt of his life falling. He simply hears the roar of the Valhalla Golf Club crowd and feels nothing but relief. He throws his arms into the air.

“Just so much relief,” he says.

And then the robot breaks. He smiles. He can’t stop smiling. The edges of his teeth are pushing out the side of his face and it just won’t go away. He turns away, turns back and throws his fists back up with the crowd, the smile not going anywhere.

This was not just another result. Xander Schauffele wanted this.

Schauffele went to shake his caddie Austin Kaiser’s hand seven days prior in Charlotte, after Rory McIlroy had finished annihilating them in the signature event Wells Fargo Championship.

“We’re gonna get one soon, kid,” Schauffele said.

To the rest of the golf world, Sundays were becoming a thing for Schauffele. See, Schauffele has arguably been the most consistent golfer in the world the last seven years. He’s just 30 and has racked up over 100 top-20s. He seemingly finishes between second and 10th every week. He won the Tour Championship as a rookie and just stayed there, always among the 5-10 best players in the world.

But he couldn’t win more. Not just majors. Anything. Schauffele was playing tournaments toward the tops of leaderboards more than almost all his peers, yet, for whatever reason, he’d go two or three years between wins. He had just six career PGA Tour wins entering Sunday. Consistency was both Schauffele’s superpower and the hindrance making him a perennial disappointment. No matter how you spun it, Schauffele was the best player without a major. And it was not received as a compliment.

At first, he was just the guy who didn’t quite grab his opportunities, not a choker, per se. But recently, the narrative changed. He won twice in his eight career events with either the lead or a share of it. Three different times this season — at Riviera, the Players and Quail Hollow — he teed off in the final group on a Sunday. In all three, he faded down the stretch.

“All those calls for me, even last week, that sort of feeling, it gets to you at some point,” Schauffele said Sunday night. “It just makes this even sweeter.”



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Saturday night, his father, Stefan, texted him some variation of: Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein. It’s the German translation of the old idiom, “Constant dripping wears away a stone.” Because in Schauffele’s mind, each loss was more experience. It was another step toward getting better. Like he kept saying, the finishes were all just results, and he maintained that a sixth-place finish or a 20th-place finish was just a result. He focused far more on the actual golf he played.

Minutes before his tee time Sunday, Schauffele still stood on the driving range, ripping drives into the Kentucky sky. And the drives kept missing left. His playing partner, Collin Morikawa, tied with Schauffele for the lead at 15-under-par, had walked to the first tee a full two minutes earlier. Schauffele kept swinging. The left miss kept coming. Time was getting close, with Kaiser ready to take the bag over to the tee. But Schauffele said, “One more.” So he placed one more tee down, put down a ball and took one last rip.

Right down the center.

Oh, no. It was happening. Happening in the kind of way you could feel on the premises. Other than for maybe 20 minutes Saturday afternoon, Schauffele led the PGA Championship all week, and he entered the back nine Sunday with a two-shot lead at 19-under par. But he misplayed the par-5 10th, ending with missing a 6-foot putt to bogey and fall to 18-under.

Schauffele walked up the hill toward the 11th tee in a daze. He stared at the ground in front of him but no activity appeared behind his eyes. Here was a difficult par 3 with a pin tucked left, behind a tight bunker. See, Schauffele is something of a “data golfer.” He takes the prudent approach. He doesn’t take unnecessary risks without clear reward. One just assumed he’d go center green for par.

But Schauffele went at the pin. And he stuck it.

“In those moments, you can kind of feel it,” Schauffele said, “and in the past when I didn’t do it, it just wasn’t there, and today I could feel that it was there.”

That’s not the story, though. The story is what happened as Schauffele approached the putt. There’s a massive scoreboard overlooking the 11th green, and he looked right at it. Norwegian star Viktor Hovland was on a heater, and Schauffele saw Hovland suddenly ahead of him by a stroke. He understood he needed to make that putt. He needed to chase.

Schauffele made the birdie putt. A hole later, he fired right at another tightly tucked pin and stuck it. Another easy birdie to regain the lead.

Schauffele had tried everything before. He’d tried not looking at leaderboards until the back nine. He tried not looking early. He tried not looking at all. And guess what? He hadn’t won in two years. It wasn’t working.

“Today I looked at them,” he said. “I looked at them all day. I really wanted to feel everything. I wanted to address everything that I was feeling in the moment.”

He didn’t want to go to a playoff. Not against Bryson DeChambeau, whom he knew had tied him at 20-under thanks to a scoreboard peek. Not at a distance course against one of the longest drivers in the world. Schauffele knew he had to win it in 72 holes. Right there on 18 at Valhalla, he needed a birdie.



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But when he hit a seemingly perfect drive, he could only laugh. He even turned to his caddie after the swing to say, “Good, yeah?” But no, it landed just on the first cut of rough directly to the right of a bunker. The only way to hit it would be to stand in the bunker and take a quasi-baseball swing at a ball well above his feet. When he walked down and saw it, he turned around, took 10 steps away and stared forward as he composed himself. “Man, someone out there is making me earn this right now,” he thought with a laugh.

“If you want to be a major champion, this is the kind of stuff you have to deal with,” Schauffele said later.

But what Schauffele was missing was the silver lining. Here was a golfer known not for collapses as much as not being a winner. He didn’t choke. He just didn’t hit the famous, clutch shots and let others snag victories from his hands. Here it was — his chance to change the conversation in real time.

Xander Schauffele needed to hit a difficult second shot on 18 on Sunday. (Jon Durr / USA Today)

He hit a nice shot to lay up in the fairway 36 yards to the green. The course hushed for his chip with the type of quiet that sinks into your brain, and Schauffele placed the ball 6 feet from the hole. You know the rest. The putt went in. Schauffele ended the narrative. He won his first major, recontextualized his entire career and solidified himself as the second-best player in the world right now behind Scottie Scheffler.

But when Schauffele talks about overcoming this hurdle, he downplays it as much as he can, the same way he did when the wins weren’t coming. “It’s just a result.” Because to Schauffele, there wasn’t anything that truly changed Sunday. It was always a matter of probabilities. If he played well and put himself toward the top, there would be a certain chance that eventually things would fall his way for wins. It’s just hitting golf shots.

Kaiser said after the win, “You just look at it statistically, you keep knocking it’s gonna hit eventually.”

Those there in Louisville on Sunday, even those rooting against him, they saw the difference.

But Schauffele’s brain just doesn’t work this way. He sees it as a positive step, but still he just thinks about how much better he can get. He thinks about the man he’s still chasing.

“I think when you’re trying to climb this mountain here, let’s put Scottie Scheffler at the very tip top of it, and everyone else sort of somewhere down on the hillside grabbing on for dear life is what it feels like,” he said Saturday.

Still, could he just enjoy it?

“I got one good hook up there in the mountain up on that cliff, and I’m still climbing,” he said Sunday. “I might have a beer up there on that side of the hill there and enjoy this.”

(Top photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

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