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X marks the Spot, Xander Schauffele Wins First Major Championship

It was a moment long coming. Ever since Xander Schauffele reached the  PGA Tour in 2015 in 2016 he’s been in contention in the biggest events. He was PGA Tour rookie of the year in 2016-17 and even finished T-5 in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, his bogey-free 66 in the first round marked the first time a newbie golfer to the Open had ever turned in a clean card.

What an introduction to the U.S. Open! Later that year he won the Tour Championship, the first rookie to do so. It looked as though major glory was due at any moment, a fait accompli

…But golf is nothing if not fleeting, and it was one heartbreak, disappointment, or frustration after another for seven long years.

Tied for the lead and playing in the final group on Sunday at the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie, Xander survived a rugged start with three early bogeys in a row, but fought back to hold the lead with just eight holes to play. Ultimately, Italy’s Francesco Molinari zoomed past him, and a wayward iron shot at the 72nd hole led to a final bogey that doomed Schauffele to second place. In the 2019 Masters, he posted 65s on both Friday and Sunday, yet finished T-2, one shot behind Tiger Woods. Later that year he took third place in both the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the Open Championship at Royal Portrush  It was his fifth top-5 finish in just his first ten majors. he was knocking on the door, it just wouldn’t open.

Sure, there was an Olympic gold medal in 2020 at the Tokyo Olympics, but that’s not golf immortality. Oh, it’s not silly season or the Quad Cities Open, but that’s steak sauce. he needed the steak.

Well he got it Kentucky BBQ-style. with bourbon glaze. Schauffele slap-jacked Vahalla’s brisket all the way to the Wanamaker Trophy, collecting two historic scoring records along the way:  lowest score-to-par, (a ludicrous 21-under par) and and lowest aggregate score, 263, besting the record formerly co-held by Brooks Koepka and Henrik Stenson. In doing do, he held off LIV Golf defector Bryson DeChambeau by one stroke. Norway’s Viktor Hovland finished third, three shots back at 18-under.

“I’ve become very patient not knocking off any wins in the last couple years. The people closest to me know how stubborn I can be. Winning, I said it earlier, is a result,” Schauffele admitted candidly. “This is awesome. It’s super sweet. But when I break it down, I’m really proud of how I handled certain moments on the course today, different from the past.”

Schauffele earned it, that’s for sure. one things about Valhalla – now arguably the easiest major championship venue ever – is that it let everybody play golf for the title – screwy golf to be sure, with all the moats surrounding greens and weirdly angled dog-legs, but this was a Formula One auto race, not a slobbernoggin, as the U.S. Open usually is. You had to go out there and seize the Wanamaker Trophy, not back into it, and there were plenty of stock cars out there vying for the checkered flag on the final lap.

And of all the people to be chasing you, a surging Bryson DeChambeau breathing down your neck will unsettle anybody. He could drive greens where no one else could. He could hit shorter irons into every green, another advantage. And his short game was laser sharp. his closing 64 and 264 aggregate would have won him every single major championship except two – the two that the aforementioned Koepka and Stenson won with their 20-under score.

“I really did not want to go into a playoff with Bryson. Going up 18 with his length, it’s not something that I was going to have a whole lot of fun with,” he quipped, relieved. “Getting up-and-down on 17 was really big, and then that chip there on 18 was big for me, as well. I just kept telling myself I need to earn this, earn this and be in the moment, and I was able to do that.”

But as for Valhalla Golf Club, I’m reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous analogy regarding Armistice Day vs. Veteran’s Day. Armistice Day is sacred as the day soldiers heard the voice of God in the silence at the Front Lines. Veteran’s Day, an important celebration for certain, is a pale reflection of the original inspiration for the day’s observance.

Similarly, Valhalla looks nothing like a sacred grounds for golf like, for instance, the Old Course at St, Andrew’s, Shinnecock Hills, Augusta National, or Roysl Birkdale.

And it sure as heck doesn’t look like Pinehurst, which we will see next month, thank goodness.

No, Valkalla looks, and worse stil plays like a video game, and that’s why we got a PlayStation-esque winning score of 21-under.

Sorry, not sorry, but 21-under is not a major.

A 263 aggregate score is not a major.

Sevem players firing all four rounds in the 60s is not a major.

Green sitting atop moats and flaoting fairways in the middle of ponds is not a major.

And cops acting like Springfield’s  Chief Wiggum on  the Simpsons is definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY not a major..

Ah, yes, the other factoid for which the tournament will forever be remembered:  the World Number One golfer and reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler getting arrested, handcuffed, stuffed in an orange jump suit, mug-shotted, and thrown in the hoosegow to cool his heels for an hour or so, before being released and shooting a 66.

Texas:  Don’t mess with us.

Kentucky:  Hold my beer.

So it’s off to the U.S. Open at an old Donald Ross masterpiece. we need a palate cleanser after all. Schauffele has won his major, but in this rare example Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka are right:  sometimes where you win your major does matter a little. And as far as I’m concerned you keep your bourbon and your mint juleps. I’ll take the pulled pork sandwich in NC and  much tougher, prettier, and more intelligent golf course in Golftown, USA.