TULSA – If you’re looking for similarities between South Mountain and Craig Ranch, well, this is a doomed quest and we won’t bother sending out a search party. However, if Xander Schauffele lifts the Wanamaker on Sunday night, the providence found at the aforementioned TPC venue last Friday could inspire the rescue.
Playing at AT&T Byron Nelson, Schauffele was gearing up for a quick exit in Dallas, with a 3-over 21, while the rest of the Nelson course painted Craig Ranch red. Not the ideal monitor for PGA tuning, but ostensibly no big deal; after all, Schauffele teamed up with Patrick Cantley to win the Zurich Classic just a few weeks ago. Instead, Schauffele’s performance outside of the New Orleans event was disappointing. He missed the Masters and The Players Championship and failed to make the cut in the WGC-Dell Match Play round robin.
His performance in Nelson continued that lackluster performance, and just days before the world came to Tulsa for its second major of the year, Schauffele suddenly found himself in a crisis of confidence.
“Some horrible stuff. Not gonna lie,” Schauffele said of his headspace last Friday morning. “When you’re playing so badly, or scoring so badly, I should say, it’s weird to feel like you’re playing well.
“The score was really bad, kind of sets you free. I have nothing to lose.”
It turns out that “what is it” can be vented.
Schauffele began to chase relentlessly. That Friday, he shot 8 under over his final 13 holes and shot a 67 that day to get him into the weekend. With this newfound freedom, Schauffele said he “woke up,” and the results backed that sentiment, shooting a 65 on Saturday and a 61 on Sunday to grab Nelson’s lead at one point and eventually tie for No. 5. For those scoring at home, he was 27 under for the final 49 holes.
Now, Schauffele has entered the echelon, and his criterion is not the top 5 but Ws. To say Friday’s game at Nelson could be the catalyst for the PGA Championship seems far-fetched. But, it sounds like Sheaffele needs to feel that kind of pain in order to give himself a chance in Nanshan.
“It’s important to me,” Schauffele said of last week’s turnaround. “How is my year going, it’s very old for me in terms of how I feel and how my team thinks about how I should play.”
So now that he’s a dark horse in the PGA, you don’t have to squint to see how Schauffele’s game plays out on a court that demands compliance and precision. He is a certified big game hunter with nine major top 10s over the past five years.
At the same time, all these close calls raise and amplify the question of when Schauffele will turn it into a trophy. Schauffele was asked why he thought this week would be different from his past mistakes.
“I feel like I’ve just seen both sides of it. I haven’t had the best years so far, I would say, for the most part, in terms of consistency,” Schauffele said. “So I think I’m just going back to my process and being patient and not really trying to do too much. Just when I’m doing well professionally and I’m not worried all week.
“I feel that way now. I think mentally I’m in a good place.”
Schauffele had to battle a mild drought to regain that feeling, and that should scare the rest of the sport. Because nothing can stand against a player who has nothing to lose.
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