Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

PGA Championship 2024: Xander Schauffele makes major history (again), but, ‘It’s just Thursday’

By admin May26,2024

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As far as bounce-back rounds go, Xander Schauffele’s opening effort at the PGA Championship was textbook — but then, he didn’t seem to have much interest in redemption.

Schauffele’s closing 71 on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship cost him a chance to end a two-year winless drought on the PGA Tour but there was clarity in that loss, most notably the progress he continues to make with swing coach Chris Como to become a longer and more accurate ball-striker.

There was also Rory McIlroy’s 6-under 65 Sunday at Quail Hollow Club that would have steamrolled anyone, which explains why Schauffele didn’t show up at the year’s second major looking for a bounce-back performance.

2024 PGA Championship - Round One2024 PGA Championship - Round One

2024 PGA Championship – Round One

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“Not winning makes you want to win more, as weird as that is,” Schauffele said following another historic start at a major. “For me, I react to it and I want it more and more and more and it makes me want to work harder and harder and harder. The top feels far away, and I feel like I have a lot of work to do. But just slowly chipping away at it.”

That fire produced a flawless, 9-under 62 Thursday at Valhalla to match the major championship record that was last reached by (checks notes), Xander Schauffele on Day 1 at last year’s U.S. Open. In fact, Schauffele has two of the four 62s shot in major championship history, along with Rickie Fowler (2023 U.S. Open) and Branden Grace (2017 Open Championship).

For Schauffele, it was a solid start: nothing more, nothing less.

“I feel there’s spurts, moments in time where you feel like you can control the ball really well; you’re seeing the greens really well; you’re chipping really well,” he said. “But over a prolonged period, it’s tough to upkeep high performance.”

Maintaining this level of play is the challenge as evidenced by his performance last week at Quail Hollow, another big course with major pedigree. He opened his week in Charlotte, North Carolina, with a 64 for a three-shot lead and added a second-round 67 (four-stroke advantage) before cooling on Saturday with a 70 and eventually coming up short to McIlroy.

The week unfolded similarly at last year’s U.S. Open with rounds of 70-73-72 following his opening 62 to eventually tie for 10th, all of which explains Schauffele’s largely subdued response to his first-round fireworks.

His fellow competitors, however, didn’t spare the flowers.

“One of the easiest 9-unders you’ve ever seen, it makes you feel like you’re shooting a million,” said Justin Thomas, who was grouped with Schauffele on Day 1 and posted a respectable 2-under 69. “He’s such a complete player. This year he’s hitting it even further. As good as he drove it. Now he’s doing the same, just 15 yards further and faster. He’s smart. I’ve always thought he has one of the best demeanors out here, which is obviously something that you can’t necessarily just change overnight.”

Schauffele’s statistical improvements since he began working with Como are impossible to ignore. His strokes-gained numbers are better than last year off the tee, as are his driving distance and greens in regulation, and Thursday’s effort was a ball-striking masterpiece, with the world No. 3 picking up nearly 5 ½ shots on the field, tee to green.

It’s why one of the game’s most consistent players is having a particularly impressive season with eight top-10 finishes in a dozen starts, including a runner-up showing at The Players Championship and last week’s near miss at Quail Hollow.

But Schauffele doesn’t do victory laps or put much stock in bounce-back rounds, even another bogey-free 62 for the record books.

“It’s a great start to a big tournament,” he shrugged. “One I’m obviously always going to take. It’s just Thursday.”

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