Golf: Schauffele wins first major

Published 11:25 pm Sunday, May 19, 2024


LOUISVILLE, Ky.  — Every step Xander Schauffele took Sunday toward becoming a major champion brought small reminders that it was never going to be easy.

It wasn’t just Bryson DeChambeau pushing in the PGA Championship until he finally caught Schauffele with a birdie on the last hole at Valhalla.

It was the mud on Schauffele’s golf ball after a good drive on the 16th. It was the tee shot on the 17th that kicked back into a bunker instead of forward into the fairway. Needing birdie on the par-5 18th for the win, he hit what he thought was a good drive until Schauffele walked up and saw it had rolled close enough to a bunker that he couldn’t get a clean shot at the green.

“I just kept telling myself, ‘Man, someone out there is making me earn this right now,’” Schauffele said. “I get up there and just kind of chuckled. I was like, ‘If you want to be a major champion, this is the kind of stuff you have to deal with.’”

There was one other message he preached along the back nine.

“I told myself this is my opportunity — capture it,” Schauffele said.

A gutsy shot from the fairway — standing in the bunker with the ball above his feet, he worried about a shank — came up some 35 yards short with a perfect angle, and his pitch up the slope to 6 feet gave him the moment he always wanted.

And then the 30-year-old Californian, a hard-luck runner-up to Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy the last two months, delivered some magic of his own.

He swirled in a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win a thriller at Valhalla. The putt denied DeChambeau — and LIV Golf — a chance at another major title and put Schauffele in the record book with the lowest 72-hole score in major championship history.

“I just kept telling myself, ‘I need to earn this — earn this and be in the moment.’ And I was able to do that,” Schauffele said. “I don’t really remember it lipping in. I just heard everyone roaring and I just looked up to the sky in relief.”

And with that, the Olympic gold medalist got something even more valuable in silver — that enormous Wanamaker Trophy after a wild week at Valhalla.

He closed with a 6-under 65 to beat DeChambeau, who was entertaining to the very end by turning a huge break into an unlikely birdie on the 16th hole and a 10-foot birdie on the par-5 18th for a 64.

“Shot 20-under par in a major championship,” DeChambeau said. “Definitely disappointing, but one that gives me a lot of momentum for the rest of the majors.”

Schauffele became the first player since Phil Mickelson in 2005 at Baltusrol to win the PGA Championship with a birdie on the last hole to win by one.

Even the last shot had drama. Schauffele crouched to study the putt and couldn’t figure out which way it was going to break. He played it straight, with just enough speed that when it caught the edge of the cup gravity was starting to take over.

Schauffele, who exudes California chill, raised both arms above his head with the biggest smile before a hard hug with Austin Kaiser, his caddie and former teammate at San Diego State.

DeChambeau was on the range, staying loose for a potential playoff, watching Schauffele from a large video board. He saw the winning putt fall, and walked all the way back to the 18th to join in with so many other players wanting to congratulate the 30-year-old.

Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship last year and remains the only LIV Golf player to win a major. DeChambeau was close to matching him.

“I gave it my all. I put as much effort as I possibly could into it and I knew that my B game would be enough,” DeChambeau said. “It’s just clearly somebody played incredibly well. Xander’s well deserving of a major championship.”

Viktor Hovland, the FedEx Cup champion who wasn’t sure he even belonged at Valhalla while trying to work his way out of a slump, also had a 10-foot putt to tie DeChambeau. He missed the birdie, then missed a meaningless par putt and shot 66 to finish third.

Schauffele, who began this championship with a 62 to tie the major championship record, finished at 21-under 263 with that winning birdie. That beats by one shot the major record previously shared by Koepka in the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive and Henrik Stenson in the 2016 British Open at Royal Troon.

And so ended another memorable week at Valhalla.

Scheffler, who arrived five days after the birth of his first child, was arrested and briefly jailed on Friday morning for not following directions of police investigating a fatal car crash involving a pedestrian an hour earlier.

He got out of jail and to the course in time to play the second round and shot 66. But it caught up with him on the weekend. Scheffler fell out of contention with a 73 on Saturday — his first round over par since last August. He closed with a 65 to tie for eighth.

Two players — Schauffele on Thursday and Shane Lowry on Saturday — tied the major record with a 62. Scoring records seemed to fall just about every day on a rain-softened course.

All that, and it came down to one putt that Schauffele will never forget.

But then, he was great from the start when he holed a 30-foot birdie putt at No. 1 to break out of a tie with Collin Morikawa. Schauffele went out in 31 and figured he had a comfortable lead, only to see a board that showed DeChambeau and Hovland in close pursuit.

And then Schauffele made a soft bogey on the par-5 10th, the easiest hold at Valhalla, and he suddenly was tied. It was easy to wonder what would go wrong next, if he would fall victim to another great round like Scheffler’s 64 at The Players Championship or McIlroy’s 65 last week at the Wells Fargo Championship.

Kaiser recalls Schauffele telling him, “We’ve got to go get it.”

He hit 7-iron to 8 feet for birdie on the 11th, another 7-iron to 6 feet for birdie on the 12th and the lead was restored. He held on with pars from mud balls, and with a clutch save on the 17th, setting up a moment that was all his.

In so many ways, this time was overdue. He had gone nearly two years since last winning at the Scottish Open. Schauffele had eight consecutive finishes in the top 20 at majors coming into Valhalla. He already had a pair of runner-up finishes and six top 5s.

The victory was his eighth on the PGA Tour — that doesn’t include his Olympic gold from the Tokyo Games in 2021. This one moves him to a career-best No. 2 in the world, still a long way from Scheffler but assuring Schauffele of qualifying for the U.S. team in the Olympics.