PGA Championship: How Xander Schauffele’s entire career was rewritten in two shots

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Over his career, Xander Schauffele has made tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of shots. Of course, the most significant one he had ever encountered was one that you hardly ever practice.

Schauffele has been the runner-up for his whole career. Even if he won a gold medal at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020, he was still a member of the exclusive group of golfers known as the “best never to win a major.” He finished third in the U.S. Open and in second place in the Masters and Open. He was very, very close to making the cut, which may often be worse than not making it at all. If you don’t play the weekend, hope can’t kill you.

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He knew exactly what had to be done, therefore, when he stood in the sand of a bunker on 18, his ball on the fringe at shin height. The same score Schauffele had as he stood on the tee, Bryson DeChambeau had finished his PGA Championship with a clutch birdie at 18 to go to -20. Schauffele would be forced into a three-hole playoff if he made a par on the hole. He would win his first major tournament with a birdie. A scoundrel, and another significant title would escape his grasp.

He looked over the shot and reminded himself, Someone out there is making me earn this right now. This is the kind of stuff that you have to deal with if you want to be a major champion.

Taking a deep breath, he grasped and re-gripped the ball and lashed it 219 yards, missing the green by only 36 yards. After that, creating an up-and-down for a big title became the task. After losing one chip, Schauffele was left with a six-foot, two-inch putt that could either make a huge difference in his life or intensify the already loud questions.

Stealing deeply once more, Schauffele grasped and re-gripped, then stroked the ball in the direction of the hole. It hit the mark every time, and then, for the most excruciating moment, lipped around the cup’s edge before collapsing.

“After the fact, I don’t really remember it lipping in,” Schauffele said. “I looked up to the sky in relief when I heard everyone roaring.”

That concluded things. PGA Championship assured. Achieved the lowest score to par (minus-21) in any major. Thrown into the sun with a monkey on its back.

It’s amazing how one centimeter can alter the course of a whole career. Who knows what will happen if that putt fails to drop and a three-hole playoff is used to decide the 2024 PGA Championship? What will happen to Schauffele’s story if he doesn’t calm down and birdie two holes right away following his first (and only) bogey of the day on hole 10?

Schauffele is lucky that it’s all behind him at this point. He may claim a date at the PGA Championship for as long as he wants, and he will always be remembered as a major winner. Although not to the same extent as one of his contemporaries, he was quick to point out that his career had leveled off.

We are all ascending this enormous mountain. Scottie Scheffler is at the summit of the mountain,” he remarked. “I’m still not that close to Scottie Scheffler in the grand scheme of things, even though I won this today.” I’m still climbing, but I got one good hook up there in the mountain on that cliff. It’s not that hard to chase when someone is so far ahead of you, however I could appreciate this with a pint up there on that side of the hill.

DeChambeau, who watched the tournament unfold while keeping warm on the practice range following the thrilling birdie at 18 to tie, was among the first to welcome Schauffele as he made his way down the green. After finishing a few holes ahead of Schauffele, DeChambeau signed his scorecard and went to the Valhalla range to be ready for any potential playoff scenarios. (Maybe he recalled the example of Kenny Perry, who led in the clubhouse but lost a playoff game because he chose to sit in the broadcast booth instead of going to the range.)

DeChambeau hammered strokes into the Kentucky darkness while the tournament was displayed on a huge screen to his left. He continued to swing while Schauffele climbed the eighteenth hole, even hitting a ball while Schauffele was approaching his last putt.

DeChambeau grimaced briefly as the putt spun around the cup and went in, then sprinted up the steep hill to reach Schauffele in the post-round crowd. After giving Schauffele a hug, he and Justin Thomas moved aside to allow him to really appreciate the moment that changed his life.

After signing a few more autographs for several kids in the area, DeChambeau became reflective. “I’m proud of how I overcame hardship,” he remarked during a 64-hole final round. “It’s definitely disappointing, but it gives me a lot of confidence going into the remaining majors.” I mentioned that it was closing time today, but perhaps it will continue to be so for the next several majors.

DeChambeau has two pillars on which to build in the future. He began by shooting a -20 in a major. That literally would have been good enough to win every single major played before this one, or at least force a playoff. Beyond that, he was the undisputed darling of the crowd on Sunday, maybe as a result of his recent commitment to producing celebrations and material for his following base.

“Knowing what to do, say, and how to act when the time comes is really important,” he stated. “I’m trying to be a bit of an entertainer who plays good golf once in a while and I’m doing it a lot more for the fans and the people around.”

Schauffele is the focus right now, but DeChambeau may come into play later. Schauffele was always grinning as he posed for waves of PGA of America officials while the sun was setting outside the first nine holes. Furthermore, why not? He had fulfilled a longtime ambition. even though it required a trip to the 72nd hole on Sunday evening to be claimed.

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