"X" factor earns Wannamaker

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M. James Ward outlines how Xander Schauffele secured the PGA Championship title with a gusty final round performance
Posted on
May 20, 2024
by
M. James Ward in ,
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

LOUISVILLE, KY. There are no two words in golf that carry a heavier weight than the following: talent and potential.

Until this week's PGA Championship, the name Xander Schauffele embodied both attributes but with no major championship titles linked to his name.

That changed forever with his win at Valhalla.

Schaufelle demonstrated past successes with two runner-up finishes and 12 top-ten finishes. But the anchor around his neck was the inability to finish off events and to be absent at crunch time in the biggest of moments.

At the 2023 U.S. Open, Schaufelle fired a record-tying 62 to share the first-round lead. From that point onward, he simply faded from view.

Just last week during the final round at the Wells Fargo event it was Schauffele who was blitzed by the brilliant mid-round play of winner Rory McIlroy.

Xander Schauffele celebrates after winning the US PGA Championship at Valhalla
(Jeff Roberson/AP)

To Xander's credit his golf form was on display right from the start of this week's PGA Championship -- matching the 62 he scored at last year's U.S. Open and becoming the first golfer to have accomplished the feat twice.

This time Schauffele exhibited a level of play ratifying the talent and potential long associated with him. His play was consistent throughout the event and he became the 11th golfer to have led wire-to-wire in the championship.

In addition, his final score of 263 (-21) is the lowest cumulative score in any major championship, besting the previous mark of -20 shared by several others.

***

Lowest winning scores at a major championship in relation to par

-21, Xander Schauffele, 2024 PGA Championship (Valhalla)

-20, Cameron Smith, 2022 Open Championship (St. Andrews)

-20, Dustin Johnson, 2020 Masters

-20, Henrik Stenson, 2016 Open Championship (Royal Troon)

-20, Jason Day, 2015 PGA Championship (Whistling Straits)

***

No march to a major championship title is ever stressless and Schauffele faced a number of tense situations. When he double-bogied the 15th hole during Saturday's third round, he regrouped with closing birdies at the 17th and 18th holes to maintain a share of the lead.

In Sunday's final round he faced a 15-foot putt for par at the demanding par-4 6th and sank it. That result provided a clear spark as he birdied the 7th and 9th holes finishing the outward side with a 31 score.

On the inward half a debatable decision with a fairway metal from the right fairway bunker at the 10th prompted his lone bogey during Sunday's play. He quickly regrouped with a birdies at the 11th and 12th before sealing the championship with birdie at the closing hole from just under seven feet.

***

Lowest final round scores, in relation to par, by winners of the PGA Championship:

-7, Steve Elkington (1995, Riviera), won in a playoff versus Colin Montgomerie
-6, Xander Schauffele (2024, Valhalla), won by 1
-6, Collin Morikawa (2020, TPC Harding Park), won by 2
-6, Rory McIlroy (2012, Kiawah), won by 8
-6, Jeff Sluman (1988, Oak Tree), won by 3

***

Schauffele stated his success came from "staying in my lane" even when it became "hard to stay in my lane." Winning a major championship is unlike any other golf event. The pressure is more intense because the status conveyed pushes players from being a member of a larger pack of talented players to ascending to a higher level where only the most gifted of players reside.

Some had questioned whether something was lacking in Xander's game and Schaufelle was quick to refute that.

"I don't think I'd ever look at it as lacking. I looked at it as someone that is trying really hard and needs more experience. All those close calls for me, even last week, that sort of feeling, it gets to you at some point. It just makes this even sweeter. I told Todd Lewis (Golf Channel), 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."

Xander's last win came in 2022 during the Scottish Open. He also claimed the gold medal in the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Being a consistent player was certainly noted by his peers but going one step beyond and attaining a win in a major championship proved elusive. To his considerable credit he stayed the course - no pun intended.

***

Wire-to-wire for first major win

Xander Schauffele led or co-led in capturing the 106th PGA Championship. Over the last 20 years, there have been only four other players to lead or co-lead all four round of their first career major victory:

Jimmy Walker 2016 PGA Championship (Baltusrol)

Jordan Spieth 2015 Masters

Rory McIlroy 2011 U.S Open (Congressional)

Trevor Immelman 2008 Masters

***

"I've felt like I've been on this sort of trending path for quite some time. I really had to stay patient and keep the self-belief up, and I was able to do both those things."

