Home Sports Xander Schauffele earns — really earns — first major title at 2024 PGA Championship

Xander Schauffele earns — really earns — first major title at 2024 PGA Championship

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PGA Championship - Final Round

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – “It had to be this way, baby!”

That’s what Chris Como was yelling at Xander Schauffele’s friends and family as they all floated toward the scoring tent to do this 106th PGA Championship Official.

Como, who signed on as Schauffele’s swing coach last fall, hasn’t even been an official part of the team long, but he already knew the torment and torrent of pressure his prized student had experienced.

Schauffele had not won anything in 22 months. Only in the last two months he had failed to close The Players and Wells Fargo Championship. This was his ninth tournament with at least a share of the lead heading into the final round, and he had taken advantage of only two of those previous opportunities.

“He knows he’s playing incredible,” said his caddie, Austin Kaiser. “He just needed everything to fit.”

It was frustrating, maddening and confusing. Here was a 30-year-old man who was excellent at everything and excellent everywhere. But something was missing. As competent as he was in all aspects of his game, there was no metric for heart, courage or punctuality. He had never self-immolated when he was in a position to win. But he had never gone out either and had taken advantage of the moment.

That’s part of what led Schauffele to go in a different direction with his game late last year. Schauffele had always used his father, Stefan, as his primary instructor, although, as a former aspiring Olympic decathlete, he never had any formal training in the game. Nicknamed the “Ogre”, Stefan is a hulking figure who was constantly present at tournaments, usually dressed in capris, a short-sleeved shirt, straw hat and sunglasses, and sometimes with a cigar dangling from his mouth. What he lacked in coaching accolades he made up for in immaculate vibes.

Under his tutelage, Schauffele had gone from a solid college player to arguably the best active non-major player, but last fall he felt like his head was hitting the ceiling. To consistently challenge Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm (to win more), he needed to make a change. And that meant turning to someone other than his father, a point his father had been emphasizing for years.

“Like any good father, he just wanted to prepare his son for a successful future. He really meant it,” Schauffele said. “Now that I’m working with Chris, he feels like he can take his hands off the wheel. He trusts him a lot. “I trust him a lot.”

As he added: “I have chosen, and will continue to choose, your father’s brain for everything. I don’t even see it as a “change.” She still plays and always will play a huge role in his game and his life, but it’s more of a collaborative effort to help him make these dreams come true. The swing is what his father built. “This is a continuation.”

Como’s main goal was to turn Schauffele’s above-average driver into a lethal weapon. From a technical standpoint, Como attempted to make Schauffele’s shoulders more pronounced and his backswing less relaxed at the top, moving to a point from which he could be more aggressive during the shot. Those moves, along with increased intensity in the gym, were designed to make Schauffele go longer and faster.

Last year, Schauffele ranked 34thth on the Tour in ball speed, averaging 179 mph. Now, he’s ranked No. 9 at 183 mph, which is no small feat for a player who stands a generous 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. That increase in speed roughly translates to about 10 yards of distance, allowing Schauffele to revamp his course strategy with more aggressive lines over doglegs and bunkers. In just a few months, he has added a huge asset to what was already one of the most complete games in the sport.

“It’s so complete,” Como said. “So even if something is a little off, something else can keep everything going, and that’s why it’s so consistent.”

There was no doubt about Schauffele’s coherence; He has been a fixture among the world’s top 10, is annually among the best players on Tour, and is a staple on every U.S. Cup team. But he had fallen short, time and time again, in the events that defined the game’s legacy. By age 30 he had already achieved six top 5s, and his 12 top 10s in majors were the sixth most of all time before a player won his first.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so poor,” he said of his resume. “I saw him as someone who is trying very hard and needs more experience.”

The first half of this year only underscored how close he came to hitting the big time. Among his top five finishes this season, he led The Players’ back nine before stalling down the stretch and, last week, lost a four-shot lead midway through at Quail Hollow.

“As frustrating as it is, he always comes home and can turn it off,” said his wife, Maya. “As his partner, I get the best roles. It’s great to let go of that and be able to balance different parts of your life. I know it’s frustrating for him, but he does a really good job of not making it noticeable to me. He just shows how mentally strong and patient he is.”

PGA Championship – Final Round

As he looked even deeper. “It just takes knowing internally that you are doing exactly what is within your control and sticking to it,” she said. “It’s easy to pick on yourself, listen to the external narratives, but at the end of the day, ‘We’re just playing golf, keep doing it and eventually these kinds of things will happen.'”

