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16D AGO

Freed up Xander Schauffele rides hot putter in first round since PGA Championship victory

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    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    DUBLIN, Ohio – Xander Schauffele had long kicked the alcohol-induced hangover spurred on by champagne swigs from the Wanamaker Trophy after his breakthrough PGA Championship victory.

    But the start of the newly-minted major champion’s week at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday could best be described as a golf hangover. He didn’t break 40 on Muirfield Village’s back nine during a Tuesday practice round and estimated his ball-striking on Thursday, his first competitive round in three weeks, was good enough for a 2-over first round.

    Luckily, Schauffele’s putter was as clear-headed as ever. On a day where he struggled to find the center of the club face, Schauffele had no problem finding the bottom of the cup. The eight-time TOUR winner gained nearly four strokes on the greens, pouring in more than 125 feet of putts to card 4-under 68. He’s two back of leader Adam Hadwin. It was an expert example of damage control on a course that usually specializes in exposing erratic play. Schauffele hit eight fairways and 11 greens but was a perfect 7-for-7 scrambling and led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting.


    Xander Schauffele gets up-and-down for birdie at the Memorial


    “I'm happy with how I (scored), with how I stuck in there and really happy my short game bailed me out on a day that could have been a lot worse,” Schauffele said. “I'm going to go to the range after this, after we finish talking, and hit the center of the club face a little more.”

    It was an understandable rusty round from a golfer playing his first tournament since the biggest win of his career. Schauffele didn’t touch a club for three days after his victory at Valhalla Golf Club, soaking in the moment and doing more than his fair share of interviews. He spent the last two weeks practicing at home, but returning to competitive golf is a different challenge, especially at a penal course like Jack’s Place. Schauffele wasn’t worried. It was only Thursday, and his scrappy first round ensured him time to correct the issues while keeping himself in contention.

    “If I didn't make some of the putts I needed to today, it would have been like a 2-over probably or worse,” he said. “So, again, really happy I was able to see the -- I saw the lines sort of quickly, even from the get-go. I was looking at leaving putts in the heart short. So as soon as I got the speed down, I was rolling.”


    Xander Schauffele rolls in 32-footer for birdie at the Memorial


    The start of the week has been an extended celebration, with players and fans stopping Schauffele to congratulate him on his PGA Championship victory. He’s tried to stop and soak it in, though he maintains he’s the same player as before the PGA. He hits the same shots and has the same talent. He just has a (rather large) trophy to back it up.

    But Schauffele’s public-facing persona has noticeably shifted. The normally-stoic Schauffele spent his pre-tournament presser on Tuesday and his post-round media availability Thursday joking with reporters and needling their questions.

    “Pretty tidy today in terms of the round,” a reporter said, starting Schauffele’s presser.

    “I don’t know what you saw,” Schauffele retorted, cracking a wry smile.


    Xander Schauffele’s interview after Round 1 of the Memorial


    Asked about his bunker shot on the par-5 fifth that sailed over the green and into the rough, Schauffele laughed and said, “When the ball was in the air, I closed my eyes and it was, you know -- I wouldn't call myself religious, but I was hoping that thing was going to be okay.”

    It’s hard not to draw a correlation between his loosened-up, jovial mood and the PGA Championship win. With growing doubts of whether he could close a big tournament, Schauffele shot a final-round 65 to win by one. He looks like a freed-up golfer, content and confident in his standing on the PGA TOUR and in life. His swing was off on Thursday, but it wasn’t a problem. He found another way to score.

    An unfettered Schauffele is a dangerous Schauffele.

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