Xander Schauffele’s first major makes a satisfying finish to a bizarre PGA Championship

Xander Schauffele’s first major makes a satisfying finish to a bizarre PGA Championship

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The night before the round of golf that forever changed his career, Xander Schauffele’s father Stefan texted him a saying:

A steady drip breaks the stone.

Or something like that.

“(It was) in German,” Schauffele said. “I had to ask him what the translation was.”

The point was crystal clear. So was the meaning of Schauffele’s one-stroke victory over Bryson DeChambeau to win the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. It means that Schauffele, 30, will never again hear himself described as golf’s best player to have never won a major.

When Schauffele sank a nervy 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th green to win, the stone finally broke. It finished a wire-to-wire victory that started with his 9-under-par 62 in Thursday’s opening round. Sunday’s 6-under-par 65 moved him to 21 under for the week, giving Schauffele the lowest 72-hole score ever in a major tournament.

He needed every shot to hold off DeChambeau, who finished two groups earlier with a 64 and watched from the driving range as Schauffele’s final putt spun around the cup and dropped.

“Proud of Xander for finally getting the job done,” DeChambeau said. “I mean, he’s an amazing golfer and well-deserved major champion now. He’s played well for a long, long time.”

Schauffele’s long-awaited major made a satisfying conclusion to a truly bizarre PGA Championship that’ll always be well remembered for several reasons. There was, obviously, Friday morning’s chaos of Scottie Scheffler’s arrest and the tragic death of tournament employee John Mills.

It’ll be remembered, too, for all the low scores and records as a Valhalla course that was softened up by damp conditions and light wind, leaving it basically defenseless against the world’s best players. It helped make Sunday’s final round exciting and fun, though, with basically a dozen or more golfers showing up with a legitimate chance to shoot low enough to win.

The final memory, though, will be Schauffele lifting the Wanamaker Trophy, and who doesn’t love the story of an athlete finally achieving the big prize that has been so elusive?

“I’m so happy for him,” said Collin Morikawa, who played alongside Schauffele in the lead group but shot a disappointing 71 to tie for fourth. “… He’s one of the best players in the world. Today was exactly all that put into one. He knew what he had to make on 18, and that’s what great players do.”

With Schauffele, it wasn’t just major championships that were an issue. For the past two years, he had made a frustrating habit out of starting tournaments fast and not being able to close the deal on Sundays. It happened just last weekend, in fact, with Rory McIlroy sprinting past him to the finish line in Charlotte.

Same theme, different tournament. Schauffele would usually contend – enough to be the world’s No. 3 entering this week – but he wasn’t winning.

“All those close calls for me, even last week, that sort of feeling, it gets to you at some point,” he said. “It just makes this even sweeter. I told Todd Lewis, he asked me how I felt about the week, I said, it’ll make my next win even sweeter. I know it’s a major, but just winning in general this is as sweet as it gets for me.”

During Sunday’s final PGA round, where contending players knew they’d have to make birdies to keep up, DeChambeau and Viktor Hovland, playing together, stepped up and did it.

Hovland went through a mid-round stretch with six birdies in nine holes. About that time, Schauffele made a sloppy bogey on the par-5 10th hole.

That’d be it, right? That was where it was going to turn for Schauffele.

Nope. On the par-3 11th, he struck a beautiful tee shot within 10 feet of the hole. When he made it up to the green, he peeked at a scoreboard to find out that Hovland had just caught him.

“Yeah, I was looking at it,” Schauffele said. “Someone me like has pretty much tried everything, to be completely honest, that hasn’t won in two years. You try not to look at the leaderboards until the back nine. You try not to look at them early. You try not to look at them at all.

“Today I looked at them. I looked at them all day. I really wanted to feel everything. I wanted to address everything that I was feeling in the moment … and I knew that putt was really big in the tournament.”

He made the birdie putt. Then he made another on No. 12.

“I didn’t get frustrated,” Schauffele said. “… I just kept telling myself, ‘Just weather the storm.’ I knew that birdies had to be made, so there was some sort of aggression that I knew coming into today.”

He arrived at the par-5 18th knowing he needed a birdie to win. He really didn’t want to make par to go to a playoff with DeChambeau, because he’d be playing a long No. 18 against a player known for how far he can hit the ball. Schauffele got it done.

On that hole. In Sunday’s round. All week here in Louisville. Wasn’t given to him. He earned it.

So, now, everything changes for him. In a sport that categorizes four tournaments a year differently, there was “definitely a chip on the shoulder,” said Schauffele when it came to the best-player-to-never-win-a-major tag. He didn’t disagree with it, though.

He, too, thought he the best player to never win a major, he said.

“I just felt like I’ve done enough work. I’m good enough to do it,” Schauffele said. “I just needed to shut my mind up and actually do it.”

Reach Gentry Estes at gestes@gannett.com and on the X platform (formerly known as Twitter) @Gentry_Estes.

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