Schauffele gets his major at the PGA and makes golf fun again with help from DeChambeau and Valhalla

Schauffele gets his major at the PGA and makes golf fun again with help from DeChambeau and Valhalla
By The Associated Press
May. 20, 2024 | LOUISVILLE
By The Associated Press May. 20, 2024 | 07:38 AM | LOUISVILLE

The last two years have been a struggle for professional golf. One of its most consistent players over that time, Xander Schauffele, is familiar with that feeling.

It's hard to say one memorable day can solve every problem — either for the 30-year-old from California who broke through for his first major championship Sunday, or for the divided sport he plays.

But there's no doubt that both Schauffele and the game delivered at the PGA Championship, with some help from Bryson DeChambeau, in an entertaining finale on one of the game's biggest stages.

“An unbelievable week,” said Justin Thomas, the Louisville native who finished tied for eighth. “I’m bummed it’s over. I had so much fun.”

Schauffele made golf fun again on a course that has a knack for drama.

His scramble for a 72nd-hole birdie at Valhalla — where Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy also delivered exciting final-day victories in decades past — set the major-championship scoring record. It edged out DeChambeau by a shot after he, too, scrapped for an 18th-hole birdie to briefly tie for the lead.

The win ended a two-year run of close calls with no victories for Schauffele, the 2021 Olympic gold medalist who moves up to second in the world rankings. Just over the past nine weeks, he has held the Saturday lead in two tournaments only to see Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy snatch it away.

This time, DeChambeau was trying to do the same, but couldn't. That the runner-up was part of the LIV Golf league that has disrupted the sport and left its future in limbo felt less like a hair-raising controversy and more like an afterthought given the entertaining show he and Schauffele put on.

“I knew that birdies had to be made, so there was some sort of aggression that I knew I needed coming into today,” Schauffele said, a nod to the fact that a major-record 15 players entered the final round at double-digits under par.

Schauffele's final birdie left him at 6-under 65 for the round. He finished at 21 under to break the major-scoring record previously shared by Brooks Koepka (2018 PGA) and Henrik Stenson (2016 British).

The score was low; getting there was anything but easy.

Twice on the back nine, Schauffele hit drives straight down the middle, only to arrive at a ball specked with mud, which can throw the next shot off line.

Twice more on the back nine, he got bad breaks involving bunkers:

—On 17, his drive reached the top of a hill above a trap, but bounced and rolled back into the sand. Schauffele had to scramble to save par there.

—On 18, his drive came to rest just outside a fairway bunker and Schauffele had to take a stance in the bunker and swing at a ball above his feet, nearly waist high.

“I get up there and just kind of chuckled," he said. "I was like, ‘If you want to be a major champion, this is the kind of stuff you have to deal with.’”

After hitting his third shot to 6 feet on 18, Schauffele lined up the putt and made the stroke. The ball hit the left edge of the cup, spun halfway around and dropped. Schauffele raised his hands to the sky.

Warming up for a possible playoff on the driving range, DeChambeau stopped and watched on the big screen. He exited stage left to go congratulate the winner.

“I gave it my all,” DeChambeau said. “I put as much effort as I possibly could into it and I knew that my ‘B’ game would be enough. It’s just clearly somebody (else) played incredibly well.”

So, what's next for golf, its newest champion and the other star players involved in the weekend's drama?

Schauffele will head to Pinehurst for the U.S. Open having shed the unofficial title of “Best Player to Never Win a Major.”

“I just needed to shut my mind up and actually do it," he said when asked if his old ‘title’ bothered him.

DeChambeau says he's getting closer on calibrating his equipment, which is always a work in progress. He says he felt thrilled to contend even with his “B” game. Even in defeat, he was at his fist-pumping, fist-bumping, “Let's Go!”-shouting best — a fan favorite who moves the needle on the internet and in the gallery.

“I certainly love to do that and give the fans everything I can,” he said.

The TV ratings, sagging all year, will come out soon, and will provide one measure of just how good a week this was for golf.

What nobody can say is that Valhalla was boring.

From the time Scheffler propelled golf out of the sports page on Friday morning when he got arrested for allegedly disobeying a police officer to the moment Schauffele's putt skirted around the hole and dropped for the win, this trip to Kentucky was unlike anything golf has seen.

Nobody loved it more than the new major champion.

“I know it’s a major,” Schaufelle said. “But just winning in general, this is as sweet as it gets for me.”

Xander Schauffele celebrates after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at the Valhalla Golf Club, Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jon Cherry)