PGA Championship

At PGA Championship, steady, resilient Schauffele finally gets his just reward

May 19, 2024


Jeff Babineau

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

LOUISVILLE, KY. – Xander Schauffele came into the 106th PGA Championship with a resume filled with an Olympic gold medal and huge trophies, Ryder Cup appearances and no shortage of highfalutin accolades. For all of its highlights and gold stars, there was one small line missing in it – at 30 years old, Schauffele still had yet to land that elusive first major.

Well, feel free to remove him from the "Best Player Never To Win A Major" pool when you get back in the office on Monday. Schauffele took care of that one blemish in style on a radiant Sunday in Kentucky, shooting a brilliant final-round 6-under 65 at Valhalla Golf Club. He made one last birdie up the hill on 18 from 6 feet, 2 inches that fainted into the hole and pushed him across the line. Finally. It was Schauffele's seventh birdie of the afternoon, and he would need every one.

Schauffele’s 72nd-hole heroics allowed him to edge hard-charging, long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau, golf’s Paul Bunyan, by one shot, that last birdie pushing him to an all-time major championship scoring record of 21-under 263. DeChambeau, who shot an emotional 64 without having his best stuff off the tee, was standing on the range not all that far away from that 18th green, pounding golf balls into twilight for a three-hole playoff that never happened.

For Schauffele, victory was extra sweet coming on the heels of losing a 54-hole lead one week earlier at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, where Rory McIlroy shot 65 on Sunday to fly on past him. Schauffele handled the rubble of that setback with resolve, letting another close call serve as a spark to bear down and do better. Getting beat in a close race didn’t discourage him; it fueled him.

“Winning,” said Schauffele, sitting next to that big, beautiful major championship trophy, “is a result. This is awesome. It’s super sweet. But when I break it down, I’m real proud of how I handled certain moments on the course today, different from the past.”

Big moments such as a deft pitch from below the 18th green to set up birdie. Big moments such as the final winning putt, which caught just enough of the left side of the cup to vanish. Big moments such as what he needed to summon on the 11th tee having just made his only bogey of the day on the easiest hole at Valhalla, the par-5 10th. How would Schauffele answer? By going birdie-birdie over the next two holes.

“I’m so happy for him,” said Collin Morikawa, the U.S. Ryder Cup teammate who played alongside Schauffele in that final round. Morikawa got over his own disappointing performance (a one-birdie, even-par 71) to celebrate his good friend’s very first major. Morikawa, who tied for fourth, already has two, including the 2020 PGA Championship.

“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Morikawa said of Schauffele. Before Schauffele moved to Florida and both players lived in Vegas, they played almost every day they were home “Today was exactly all of that put into one. He knew what he had to make on 18, and that’s what great players do.”

Schauffele rose a spot in the Official World Ranking with the victory, moving to No. 2, behind only Scottie Scheffler, who tied for eighth on Sunday. It all but cements a berth for Schauffele on the U.S. Olympic team in Paris this summer, where again he will chase gold.

Schauffele led at Valhalla from wire-to-wire, opening with a blistering 9-under 62. Only five players in the history of the game have shot 62 in a major, and Schauffele now has done it twice, first accomplishing the feat at last summer's U.S. Open.

The putt he made for birdie at 18 wasn’t exactly the one that Schauffele would choose if he had the option, but he didn’t. It was up the hill, 6 feet, and he played it straight, even though it seemed to have a little wrinkle in it to fall left. The putt started on the left edge; when it caught the cup and fell, a warm wave of emotions ran through him.

“When it lipped in – I don’t really remember it lipping in – I just heard everyone roaring and I just looked up to the sky in relief,” he said. It was as if the entire state of Kentucky was there to witness it.

As was the case all week long at Valhalla, conditions were prime for scoring. The sun was shining, fairways were drying out after early-week rains, and the greens remained receptive to mid- and short-iron shots. Schauffele made more birdies (25) than anyone else in the field, his opportunities set up by his stellar iron play. Schauffele led the field by hitting 60 of 72 greens in regulation.

This time, too, he had a quality finishing kick, which would make the difference. He birdied three of his last eight holes to finish the job he had started. Schauffele began the week at No. 3 in the world, but has needed great patience to stay there. He had not won since going back-to-back in summer 2022.

DeChambeau, for his part, did just about everything he could, coming close at a major for the second time in as many months. He takes some jabs for being golf’s “mad scientist,” inventing his own set of bulge and roll irons on a 3D printer, but the 2020 U.S. Open champion has always had lots of game. His driver wasn’t there on Sunday, but he kept fighting, and kept fist-pumping, and continues, at age 30, to mature before us.

At Valhalla, DeChambeau was a huge fan favorite, too, the fans enthralled with his enthusiasm, which matched his prodigious power. DeChambeau stayed there until the very end, getting his own birdie to tumble in on the 72nd hole, and forcing Schauffele to answer. DeChambeau received a few favorable breaks – such as an errant drive bounding off a tree at the par-4 16th and finding the fairway – but when fortune smiled on him, he made the most of them. He just wished his ballstriking was at a higher level.

“Didn’t strike it my best all week,” DeChambeau said. “You know, I shot 20-under par in a major championship. Proud of myself for the way I handled adversity. Definitely disappointing, but one that gives me a lot of momentum for the rest of the majors.

“I said today it was ‘closing time,’ but it will be closing time hopefully over the next couple majors.”

Norway’s Viktor Hovland played a starring role on Sunday as well. A runner-up at Oak Hill to Brooks Koepka a year ago, Hovland arrived to Valhalla with very little momentum, having struggled through this season after making big changes after winning the 2023 FedEx Cup. He got together again with his coach, Joe Mayo, and figured the process to get his game in order might take months. At Valhalla it held up for 71 holes.

On the 18th, Hovland had 10 feet to join DeChambeau in the clubhouse at 20-under, but his putt drifted off left and missed. Visibly disappointed, he missed the tiddler for par, too. Six-under for his first 13 holes, he played the last five in 1-over, shooting 66 to finish third.

For most of his career, Schauffele’s father, Stefan, has been his mentor, forever encouraging his son on his journey to climb higher and higher. He wasn’t there on Sunday in Kentucky, but when son and father spoke just before Xander was to receive the Wanamaker Trophy on Valhalla’s 18th green, both struggled to keep it together.

One saying that Stephan shared with his son, in German, on the eve of Sunday’s final round was a familiar one. Xander had to ask for the translation, but the words he knew all too well: The steady drip carves the stone.

Xander Schauffele has played lots of good golf, relentless in his pursuit of excellence. He has been the steady, consistent drip, unwavering in his resilience.

On Sunday in Kentucky, he had carved the stone. Xander Schauffele, long at last, was a major champion, a most worthy winner of the 106th PGA Championship.