May 24, 2024

Finally!

Xander Schauffele is a major champion. His track record indicated that this feat might never have happened. He has had 13 top ten finishes in majors, since joining the PGA Tour 2017. That, plus numerous leads squandered in regular PGA Tour events over the past four years, made you believe he didn't have that illusive quality that separates the really good and the elites in professional golf, especially since Rory McIlroy steamrolled him down the stretch at Quail Hollow only a week before. This time the stars aligned and he got the job done.

The Valhalla golf course was a challenging course, but not difficult by major course standards. Usually, errant shots have drastic consequences. Valhalla has many hazards, but they were easily avoided. Soft conditions made the course more vulnerable. One under par was the cut line after 36 holes, which sometimes that score would be leading or be close to the lead on a more demanding venue. The record score of 21 under par and over-all low scoring by the rest of the field, should not take anything away from Xander's victory. Whenever there is a major title on the line, there is added pressure and it showed throughout the week. Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Sean Lowry, Justin Rose, Tony Finau, Brooks Koepka, Max Homa, and Collin Morikawa all were at one time during the week either tied or one back from the lead. All faded and only Xander, Bryson DeChambeau, and Viktor Hovland had sustained quality play to put them in position coming down the stretch. A major should produce drama, which certainly happened on the last hole.

Both Bryson and Viktor had about 8 foot putts on the 72nd hole to record 20 under par. Bryson, admitted that he thought he didn't hit his putt hard enough. Luckly, it reached the hole and fell in. Viktor wasn't as lucky, as his putt was hit too hard and caught the lip and missed. Back on the tee, Xander stood at 20 under par and needed a birdie to win the tournament. His drive didn't fade and he was faced with a difficult lie with the ball above his feet by about a foot and with him standing in the bunker. For most amateurs this is a difficult and confusing shot, because the club at address looks open and most would expect the ball to slice or go right. However, the exact opposite is true. At address the club is actually very closed. Xander, knew how to execute this shot. He aimed to the right, flattened his swing and let the natural angle of the club produce a 20 yards hook that went about 220 yards with his 4 iron that set up his 90 foot pitch shot. Both Bryson and Xander hit clutch wedge shots from similar positions on 18 to produce their birdies. Both were very difficult, because of the slope leading up to the hole. Both chose to pitch on the low side and land it about 20 feet short of the pin, where the ball skipping forward and in Xander's case ending a precarious 6 feet short of the hole. Tour statistics show that PGA pros make 65% of their putts from 6 feet. The statistics don't show the percentage made for a career defining first major victory, but we know now that Xander was up to the task and could deliver in the clutch.

Valhalla probably has seen its' last major championship. The PGA of America needs tougher golf courses to uphold its' standing as a major. The next venues are championship quality, with track records to match. With the exception of PGA Frisco in 2027, Quail Hollow, Aronimink, Olympic Club, Congressional, and Kiawah Island, all have hosted major championships and have withstood the test of the world's best golfers. PGA Frisco, outside of Dallas, Texas, is a PGA of America owned facility that was specially made and designed for major competition. From what I have seen of the property, the course will play similarly to the Ocean Course at Kiawah. Wind swept with severe consequences for missed fairways and greens. The PGA of America will not put out an inferior product.

Xander Schauffele has earned his career moment. Clutch down the stretch and closed with a birdie that defines a champion.

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