Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

‘I believed’: Schauffele finally catches major championship that eluded him

By admin May27,2024

  • Paolo Uggetti, ESPNMay 19, 2024, 10:06 PM ET

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Deep down, Bryson DeChambeau knew it. And yet he couldn’t stop himself from swinging.

Alone on the driving range after turning in Sunday’s lowest round at 7 under, highlighted by an electric birdie on 18 to tie Xander Schauffele for the lead at 20 under, DeChambeau was in his comfort zone.

With a giant video screen that would show his fate to his left, DeChambeau smashed driver after driver, fairway wood after fairway wood, into the hot Louisville evening, every ball carrying with it a plea that there would be more golf to play at Valhalla Golf Club.

“Well, this is a nice practice session,” DeChambeau told his caddie with a smile. He turned to his swing coach — who was taking video of his swing — and said: “I think the club is just behind me.”

If Schauffele birdied the par-5 18th hole, the PGA Championship would be his. With a par instead, a playoff between the two would ensue.

Every time it was Schauffele’s turn to hit, DeChambeau would pause his swings and watch. When Schauffele’s drive on 18 landed near the fairway bunker, giving him an awkward stance, DeChambeau seemed emboldened. He crushed another drive.

Xander Schauffele celebrates after winning on the 18th green during the final round of the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

But when Schauffele hit a great recovery shot that left him a mere pitch and putt for the winning birdie, DeChambeau all but accepted what was coming. Schauffele was not going to miss. Not this week.

“Agh,” DeChambeau said. “Played great though.”

With Schauffele lining up the winning putt, DeChambeau kept swinging. He launched one more fairway wood and stopped. Schauffele’s putt trickled into the left side of the hole, his arms launching into the air — as DeChambeau’s slumped and he began walking off the range. There would be no more shots to hit.

“He’s an amazing golfer and well-deserved major champion now,” DeChambeau said. “He’s played well for a long, long time.”

On the green at 18, Schauffele’s elation spread throughout his team. His caddie, Austin Kaiser, hugged him and told him, “I love you, man. Proud of you.” His swing coach, Chris Como, teared up. Shortly before the trophy presentation, Schauffele called his dad, Stefan, in Hawaii. He was crying too.

Schauffele’s own smile spoke volumes. As DeChambeau alluded to, the golf world has always known and seen how good the 30-year-old from San Diego has been throughout his nine-year career. But now, at long last, the major championship that has eluded him is his.

“I believed in what I could do,” Schauffele said. “And this is just the fruits of it.”

On a golf course such as Valhalla that seems to have a knack for compressing leaderboards and producing wild finishes, Schauffele was the tournament’s metronome. For three days, he was the pace car everyone was chasing, and after 72 holes, he was the one no one could catch.

Bryson DeChambeau’s birdie on the 18th hole tied him in the lead with Schauffele, but no one could catch Schauffele all week. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

“He’s so well-rounded, so even if one thing’s maybe a little bit off, something else can keep everything going,” said Como, whom Schauffele started working with this year. “He’s, like, so consistent. I think this is just the first.”

The narrative surrounding Schauffele’s career before this was the most damning an athlete at this level, in any sport, can have. Twelve times Schauffele had finished inside the top 10 at a major. Twice he had been runner-up. Over his entire career, Schauffele has twice as many runners-up as he does wins. The biggest compliment one could pay him before Valhalla was also the biggest insult: the best current player to not have won a major.

“​​It’s just noise. That’s what I think,” Schauffele said. “I just felt like I’ve done enough work, I’m good enough to do it. I just needed to shut my mind up and actually do it.”

All week long, Schauffele spoke of patience and espoused the virtues of not getting ahead of himself. How could he? He has been trying so long for this feat, and failing so many different times, that the climb necessary to give himself another shot is inconsequential at this point. Nothing but what he did on Sunday mattered.

“I’ve become very patient not knocking off any wins in the last couple years,” Schauffele said. “The people closest to me know how stubborn I can be. Winning, I said it earlier, is a result. This is awesome. It’s super sweet. But when I break it down, I’m really proud of how I handled certain moments on the course today, different from the past.”

For three days, Schauffele did his best to convince the assembled press that a victory, despite being meaningful to him, was just a result — nothing less, nothing more. That approach has become synonymous with Schauffele, who doesn’t let on more than he wants. But in turn, it also has become synonymous with coming up short on the biggest stages.

“All those close calls for me … it gets to you at some point,” Schauffele said. “It just makes this even sweeter.”

Schauffele finished inside the top 10 at a major 12 times before this, including finishing tied for second to Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters. (Photo by Augusta National via Getty Images)

Perhaps no one is as intimately familiar with the difficulty of winning and closing out a golf tournament as much as Schauffele is. The resiliency he possesses is certainly part of his nature, but it also has been bolstered by how his career has transpired. It was fitting then that Schauffele’s task on Sunday at Valhalla became about showcasing that resiliency over the course of 18 holes.

Despite making four birdies on the front nine and holding a 3-shot lead at one point, the tournament felt like it hung in the balance once Schauffele bogeyed the par-5 10th hole. It was only his second bogey of the tournament, and as he walked to the 11th tee, any inkling of frustration or disappointment was far from visible.

Schauffele stepped up to the box, got the yardage — 209 yards — took out a 7-iron and proceeded to hit one of the best shots of the day: a towering draw that landed just 8 feet left of the pin. Before he lined up to hit his birdie putt, Schauffele allowed himself a look at the leaderboard nearby. At 18-under, Schauffele thought he still had the lead, but Viktor Hovland had just birdied the 12th hole to take a one-stroke advantage. Schauffele was now chasing. He didn’t blink. He stepped up to the putt and made it.

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“I knew that putt was really big in the tournament,” Schauffele said.

The bogey that could have kick-started his downfall, the bogey that in the past has done just that, instead became a catalyst for the rest of his round. Schauffele birdied 12 too, and he did not look back.

After five straight pars from the 13th hole through the 17th, the tournament — his entire career, full of close calls and disappointments — was asking for one more putt to drop. This time, Schauffele delivered.

“He’s [been] playing amazing, hitting it amazing,” Kaiser said. “He just needed everything to kind of fall into place.”

It was just last week that Schauffele had his best shot to win for the first time since 2022. At the Wells Fargo Championship, he held the 54-hole lead only to watch Rory McIlroy beat him by 5 shots — the seventh straight time Schauffele had been in the final pairing and lost.

When that round finished, Schauffele was disappointed but not distraught. He shook Kaiser’s hand on the green and said something that he has likely said many times before:

“We’re going to get one soon, kid.”

They would not have to wait much longer.

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