Xander Schauffele ate Italian food and watched basketball the night before the biggest round of his career. He was back at the rental house with his wife, Maya, and their two dogs, Chewie and Momo. His older brother Nico, who does the cooking, had made chicken piccata, and the team, which also includes Xander’s uncle/manager, watched the NBA playoffs before turning in.

Online, people were clucking about his earlier comments – “It’s another Sunday. Winning a tournament is just another result” – saying they explained why he had not won since the 2022 Genesis Scottish Open, his seventh and still his most recent PGA TOUR victory. And it was why this overly laid-back exemplar of SoCal chill hadn’t won a major. He lacked something.

Didn’t he?

“I don’t think I’d ever look at it as lacking,” Schauffele said after shooting a final-round 65 to win the PGA Championship by a shot over Bryson DeChambeau (64) at Valhalla Golf Club on Sunday. “I looked at it as someone that is trying really hard and needs more experience.

“All those close calls for me,” he added, “even last week, that sort of feeling, it gets to you at some point. It just makes this even sweeter.”

Suffice it to say your newest major champion is not very well understood, which is funny considering he makes his living largely on TV.

“I listened to his press conference last night,” said Max Homa (69, 8 under), “and I feel like a lot of people online were saying, ‘Oh, this is why he hasn’t won, because he’s so process-oriented,’ and he said it’s just a result. But I don’t think people understand that the greats of every sport, that is exactly how they looked at it. They wait for the dominoes to fall their way.

“I think (a victory) would mean honestly very little to him … for how he goes about things,” Homa continued. “He understands that he’s doing the right things. I just think it would help the narrative of him. I think people don’t grasp just how phenomenal a golfer he is.”

Well, sure, the average fan was starting to feel half in, half out on the idea that Schauffele would deliver. But that was before his 6-footer for birdie straddled the left edge, circled, and dropped as he thrust his arms into the air at the par-5 18th, which DeChambeau had also birdied.

With that one putt, Schauffele laid waste to the old narratives. He had previously played in the final group on Sunday four times this season, one shy of world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler for most on TOUR, but Scheffler had four victories while Schauffele had none. He had held the final-round lead a week earlier at the Wells Fargo Championship but been overtaken by Rory McIlroy and finished second.

What’s more, Schauffele had eight straight top-20 finishes in the majors, the most on TOUR, but no wins. He shot 62, tied for the lowest score ever in a major, in the first round at last summer’s U.S. Open, but faded to a tie for 10th.

He shot a final-round 74 to tie for second at the 2018 Open Championship, and a final-round 72 to tie for third at the 2021 Masters.

“A lot of guys would dwell on all these close calls, but I didn’t see it from him,” said Schauffele’s caddie, Austin Kaiser, who has been with him for all of it. “Last week he shook my hand on 18 after Rory beat us and he goes, ‘We’re gonna win one of these soon, dude.’”

Soon turned out to be exactly a week away.

The duality of Schauffele was on display early at Valhalla. Inside the ropes, he shot another first-round 62, the lowest round in PGA Championship history. Outside the ropes, he shrugged it off. It was only one round. A couple of 68s let the field back into it, and by Saturday night, he was tied with Collin Morikawa at 15 under. “I’ve got to stay in my lane,” Schauffele said Saturday night.

Stay in my lane. Just another Sunday. Just a result. The world shrugged; maybe this was how he had to be so as not be blinded by the sparkly trappings potentially awaiting him, in this case the Wanamaker Trophy.

“He’s just got this incredible combination of super chill but also being really intense,” said Chris Como, the coach with whom Schauffele has been working since late last year. “It’s almost like a paradox; it’s crazy where he sits. It’s really interesting and unique. He’s so engaged every round, every shot, but then also (when) things get a little squirrely, it doesn’t bend him out of shape at all.”

At more than 7,600 yards, Valhalla was always going to favor a long hitter, especially in the rain. Schauffele has always had pop off the tee, and he began working with Como at the end of last year to make his misses with the driver better. Como was impressed with many aspects of his new student, one of which was how much Schauffele already knew about what his body was doing during the swing.

