The 2024 PGA Championship – A Minor Key Major

Reflecting on Xander Schauffele's victory and the 2024 PGA Championship as a whole


Not all criticisms need to be prefaced with niceties, but I sincerely appreciate the PGA of America’s efforts to provide a major championship to a region of the country often ignored by professional golf. The enthusiasm of record-breaking crowds gives major championships a big feel, which was reinforced not only this weekend but also by the lack of energy at the 2023 U.S. Open at LACC, a tournament where very few fans were given the privilege of entering the property. Venue selection is a problem set filled with trade-offs, and bringing golf’s most prestigious events to eager markets full of passionate fans is an objective worth prioritizing.

Nevertheless, what we witnessed this weekend was not championship-level golf by any stretch of the imagination. On the 500-yard first hole during the final round, eventual champion Xander Schauffele hit a mediocre tee shot out right that bounced softly and settled into a friendly lie in the intermediate rough. He misstruck his iron shot, barely clearing the right greenside bunker, then holed a 27-foot putt with very little break in it. On the 494-yard second hole, Schauffele pull-hooked a tee shot that ended up farther left than any other tee shot hit on Sunday.

From there, he dumped a short iron into the middle of a greenside bunker, which left him a routine up-and-down from the sand.

Through two holes, Schauffele hadn’t made a good swing, yet he’d played 1,000 yards worth of par 4s in one-under par.

The opening holes weren’t the only examples of bad swings going unpunished. On the 500-yard par-4 sixth hole, Schauffele flared a long iron approach shot right of the green, and proceeded to stub the chip shot to 14 feet. From there he holed another straightforward putt with very little break in it, making par.

It’s of course unfair to tell the story of Schauffele’s final round by focusing solely on his mistakes. After a bad bogey on the par-5 10th, he rebounded and played a solid final eight holes. His long-iron approach into the 235-yard par-3 14th was struck perfectly. And with the tournament on the line, he stepped up and made a gutsy birdie on the par-5 finishing hole, overcoming a challenging stance on the edge of a fairway bunker.

To be clear, Xander Schauffele is a worthy major champion, and he deserved to win this week. Over the last two years, only Scottie Scheffler has been a more consistent golfer. Entering Sunday, Schauffele had spent 238 weeks in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings, the fourth-highest total among players without a major championship. Schauffele hasn’t missed a cut since the 2022 Masters. Since making his major-championship debut in 2017, Schauffele had gained 1.83 strokes per round in majors entering this week, the sixth-highest total over that time span among players who have played at least 30 rounds. A major victory felt like it was just a matter of time.

He is an exceptional, well-rounded golfer, someone who quietly goes about his business and puts in the work. At the end of 2023, Schauffele was a top-five player in the world, but he didn’t get complacent. He started working with Chris Como at the end of the year and in the process, made one of the most impressive speed gains of any player during the offseason. Schauffele is unquestionably one of the best, most consistent golfers in the world, and you could make a strong argument he is second only to Scottie Scheffler right now (the OWGR, while an imperfect metric, would agree.)

But as we move past this year’s PGA Championship, my lasting impression won’t be the dozens of world-class shots on display this week from Schauffele and his peers, because those shots didn’t exist. The golf course didn’t require players to hit them. Instead, players were asked to hit high, speedy drives and long irons, open-faced flop shots from thick rough, and putts that didn’t break much. That’s a mindless series of tasks for a modern golfer equipped with fargiving clubs and a Trackman. In Bryson DeChambeau’s post-tournament comments, he admitted that he didn’t strike it his best all week. Despite having his “B” game, he fired a bogey-free 64 in the final round of a major championship on a 7,600 yard golf course. Viktor Hovland has been lost with his golf game all year, to the point he considered withdrawing before the tournament, and he made just one bogey on the weekend en route to a third-place finish.

Yes, it is important to recognize that the soft, benign conditions were a significant factor for why players could get away with poor shots at Valhalla. Firmer conditions would’ve created a higher penalty for short-siding yourself while also making it more difficult to hold approach shots from the rough on the greens. But the most compelling tests in professional golf require players to hit different types of shots and to control the golf ball on the ground. Missing in the wrong spots should result in a penalty. Valhalla didn’t provide that type of test at this year’s PGA.

Again, none of this should detract from what Xander Schauffele accomplished this past weekend. But as we look to the future and consider all of the ingredients of a proper championship-level test, we need to move on from the notion that length, narrow fairways, and thick rough alone provide a proper examination of skill at the highest level. Those variables might produce a dense leaderboard stacked with the longest-hitting players at the top, but it doesn’t produce a compelling, championship-level test of golf.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For more coverage of the PGA Championship, visit our PGA hub here.