The pathway for victory in this year's PGA Championship became a three-man battle between Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau and Viktor Hovland.

Both DeChambeau and Hovland had birdie putts at the final hole to get to -20 and a tie with Schauffele. DeChambeau converted from just under 11 feet while Hovland missed.

When Schauffele made a deft chip to save par at the penultimate hole that meant a final birdie at the closing hole would decide the championship. Xander's tee shot narrowly missed a fairway bunker on the left side and with his feet in the sand and ball above him he played a low iron shot just to the left of the green. For many the awkward stance could have proven to be off-putting. Not for Xander.

"I just kept grinding. I get up there and just kind of chuckled. I was like, if you want to be a major champion, this is the kind of stuff you have to deal with. So I dealt with it, and happily was able to push that thing up."

Another superb chip left a putt just over six feet for the title. Schauffele looked up to the sky as the ball spun around before finally settling into the bottle of the cup.

For a number of years, the 30-year-old has had to deal with persistent questions from media on being the best player not to have won a major. That dubious honor is now on someone else's shoulders.

Will other majors now be doable for Schauffele? That's hard to say as the talent level in professional golf is incredibly high. Xander himself admitted what he faces.

"At the top of the mountain is Scottie Scheffler. I won this today, but I'm still not that close to Scottie Scheffler in the big scheme of things. I got one good hook up there in the mountain up on that cliff, and I'm still climbing."

Sunday's final round had plenty of key question marks and several clearly centered on how Schauffele would handle such a critical moment. Xander was straightforward in is feelings.

"Definitely a chip on the shoulder there. It just is what it is at the end of the day. You guys are asking the questions, probing, and I have to sit here and answer it. It's a lot easier to answer it with this thing (Wannamaker Trophy) sitting next to me now, obviously.

The "X" factor in professional golf comes front and center when championships are decided. Some have it – many don't. The win at Valhalla removed any questions concerning how much of a fight resides within Xander Schauffele.

The test was there.

The perseverance unwavering.

The "X" factor came alive at Valhalla with a new champion having that specific letter in the leadoff position to his name.

"Winning is a result. This is awesome. It's super sweet," said Schauffele. "But when I break it down, I'm real proud of how I handled certain moments on the course today, different from the past."

Indeed, Xander you most certainly did.

