PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Xander Schauffele finished tied for second in his debut at the Players Championship in 2018, but since that sterling performance he’s missed the cut three straight times. Just don’t remind him of this pesky little fact.
“You’re actually the second guy, someone outside reminded me how terrible my record is now since my tied second finish,” Schauffele said ahead of the Players Championship. “So I wasn’t aware that I was so bad here. You guys are crushing it. Reality check’s always nice. Usually, my wife gives me one. So we’ll just let it be in the media room today.”
Jokes aside, Schauffele has tried his hardest to bury the memory of last year’s Players Championship in the back recesses of his mind.
“Last year I would wash up as an X. Felt like we were at an Open Championship and I got the bad side of the wave,” he said.
When the wind blew its hardest from left to right at TPC Sawgrass, Schauffele dunked his tee shot short of the island green and his round spiraled out of control. Later, his caddie, Austin Kaiser, showed him a stat posted on social media that encapsulated how quickly everything had gone wrong.
“He showed me like I was the first ever to go from like the top 10 to outside the top 100 or something like that in like one hole,” said Schauffele, who shot 73-78 and had the weekend off. “Like I said, my team’s all about giving me reality checks and I got one.”
Schauffele, ranked No. 6 in the world, isn’t the only big-name player who has been sent home packing in recent years. Pete Dye’s house of horrors can expose any weakness in a player’s game; it doesn’t discriminate, even from the likes of major winners Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler.
“To be honest, my game has only felt good coming into this tournament in 2020,” said Morikawa, citing the year the tournament was canceled after one round due to COVID-19. “Sometimes you come to events and you feel really comfortable; you’re comfortable with the setting or you’re comfortable with the golf course. I feel comfortable here, and what’s great about this golf course is that it does fit (my game). I hit a lot of mid-irons to short irons into greens and you have to drive it well, but it is what it is. So I’m not too worried about my previous history here.”
Spieth nearly won the Players as a rookie in 2014, finishing in a tie for fourth after a final-round 74, but since then he’s been stuck on the struggle bus.
“I don’t have a great track record here at this event. It doesn’t take much research to figure that out. But I feel like when striking it well, having some momentum and feeling like a little bit of freedom as far as being able to play aggressively here, that’s going to kind of be my strategy this week to try and take advantage. I mean, be patient, but when you get a couple opportunities, make sure you go ahead and fire away,” Spieth said.
When a reporter began a question by reminding Spieth that he’s missed five cuts in his last seven appearances, he cut him off and said, “I said it didn’t take much research. I didn’t need you to actually research it.”
Then Spieth tried to explain why TPC Sawgrass has been a Rubik’s Cube he cannot solve. “I don’t play it with enough patience, and that kind of goes against what I just talked about being aggressive,” he said. “But there’s such a balance there to being confident and swinging aggressively to the right targets versus visually I’ve had a hard time on this golf course because I like to see a lot of feel shots, and out here there’s not a lot of stuff to work it off of. It seems like if a ball is moving away from a hole, it’s just going to move further away from a hole … that’s the only thing I can think of right now.”
Scheffler was another victim of the bad side of the draw last year and barely survived the cut, finishing T-55 after missing the cut in his debut in 2021.
“There’s not one guy that has an advantage around this place,” said Scheffler. “I was talking to a few guys earlier, and somebody said it was a thinking man’s golf course, and I said it’s actually kind of the opposite because you just have to hit really good shots if you want to play well. You can’t scrape it around this place. You just have to hit fairways and hit greens and go from there.
“If you’re not playing really good golf, you’re not going to score, and if you are playing well, you’re going to shoot low scores, and so as a player I think we really appreciate that … you see whatever guy is playing the best that week.”
And that’s why it is one of the most coveted titles in men’s professional golf. Should he win this week, Morikawa was asked which he would consider more of a badge of honor – the course that he had the best score on or the players he beat?
“The title, that’s all that matters to me,” Morikawa said. “Just knowing you won the Players Championship. I think that you never lose that spot in history, right? Whether you beat 20 guys or whether you beat 144, I think you still have and own that title for that year. There’s no excuses after the fact. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts. It’s you got it done in whatever year and that’s yours.”