PGA Championship

Schauffele opens with sizzling 62, taking a major step at Valhalla

May 16, 2024


Jeff Babineau

May 16, 2024

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In Great Britain, there is a term for those athletes who often come painfully close to victory without winning. They are called “nearly men.”

Xander Schauffele, when it comes to golf’s major championships, is tired of being considered one.

Schauffele, 30, is not at Valhalla Golf Club in search of another quality major finish. He has bushels of them. Six top-5 finishes at the majors, in fact, including a pair of runners-up. For Schauffele, coming off a Sunday during which Rory McIlroy jetted past him at the Wells Fargo Championship, he is in Louisville hunting a trophy. It is a nice one, too.

Give Schauffele this: The man from California has amazing rebounding skills. Having finished second (again) just four days earlier, Schauffele went out in the 106th PGA Championship and made a loud statement on Thursday, making birdies on half the holes and shooting 9-under 62, a scoring record for this championship. His record round put him three shots clear of Tony Finau, Sahith Theegala and Mark Hubbard, who shot 65s. Neither Schauffele and Finau had a single bogey on the card.

Rory McIlroy, a two-time PGA Champion seeking his first major in 10 years (and fifth overall), opened with 66, as did 2020 PGA Champion Collin Morikawa, Robert MacIntyre, Tom Hoge, Tom Kim, Thomas Detry and Maverick McNealy.

Defending champion Brooks Koepka, seeking a fourth Wanamaker Trophy, rallied late with an eagle and birdie with his round running out to shoot 67. Scottie Scheffler, World No. 1, played in the afternoon wave, when scoring was higher, and shot 67. He opened his tournament by holing a 9-iron from 167 yards for an eagle at the 487-yard first hole. Welcome to Kentucky, indeed.

The last two No. 1s who teed it up in a PGA Championship at Valhalla – Tiger Woods (2000) and McIlroy (2014) – won the tournament. That's a good omen for Scheffler, already a four-time winner in 2024, including the season’s first major championship (Masters).

The start to the opening round was delayed 10 minutes because of fog, and that was the harshest the weather would get. Little wind and softened, receptive greens allowed players to go on offense despite the enhanced length of Valhalla, which played to 7,506 yards. Those who found fairways also found plenty of scoring opportunities. It was a full attack on par, and Schauffele lead the assault.

A round of 62 now has been recorded four times in major championships, and Schauffele has done it twice. What a showoff. He also opened the 2023 U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club by shooting 62, which was 8 under par. Rickie Fowler (2023 U.S. Open) and Branden Grace (2017 British Open, Royal Birkdale) also shot 62s in majors.

Schauffele took his first-round birdie barrage in stride, knowing there still is a long way to go. Which 62 was better, this one or the one he carded at LACC? Again, a smile. That would be like choosing a favorite child. Schauffele wasn’t about to nitpick. He’ll take 62 at a major any day.

“It’s a great start to a big tournament, one I’m obviously going to take,” said Schauffele, the third-ranked player in the world, sitting behind only Scheffler and McIlroy. “It’s just Thursday. That’s about it.”

Schauffele, who in 2020 captured Olympic gold in Tokyo, took one-shot leads into the final rounds of two big tournaments already this season, The Players and Wells Fargo. At Players, Scheffler ran him down on Sunday, shooting 64; at Wells Fargo, it was McIlroy who came from behind and shot 65. Schauffele shot 71 in Charlotte on Sunday, and lost by five.

Schauffele accepted that he did not "lose" the tournament; he simply was beaten by a hotter golfer. He said Sunday at Wells Fargo was like being hit “by a buzz saw.”

He knows how hard it is to win any golf tournament, and that’s why on Thursday afternoon in Louisville he was not about to get too far ahead of himself. It would be more than 24 hours between his last putt on Thursday and first tee shot Friday.  

“I think not winning makes you want to win more, as weird as that is,” Schauffele said. “For me, at least, I react to it, and I want it more and more, and it makes me want to work harder and harder.

“The top feels far away, and I feel like I have a lot of work to do.”

For all his birdies on Thursday, it was a couple of early par saves that got Schauffele off on the right foot. He was making a mess of the par-4 12th and was short of the green in two, but rolled in about an 18-footer for par. He birdied the short, signature 13th with a nice short approach that spun to 10 feet, and at the 256-yard par-3 14th, produced a nice up-and-down from a back bunker, converting his par putt from 8 feet.

“It wasn’t like a dream start,” said Schauffele, a winner of seven PGA Tour events.

If he wasn’t all that impressed, certainly a few others were. Justin Thomas, a two-time PGA Champion, had a pretty good view, competing alongside Schauffele for the day. He shot 69, which had to feel like being lapped two times on a mile track.

“Xander, he’s such a complete player,” Thomas said. “This year he is hitting it even further. As good as he drove it, now he’s doing the same, just 15 yards further and faster. He’s smart. I’ve always thought he has one of the best demeanors out here, which is obviously something you can’t necessarily change overnight.

“He just has no quit in him, and he’s always hanging in there, and staying patient.”

Ah, yes, patience. Schauffele is doing his best to have some, but that isn’t always easy. It is, however, a prerequisite if he is continue on his roll at Valhalla for the next three days. Do that, and he just may shed that annoying tag of being a nearly man.

What a major development that would be.