Here’s The weird reality of Xander Schauffele’s record-breaking PGA Championship start

Here’s The weird reality of Xander Schauffele’s record-breaking PGA Championship start

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Xander Schauffele’s PGA Championship first round was, in a word, annoying.

Because for everyone around him, it was another word — the kind that everyone wishes their golf could be described — it was easy.

“When you’re playing with one of the easiest nine-unders you’ve ever seen, it makes you feel like you’re shooting a million,” Schauffele’s playing partner Justin Thomas said ruefully, and perhaps even a little affectionately, after Schauffele’s nine-under 62 on Thursday.

And he had every right to swoon over the way Schauffele struck the ball on PGA Thursday. In the first round of the second major championship of the year, Schauffele played utterly perfect — lapping the field in the morning session with a nine-birdie, zero-bogey affair that put him atop by three heading into the afternoon. Schauffele’s performance resulted in an opening-round 62, tying the lowest single-round score at a major championship ever. Sure, it came in slow and soft and windless conditions that rendered Valhalla mostly toothless, but in a field of players lighting up the leaderboard, Schauffele was the best of the bunch by a solid two club-lengths, and not even he could ignore it.

Probably, yeah [I’m playing the best golf of my career],” Schauffele said Thursday. “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. I’d say this is very close to [the best], if not it.”

It was a course-record shot on Thursday at the PGA Championship, and it was, nobody could argue, easy.

“He’s playing really, really great golf right now,” Thomas agreed. “You feel like he’s one of those guys every time he tees it up right now, he’s going to be in contention.”

But in some ways that was the funny part of Thursday’s performance. For everyone else in the field, Xander’s Thursday at the PGA was a stupefying display of ball-striking that moved the goalposts of staying in contention — the kind of round that introduces the idle thought into the back of everyone’s mind that it might finally be his week. And for Xander, it was everything but that.

In some ways, that was the strange thing about Xander’s Thursday at the PGA Championship. While everyone else in the sport seemed to be whispering about his round, he seemed unwilling to entertain the thought that it was anything more than the first chapter of a four-chapter book he’d already worn out the spine reading. An easy first chapter, sure, but nobody reads for the first chapter.

The week was a “big tournament” — not a major — and the performance was, as he reiterated a few times, “just Thursday.”

“[I’m] going to bed knowing I’m playing some pretty good golf, so I might just wipe the slate clean,” he said flatly.

One-off rounds happen often in major championship golf, and though a runaway Thursday leader can sometimes portend good things for the rest of the week (like Brian Harman at Hoylake last summer), they can just as often prove an early distraction for the real winner. Schauffele knows this as well as anybody. Over the last seven years, he’s held the Thursday lead as much as anybody at the majors, and yet as of Thursday afternoon, he’s got zero wins to show for it.

It’s early to call Schauffele tortured by the majors, but with 12 top-10s in golf’s four biggest events (the second-most of any active player without a major victory), it certainly isn’t too early to call him spurned by them. Through the first seven years of a fabulously successful career, Xander has become known as one of the best never to do it. That’s golf’s ultimate backhanded compliment — and Xander’s disinterest in gloating after Thursday indicated his cheek is getting a little sore from hearing it.

Perhaps that’s because this year’s PGA Tour season has seen Xander fall into those habits beneath the major level, too. He is winless in 12 starts in ’24, but those 12 starts have featured two runner-up finishes and eight top-10s. Once again a great player, and once again struggling to close.

“I think not winning makes you want to win more, as weird as that is,” he said. “For me, at least, I want it more and more and more. The top feels far away, and I feel like I have a lot of work to do. But I’m just slowly chipping away at it.”

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