Going low

PGA Championship 2024: Xander Schauffele opens with record 62

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Ross Kinnaird

May 16, 2024

LOUISVILLE — Xander Schauffele did it with an ease you’re not supposed to have in this game, especially at this stage, even if “ease” is synonymous with his name. He drips a California nonchalance with every stride and swing, his words and demeanor of a man who seems forever unbothered by his surroundings. It’s aspirational, because a cool like that cannot be learned or faked. That composure was on display at Valhalla Golf Club on during the opening round of the 2024 PGA Championship, where Schauffele broke the course and the tournament record without looking like he broke a sweat.

Of course, to Schauffele’s critics, that ease has been his Achilles’ heel, and Thursday’s performances ushers in a question that, to this point, he’s been unable to answer.

Schauffele torched a wet track, turning in a bogey-free, nine-under 62 to tie the lowest 18-hole round ever shot in a men's major championship and grab the early PGA lead.

“Yeah, it's a great start to a big tournament,” Schauffele said after just the fourth 62 in major championship history (but his second, after shooting the same number at last year's U.S. Open at LACC. “One I'm obviously always going to take. It's just Thursday. That's about it.”

To provide play-by-play would be repetitive. Ball in fairway, ball on green, clean up what’s left, nod to crowd. As he walked off the course Schauffele was first in tee-to-green and first in putting. The few times he did miss the greens proved not to be an issue, with Schauffele converting all four up-and-down opportunities.

He did this despite receiving one of the worst tee times a guy can get, which is playing in front of Tiger Woods. While fans are jostling for position to catch a glimpse of Woods, they don’t much care for what else is happening inside the ropes. For other competitors, that usually means dealing with noise and moving scenery and just a general indifference to what you’re trying to do. But Schauffele was in total command of his game and himself, the circus around him nothing more than witnesses to his history.

"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," said playing partner Justin Thomas. "He just has no quit in him, and he's always hanging in there and staying patient."

In a sense this is not necessarily a surprise. Schauffele entered Kentucky No. 3 in the world, and only Scottie Scheffler has a better strokes-gained figure this year. He is owner of the longest active cut streak on tour at 46, with eight top-10s in 12 PGA Tour starts in 2024. That includes a runner-up at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow … a course that, according to DataGolf, shares the same statistical profile as Valhalla.

“Probably, yeah,” Schauffele said, when asked if this is the best golf of his career. “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. But over a prolonged period, it's tough to keep up high performance. Yeah, I'd say it's very close to it if not it.”

Thursdays have also been Schauffele’s day, ranking sixth on tour in Round 1 scoring. Come to think of it, Fridays and Saturdays have been pretty good, too (10th in scoring in each). Sundays, not so much. Sundays (56th in scoring) have been the bane of his existence, constructing a stigma that he’s been unable to rid and continues to grow.

Recent late stumbles at the Players Championship (when he faltered on the final two holes with a chance to win) and at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, where he watched a one-shot lead evaporate into a seven-stroke deficit in a nine-hole stretch to finish a distant second. Not helping has been his play at major championships. After posting nine top-10 finishes at golf’s biggest tournaments in a five-year stretch, Schauffele has mostly been a non-factor in his last 10 major starts. There were also the optics of a poor Ryder Cup showing (1-3-0) made worse amid reports Schauffele was nearly kicked off the American team for demanding pay.

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Christian Petersen

In themselves, each has an explanation or excuse. In the aggregate, it’s fueled a perception that Schauffele, while very good, can’t be better when the spotlight shines the brightest. And part of this belief is that Schauffele can be a little too level-headed, unable to recalibrate from his game plan. That it would behoove him to recognize that golf calls for emotion and perhaps a bit of wild cowboy to be the one on top.

Schauffele is aware of this conjecture and hasn’t hid from it. Earlier the week he spoke of trying to couch the frustration from his close calls, and after his round he reiterated what he’s learned from these shortcomings.

“I think not winning makes you want to win more, as weird as that is,” Schauffele said. “For me, at least, 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.”

The great thing about golf is it doesn’t care about who you are or what you’ve done. The only concern is what’s next. Schauffele understands this better than most, which is why he wasn’t patting himself on the back.

“Yeah, it's a great start to a big tournament. One I'm obviously always going to take. It's just Thursday. That's about it,” Schauffele said. “Teeing off 2-something tomorrow, the course is going to be—the greens will be probably a little bit bumpier with a lot of foot traffic coming through. Who knows with the weather, it might rain, so the course might be playing completely different.

“Just going to bed knowing I'm playing some pretty good golf might just wipe the slate clean.”

He said it not with excitement or worry. Just a sober assessment of what could await. The best gift a Thursday can give is make the weekend matter, and for Xander Schauffele this weekend is a chance to rewrite his story. That’s something easier said than done, no matter how easy Schauffele can make it look.

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