What exactly happened was this virtuoso performance in Valhalla.

On Thursday, Schauffele became the first player to record a pair of 62s in a major. On Friday, with the tournament in full swing due to Scottie Scheffler’s early morning arrest, he held his ground and took another 36-hole lead. On Saturday, even as the leaderboard began to pile up behind him, he made consecutive birdies to end his round and take a share of the overnight lead. It was the first time since Tiger Woods in the summer of 2000 that a player led or co-led after six consecutive tournament rounds in consecutive weeks.

“It’s just remembering that your time will come,” Kaiser said. “You hit him too well, you are too mentally strong. “It’s going to come.”

In fact, that’s what Schauffele told him on the final green last week in Charlotte, when he played too conservatively, stumbled to a 71 on Sunday and was beaten by McIlroy.

“He shook my hand on Sunday the 18th,” Kaiser said, “and said, ‘We’ll have one soon, kid.’”

All he had to wait was one more week and to receive an even bigger prize.

In the final group, Schauffele showed none of the shyness that had plagued so many previous Sundays.

During what was already a record-breaking scoring week on a rain-softened course, Schauffele made a 30-foot birdie on the opening green and set the tone for a wild day. “Be calm, be patient,” he told himself, even though he was still six birdies away from his goal of 22 under par. He made a deft save from the bunker on No. 2. He timed his wedge perfectly in the thick, rugged No. 4. He made a 15-foot par save on No. 6, then sank another decisive birdie putt on the par-5 seventh. When he added a birdie on the 9th, he was two strokes ahead and was halfway home.

Even after an ugly bogey on the par-5 10thththe easiest hole of the day, he responded with a pair of perfect half-irons that never strayed far from the flag and led to consecutive birdies.

“He showed determination and that’s who he is as a person,” Kaiser said. “He never gives up”.

But, as befits him, this specialization would not be easy for him either. Bryson DeChambeau and Viktor Hovland charged behind him. Mud on the right side of Schauffele’s ball in the 16th minuteth The street forced him to adopt a conservative approach. His blistered tee shot on the 17th was a little too low, he reached the edge of the bunker and fell back into a dubious position. Then came the 18th, when he was now tied with DeChambeau and needed a birdie on the final par 5. Schauffele made what he thought was a fade, but his momentum, aided by adrenaline, stopped at the first cut, awkwardly right on the outside of the bunker.

“I kept telling myself, Man, someone out there is making me earn this right now.”Schauffele said. “I was like, If you want to be a major champion, this is the kind of thing you have to deal with..”

The ball was significantly above his feet, and Schauffele was initially concerned about hitting the shot with a half-baseball swing. But he hit a seed with his choked 4-iron, and the ball ended up just short of the left bunker, an ideal angle to attack the back hole location.

After a crisp chip to 6 feet, Schauffele studied the putt himself.

“It was his time,” Kaiser said.

Schauffele’s putt sailed toward the left lip, but he caught enough and spun toward the cup to close out the birdie. His reaction was not so much vigorous celebration as a satisfied relief.

He raised his arms, closed his eyes and… smiled.

Behind the green, Como hugged Schauffele’s brother, his wife and friends from New York who had flown in to see the crowning of the game’s next star.

“It had to be this way, honey!” As she shouted at them, her eyes wet with tears.

It had to be that Schauffele scored the lowest par score (21 under par) in major championship history.

It had to be that he closed with a 6-under 65, the second-best Sunday score by a winner in the history of the tournament.

It had to be that he became the first in almost 20 years to make birdie on 72.North Dakota hole to win the PGA by one.

So strong, so gripping, so timely.


“He’s got a lot of heart in the way he plays, you know?” Como said. “He’s obviously been close a lot of times, and to get this one… it’s really special for me.”

The only member of his team missing that day was Schauffele’s father, who was on vacation in Hawaii. While he waited to be introduced at the trophy presentation, Schauffele quickly called him.

Stefan had been on his mind a lot this week, the mentor and swing coach who helped raise a champion. Since he was 9 years old, “commit, execute, accept” has been ingrained in Xander, even if that has become harder to do as the major losses have piled up, the scrutiny has intensified, and the pressure has mounted. But now his father was on the other end of the phone, sobbing, because the lesson had finally paid off.

“I was very excited,” Schauffele said. “I told him I had to hang up because I couldn’t show up looking like that.”

With thousands of people still lining up on the 18thth hole, Schauffele wiped his eyes, took a deep breath, and composed himself. His time had come. He walked down the hill in search of the trophy he had been waiting too many years to kiss.

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