Pos.PlayerTo ParR1R2R3R4Total
1Xander Schauffele-2162686865263
2Bryson DeChambeau-2068656764264
3Viktor Hovland-1868666666266
T4Thomas Detry-1566677066269
T4Collin Morikawa-1566656771269
T6Justin Rose-1470676469270
T6Shane Lowry-1469696270270
T8Billy Horschel-1369696964271
T8Scottie Scheffler-1367667365271
T8Justin Thomas-1369676768271
T8Robert MacIntyre-1366696670271
T12Alex Noren-1267707065272
T12Rory McIlroy-1266716867272
T12Taylor Moore-1267686968272
T12Dean Burmester-1269656870272
T12Lee Hodges-1271656769272
T12Sahith Theegala-1265676773272
T18Ryo Hisatsune-1171686767273
T18Keegan Bradley-1169676869273
T18Harris English-1168676870273
T18Austin Eckroat-1167676970273
T18Tony Finau-1165696970273
T23Maverick McNealy-1066726967274
T23Tom Hoge-1066736867274
T23Russell Henley-1070696669274
T26Tommy Fleetwood-972696965275
T26Brooks Koepka-967687466275
T26Corey Conners-970716767275
T26Brian Harman-972686867275
T26Min Woo Lee-972667067275
T26Kurt Kitayama-968707067275
T26Ben Kohles-967736768275
T26Mark Hubbard-965687369275
T26Tom Kim-966716870275
T35Brice Garnett-872676968276
T35Doug Ghim-869687069276
T35Max Homa-868706969276
T35Hideki Matsuyama-870657071276
T39Jordan Smith-770717264277
T39Joaquin Niemann-773686967277
T39Alexander Björk-771677168277
T39Aaron Rai-768687071277
T43Dustin Johnson-673687166278
T43Grayson Murray-672687167278
T43Byeong Hun An-671677268278
T43Adam Svensson-670697069278
T43Lucas Glover-671687069278
T43Will Zalatoris-671686970278
T43Jason Day-671676971278
T43Matt Wallace-670657172278
T43Jordan Spieth-669696773278
T43Lucas Herbert-669676874278
T53Andrew Putnam-568727267279
T53Erik van Rooyen-572687168279
T53Patrick Cantlay-570687368279
T53Jesper Svensson-568717268279
T53Patrick Reed-569707169279
T53Thorbjørn Olesen-569716970279
T53Zac Blair-573666872279
T60Talor Gooch-471707069280
T60Adam Hadwin-468727169280
T60Gary Woodland-471697169280
T63S.H. Kim-369727169281
T63Rickie Fowler-372696971281
T63Cameron Young-369717071281
T63Tyrrell Hatton-371696873281
T63Cameron Smith-368707073281
T68Sebastian Soderberg-273677468282
T68Rasmus Højgaard-268727369282
T68Luke Donald-270697271282
T68Nicolai Højgaard-270716873282
72Braden Shattuck-171706874283
T73Alejandro TostiPar68697968284
T73Martin KaymerPar68726876284
75Ryan Fox+272687274286
76Stephan Jaeger+570717078289
77Jeremy Wells+669717575290
78Brendon Todd+970707479293
CUTKyle MendozaPar7270--142
CUTPeter MalnatiPar7270--142
CUTC.T. PanPar7369--142
CUTKeith MitchellPar7171--142
CUTBen PollandPar7369--142
CUTLudvig ÅbergPar7270--142
CUTMatt FitzpatrickPar6973--142
CUTJon RahmPar7072--142
CUTAdrian OtaeguiPar7072--142
CUTChristiaan BezuidenhoutPar7468--142
CUTEric ColePar7171--142
CUTSami ValimakiPar7072--142
CUTJesse MuellerPar7072--142
CUTJason Dufner+16875--143
CUTTaylor Pendrith+17271--143
CUTAdam Schenk+17172--143
CUTCharley Hoffman+17172--143
CUTAdrian Meronk+17469--143
CUTAkshay Bhatia+17370--143
CUTTim Widing+17073--143
CUTNick Taylor+17271--143
CUTSepp Straka+27173--144
CUTJake Knapp+27569--144
CUTAndrew Svoboda+27470--144
CUTMackenzie Hughes+27470--144
CUTEmiliano Grillo+27173--144
CUTVincent Norrman+27272--144
CUTBeau Hossler+27272--144
CUTTakumi Kanaya+27569--144
CUTSungjae Im+37372--145
CUTDavid Puig+37273--145
CUTAdam Scott+37273--145
CUTTyler Collet+37372--145
CUTSam Burns+37273--145
CUTEvan Bowser+37273--145
CUTChris Gotterup+37471--145
CUTDenny McCarthy+47373--146
CUTPhil Mickelson+47472--146
CUTWyndham Clark+47175--146
CUTPatrick Rodgers+47076--146
CUTRyan van Velzen+47571--146
CUTKeita Nakajima+47175--146
CUTLuke List+46977--146
CUTFrancesco Molinari+47175--146
CUTAlex Smalley+57473--147
CUTNick Dunlap+57473--147
CUTY.E. Yang+57473--147
CUTWyatt Worthington II+57275--147
CUTChris Kirk+57374--147
CUTSi Woo Kim+57374--147
CUTJ.T. Poston+57275--147
CUTJimmy Walker+67276--148
CUTJohn Somers+67672--148
CUTAndy Ogletree+67375--148
CUTTiger Woods+77277--149
CUTCam Davis+77871--149
CUTMichael Block+77673--149
CUTKazuma Kobori+87377--150
CUTJared Jones+87377--150
CUTVictor Perez+87971--150
CUTBrad Marek+97378--151
CUTPadraig Harrington+107775--152
CUTJosh Speight+107478--152
CUTShaun Micheel+107676--152
CUTZac Oakley+107775--152
CUTThriston Lawrence+117578--153
CUTMatthieu Pavon+117677--153
CUTJosh Bevell+117380--153
CUTCamilo Villegas+117974--153
CUTTracy Phillips+137580--155
CUTLarkin Gross+147977--156
CUTMatt Dobyns+147680--156
CUTPreston Cole+167583--158
CUTJeff Kellen+178772--159
CUTRich Beem+207983--162
W/DJohn Daly-82---82
W/DBen Griffin-7365--138
W/DK.H. Lee-7466--140
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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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