Sean Martin / PGATOUR.COM
NORTH BERWICK, Scotland – The last time Xander Schauffele was at St. Andrews, he couldn’t stand the thought of touching a golf club. Even at the Home of Golf.
Now he can’t wait to play the Old Course.
Schauffele will arrive at The 150th Open as the hottest player in golf, coming off wins in consecutive PGA TOUR starts with another victory in a star-studded pro-am sandwiched in between.
Schauffele first visited St. Andrews four years ago, the day after finishing runner-up in The Open Championship at nearby Carnoustie. After starting the final round with a share of the lead, he bogeyed 17 en route to a 74 that left him two behind Francesco Molinari.
Schauffele may have been too dismayed by his finish to consider playing the Old Course but the allure of the Old Grey Town still beckoned. He caught a glimpse of the famous closing hole, the same one where everyone from Bobby Jones to Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods has hoisted the Claret Jug.
“You just want to become part of that history,” Schauffele said.
He’ll arrive on a winning note after claiming the Genesis Scottish Open, which was co-sanctioned by the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour, on Sunday. The final scene at Renaissance Club was reminiscent of an Open Championship, as fans filled in the 18th fairway and bagpipes blared. He has the opportunity to make a similar walk in seven days, only on the game’s most sacred ground and with its most historic trophy waiting for him.
“If you’re trying to win when you’re on the bad side, you just have to be better,” Schauffele said.
He followed with 65-66 to take a two-shot lead into the final round. Birdies on his first two holes Sunday put him two ahead, but winning is rarely easy. This was no exception. He closed the front nine with bogeys on three of the final four holes to fall behind rookie Kurt Kitayama, a two-time DP World Tour winner who’s now a practice partner of Schauffele’s in Las Vegas.
Schauffele regained the lead with a creative tee shot on the par-3 14th that fed down a hill and toward the hole. He went two ahead after reaching the par-5 16th in two and two-putting for birdie. A 7-foot par putt on 17 made the walk up the final hole twice as easy, allowing him to win with an inconsequential bogey. His 72-hole score of 273 was one better than Kitayama. Joohyung Kim, a 20-year-old from Korea, finished third.
“It’s what links golf promotes, getting the ball in the hole. I was telling myself that: it doesn’t really have to be pretty,” Schauffele said. “It wasn’t very pretty, unfortunately, but I got the ball in the hole and one better than everyone else.”
Kitayama’s consolation prize was one of the three available spots at St. Andrews. Brandon Wu and Jamie Donaldson earned the other two.
Schauffele earned 500 FedExCup points to move to third in the standings. He joined Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns as the only players with three or more TOUR wins this season. Schauffele was expected to move to fifth in the world ranking, as well.
This was the seventh win of Schauffele’s PGA TOUR career and the third in the last 10 weeks. It started with a win in April with Patrick Cantlay in the TOUR’s only team event, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. That was Schauffele’s first PGA TOUR victory since 2019. “Just to get over the hump, honestly, it was big,” he said.
His next challenge will be conquering the Old Course, which no less than Nicklaus called “golf’s toughest (course) to learn.”
“Assuming I ever could completely ‘learn’ the Old Course,” he added, “it would take me a lot of rounds to do so.”
Schauffele said his good form will allow him to eschew the practice area in favor of playing as many holes as possible. The blind shots, humps and bumps and enormous, rolling greens make the Old Course a unique challenge.
“I have a lot of homework to do,” he said.
He admits that he doesn’t know much about St. Andrews’ history, but he likes it that way. He doesn’t want his mind filled with the miscues and mistakes of the past. But there are players who have overcome a lack of familiarity to win at the Old Course. Tony Lema played just 27 holes of practice before winning the 1964 Open at St. Andrews. It was his fourth win in a six-tournament span. Jordan Spieth arrived at the 2015 Open riding back-to-back wins, including the week prior at the John Deere Classic, but finished just a shot out of the playoff won by Zach Johnson.
“I’m not really one to get too excited to go to a new golf course,” Schauffele said, “but I’m pretty excited to go to this one.”