After Presidents Cup dominance, Xander Schauffele reminds Quail Hollow who he is again
Back in September, on the made-for-TV international stage that was the Presidents Cup, Xander Schauffele was a comet on the star-studded Team USA.
On Thursday, at the same Charlotte golf course, Schauffele was great again.
The No. 5 player in the world finished at 5-under-par 66 in the opening round of the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow. He birdied the fifth and seventh and eighth holes, and he notched an eagle on the 10th — turning the idyllic course’s longest hole (592 yards) into his backyard and launching him into the contending conversation early.
He sits tied for second with only Tommy Fleetwood ahead of him at 6-under.
“I really had it going there,” Schauffele said with a smirk after his day was done. “The ball was on a string for a bit.”
It was, in fact, for more than “a bit.”
The PGA Tour veteran was at 7-under through 15 before he ended his day with two bogeys in his final three holes, a trio that constitutes the famously difficult “The Green Mile.” The 18th hole is especially brutal. Just ask Jordan Spieth, who played Thursday’s round with Schauffele and finished 1-over on the day after a triple-bogey on 18. (Spieth saw two shots land in the perilous creek that runs through the middle of the fairway.)
“It’s a championship-style golf course,” Schauffele said, “so played really well through 15 holes and then had a little hiccup there coming in, so it is what it is.”
It hasn’t been long since Schauffele has played so well at Quail Hollow. He and Patrick Cantlay made what was otherwise a nail-biting affair feel like an anticlimactic rout, particularly early in the Presidents Cup. The pair defeated their International opponents with five holes to go in the first round of the September showcase.
A few details were different then, sure. Among the differences: the competition format, the event stakes. The course was also retooled a bit so that The Green Mile wouldn’t be the final three holes and instead land somewhere in the middle.
Any other differences?
“Just the overseed,” Schauffele said, which refers to the practice of adding rye seed to the existing grass without turning the soil. He then joked, “It was also blowing like 100 (on) Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. OK maybe not 100, but like 25, and it was kind of cool. It was nice that the sun came out and people came out and supported us.”
A good swath of the field that played in the 2022 Presidents Cup had good days on Thursday. Cantlay and Tom Kim and Adam Scott finished 4-under on the day, tied for seventh in the field, and Justin Thomas and Si Woo Kim each notched 3-under, tied for 16th.
KH Lee, who finished 5-under on the day, explained that part of his success is thanks to his September day at the Presidents Cup. Something about Quail Hollow is special, he said.
“Even when I bogey, I’m still so happy here,” Lee said. “I just enjoyed it today.”
Schauffele did, too.
A win in the Wells Fargo Championship still eludes the 29-year-old golfer. That’s one of a few things he’d want to see happen if he can one day call this course a “home-away-from-home.”
“I mean, I can’t call it that quite yet,” he said with a chuckle. “But it’s a nice piece of land they have here. It’s a really nice golf course. It’s really hard. And I think all of us pros enjoy coming out here.”
Schauffele certainly does.
And who could blame him?