Anyone who watched at Valhalla, or at Wells Fargo, could see that he was hitting it great. What he needed was to see a few putts fall early Sunday, and he got that with a birdie at the par-4 first hole. He birdied the fourth, as well, and when he holed a crucial par-saver at the sixth and another birdie putt at the seventh, he said, he felt fortified for the fight ahead.

“I just kept telling myself that – just weather the storm,” he said. “I knew that birdies had to be made, so there was some aggression. It wasn’t like a tournament round where I could kind of sit back and shoot 2- or 3-under. It just wasn’t going to be enough.

“I knew that I needed to have some pace on my putts, some more aggressive lines coming into pins.”

It was easy to forget that Schauffele had already won a big one, claiming the gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. His medal lives at his parents’ house in San Diego, but it makes public appearances for photo shoots, most recently with 2016 gold medalist Justin Rose at last week’s Wells Fargo. That’s how Schauffele’s gold wound up making the trip to Louisville with him. (Dad Stefan Schauffele, who is listed on Xander’s website as “golf and mental coach,” and Mom Ping-Yi were not at Valhalla.)

Where was Schauffele’s gold medal on Sunday?

“It’s in my backpack back at the house,” brother Nico said with a laugh. “Now we’ve got a big piece of silver to put it in.”

The fact is, the 2020 Olympics, although they were pushed to 2021, were so long ago, and there had been so many lost opportunities since then, that Schauffele had almost stopped getting credit for his performance. But those closest to him never lost the faith.

“He’s pretty chill,” said Rickie Fowler (71, 3 under), who plays practice rounds with Schauffele at Panther National and Medalist back in South Florida. “I really enjoy being around him. I feel like he’s got that fiery side underneath, and he’s a damn good competitor.”

Others sing the same refrain about Schauffele: great guy, but fierce. When Schauffele made his 2015 professional debut in Japan, he was paired with Chan Kim, who then made his living on the Japan Golf Tour. They struck up a friendship that would become one of mentor and mentee. Kim, a PGA TOUR rookie this season, was struggling on the Korn Ferry Tour early last season when he reached out to Schauffele.

“He had me send him video of my swing,” Kim said. “As a player, he’s so incredibly consistent and in position to win so much, but as a person, he’s probably the best guy you could have as a friend.”

Schauffele’s only egregious mistake Sunday was his bogey at the par-5 10th hole, where he went for too much with his second shot out of the fairway bunker and left his ball in the thick rough. He atoned for that glitch, though, with birdies on Nos. 11 and 12.

From there it was a matter of keeping his nose out front, as the horse-racing crowd might say. He got up and down for a hard-fought par at the 17th hole, setting the stage for the drama at the last. His drive on 18 stopped in an awkward spot just outside the edge of another fairway bunker, necessitating a wild stance in which his feet were well below the ball. With only a fleeting thought for the worst-case scenario – a shank into the water – Schauffele gripped down on a long iron … and caught it perfectly.

“He’s good at hitting those wonky shots,” Kaiser said. “There was no doubt we were going to hit it. He was playing T-ball there. He hit a great shot and a great chip, but a straight putt is the hardest you can have to win a tournament.”

After the ball caught the left edge and dropped, and after all the hugging and laughing, Schauffele called his father, Stefan, who was in Hawaii. It was Stefan, a former Olympic hopeful in heptathlon, who had coached Xander, instilling in him from the age of 9 their three-word mantra – Commit; Execute; Accept. And it was Stefan who had texted him, in German, a phrase the night before that Xander had needed him to translate: “A steady drip breaks the stone.” Only now, on the phone, Stefan himself was the steady drip.

“He was a mess,” Schauffele said. “He was crying on the phone. … My dad is actually — he’s referred to as the ogre, but he’s a big teddy bear.”

As Xander Schauffele reminded at Valhalla, appearances can be deceiving.

Source: PGATour.com


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