Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Schauffele now a major champion at Memorial and facing a big stretch of golf

By admin Jun6,2024

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — One moment that stood out to Xander Schauffele in the two weeks since he won the PGA Championship was the morning he woke up and realized nothing had changed.

Yes, he holed a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Valhalla to become a major champion. He no longer has to face questions about going two years since his last victory and sealing the deal at a major after a handful of close calls.

But he was still the same person, with the same motivations and same simple lifestyle.

“Maybe I didn’t give myself enough time to sit and really take it in,” Schauffele said. “I was at home and I woke up one of the mornings and I looked at my wife and said: ‘You know, it’s great. Nothing feels different. Like, our life feels the same.’ And that was a really nice feeling. I really was away from golf. My life at home was really nice and we did everything normal.

“But in terms of golf … I was really satisfied and I was really happy,” he said. “But I was pretty motivated to get back to work.”

It might feel like nothing has changed upon his return.

The first stop is the Memorial, which gets underway on Thursday and starts a big three-week stretch in which every tournament features the best fields. Muirfield Village is known for generous fairways and rough that is every bit as severe as a major.

Well, most majors.

Next week is the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, which was restored a decade ago to feature more dunes and native wiregrasses. Then it’s off to another signature event, the Travelers Championship, where the rough is said to be thicker than ever.

“It’s going to be a really interesting stretch,” Schauffele said. “Actually, the U.S. Open might have the least amount of rough out of all the places we’re playing the next three weeks, which sounds wrong.”

Two changes about the Memorial stand out, beyond rough Schauffele says is denser than he can ever recall. Tournament founder Jack Nicklaus tinkered again with the par-3 16th hole after hearing complaints — and agreeing with them — that it was unfair.

Nicklaus said that even with players hitting no more than 8-iron, only 35% of the field hit the green in the third round, and the number dropped to 28% in the final round. He shifted the tee so the water is running more down the left side instead of players having to go over it.

“It’s still a hard hole, but at least now it feels like with the angle, you can hit a good shot and kind of run it on or around the green,” defending champion Viktor Hovland said.

The big change is more about the calendar than the course.

The PGA Tour model of $20 million signature events with short fields — 72 players at Muirfield Village, but at least this tournament has a cut — required them to be bunched together to give a dozen or so players a chance to qualify.

The Memorial was named that for a reason — it’s typically around Memorial Day — and it traditionally falls two weeks before the U.S. Open. Now it’s the week before, with another signature event on the other side of a major.

Nicklaus would like to see it moved back. Asked if there could be a conversation with the PGA Tour after this week, Nicklaus replied, “The discussion is in progress.”

“We would prefer the other week,” he said. “We are here this week because the tour asked us to help them out. But we said we would review it after this tournament and we’ll figure out how we’re going to settle the schedule after that.”

From a personal standpoint, Nicklaus said he rarely played the week before a major and it didn’t seem right to host a tournament that went against that philosophy. As for the tournament, there was a buzz about starting out on Memorial Day. That was missing this year with a sparse gallery early in the week.

“We want to try to continue to support what is best for the tour,” he said. “But we also want to support what’s best for the Memorial Tournament.”

Regardless of the date, it still should pack plenty of drama. Scottie Scheffler leads a field that has 28 of the top 30 — the missing two are with LIV Golf in Houston this week — and it ends with a handshake from Nicklaus off the 18th green when it’s over.

Scheffler remembers coming over to watch at Muirfield Village while in college when he was in town for U.S. Open qualifying.

“It would mean a lot to me to be able to shake his hand and win this golf tournament with all the history here and what Mr. Nicklaus has meant to the game,” Scheffler said.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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