Xander Schauele has built a successful career, but lack of marquee wins shows perception outpaces reality

Xander Schauele has built a successful career, but lack of marquee wins shows perception outpaces reality

After winning the 2022 Zurich Classic alongside Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele earned a ticket to tee it up at the 2023 Tournament of Champions — a tournament reserved for PGA Tour champions from the previous year — in Hawaii to start his PGA Tour year next January . Fascinatingly, Schauffele has won just two individual PGA Tour events since the end of 2018, but this will be his sixth consecutive appearance at that event.

This sums up Schauffele’s career in ways numbers could not (and do not). It’s extremely difficult to parse out exactly how many wins Schauffele has as a professional. He has won just one full-field regular PGA Tour event in his career — his first win back in 2017 at the now-defunct Greenbrier Classic. Depending on which record-keeper you consult since then, Schauffele has won four or maybe five (or even six!) more times, including Sunday at TPC Louisiana with Cantlay.

Two of his victories did not count, according to the PGA Tour, while Sunday’s at the Zurich was not included by the Official World Golf Rankings because it was a team tournament.

Xander Schauele Career Wins

2017 Greenbrier Classic Yes Yes
2017

Tour Championship

Yes

Yes

2018

WGC-HSBC Champions

Yes

Yes

2019

Tournament of Champions

Yes

Yes

2020

Tour Championship

Yes

No

2021 Olympics Yes No
2022

Zürich Classic

No

Yes

The 2020 Tour Championship was a shadow leaderboard win; players start that event with a staggered score to par, and though Schauele didn’t win when that was factored in, he did play the event in the fewest strokes. That didn’t get him into the 2021 Tournament of Champions, though. Because the 2019-20 PGA Tour season was truncated, everyone who made the Tour Championship was invited to Kapalua.

In 2021, Schauffele won the Olympics, which is a big deal but also an extremely watered-down field that is not a PGA Tour event but somehow got him invited back to Hawaii. Now he’ll be headed back in 2023 because of what he accomplished with Cantlay, which was extraordinarily impressive and certainly not outside the parameters the Tour has put on the year-opening Tournament of Champions. However, it did shine a light on the only hole in Schauffele’s game: he doesn’t win as often as you might think on the PGA Tour.

If you talk to enough people in and around the game, they’ll tell you about how unbelievably good Schauffele is, and this is true. He’s the rare talent who is without an Achilles heel. He might not be the best in the world at any particular skill, but he gains a batch of strokes in all four categories and could reasonably be called a top 25 golfer off the tee, on approach shots, around the greens and with his putter. This is incredibly atypical and also why so many have projected such a high ceiling for him over the last few years.

Most of the game’s elite players have a much more imbalanced statistical profile than Schauffele (and, coincidentally, Cantlay). Justin Thomas is not a great putter. Cameron Smith does not drive the ball particularly well. Viktor Hovland struggles around the greens. Schauele does not struggle in any of these areas, which is why expectations for the 28-year-old are so high.

Has he fulfilled them? Well, sort of. In 161 OWGR events over the course of his career, he has won six times, which amounts to 3.7%. That’s a higher number than it looks like, but it falls well short of peers like Collin Morikawa (8.2%), Viktor Hovland (7.4%), Jordan Spieth (6.6%) and even Cantlay (4.2%). We often mention Schauffele among these names, but I’m not sure that we should.

More importantly, the strength of field of tournaments Schauffele has won has not been immense. According to the OWGR, the best field he’s defeated came at the 2018 WGC-HSBC Champions, which had a field strength of 575. This is a slightly better number than this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational (533). His Tour Championships and Tournament of Champions wins are tantamount to winning this year’s RBC Heritage. The Olympics was equivalent to the 2022 The American Express.

On the flip side, Schauffele has been immensely respectable in major championships, though he’s never won one of those either. He has 12 top 25s in 19 events with nine of them top-10 finishes. He’s been a real contender for a handful, which is more than most PGA Tour pros can say about their last five years. But Schauele is not considered just another PGA Tour pro. He’s supposed to be a star, and stars are supposed to win more often than Schauffele does.

There are a few different paths for Schauffele in the next five years, a few different ways all of this could go for him. None of this is to say that Schauffele has been a failure, because he has not. Only that to be considered a star in the sport something will have to shift even if only slightly). Coincidentally, two fellow Californians represent the fork in the road currently in front of Schauffele. The first is six-time major champion Phil Mickelson. The other is Rickie Fowler.

I’m in the middle of Bob Harig’s new book, Tiger and Phil: Golf’s Most Fascinating Rivalry, and I was reminded of how easy it is to forget that Mickelson whiffed on his first 46 major championship attempts. He won at a nice rate (certainly a higher rate than Schauffele), but he was considered at least a bit of a disappointment until he won that 2004 Masters. While Schauffele won’t have Mickelson’s career, that inflection point of winning a major could also be coming for him. I’m hesitant to write off players who consistently mix it up at major championships like Schauffele does.

However, it also might not be coming. At the end of 2019 (before dropping off from playing high-quality golf), Fowler had won 3.4% of his OWGR events (a similar number to Schauffele), and even though he also mixed it up at major championships in the early part of his career, he has yet to win one and has fallen way off the pace as a top player in the world. Producing Rickie Fowler’s career is not a disappointment, but sometimes it seems as if a Fowler comparison would be insulting to Schauffele. In the present, it’s actually insulting to Fowler.

Schauffele’s current career statistical projections include names like four-time major winner Ernie Els, major winner Justin Leonard and major winner Jason Day (major winner), but also Lee Westwood (who struggled to win on the PGA Tour and infamously has not won a major ). Where he goes from here is going to be fascinating.

The point of all of this is that Schauffele has been considered one of the very best players in the world for a long time now, but his resume might not actually back that up. Statistically, he has been elite, but if statistics don’t result in victories then they’re just statistics. They eventually have to lead somewhere, and while they’ve led to some nice places for Schauffele, they have yet to lead him to the outcomes he wants the most. Resumes can change very quickly with a few hot months — Scottie Scheffler has proven that in the first quarter of 2022. And while that could be the case for Schauffele at some point over the next several years, at the present moment it appears that the perception of Schauffele as a PGA Tour star, or superstar, probably outpaces the reality.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.