The PGA Championship Was a Respite From Golf's Problems and Another Sign They Need Fixed

As Bryson DeChambeau put on a show and Xander Schauffele became a steely champion, the story was the golf—and Bob Harig writes about how nice that was for a change.
Sunday at the PGA Championship, Bryson DeChambeau wasn't a LIV Golfer as much as he was just a top player chasing a major.
Sunday at the PGA Championship, Bryson DeChambeau wasn't a LIV Golfer as much as he was just a top player chasing a major. / Adam Cairns/USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A riveting final day of major championship golf was interesting for reasons beyond the great players and the compelling finish and the characters who all gave themselves a chance to win before Xander Schauffele prevailed at the PGA Championship.

Among those reasons were for things not said: PGA Tour Enterprises, LIV Golf, the Public Investment Fund, the PGA Tour Policy Board, the “framework agreement”, etc.

Those aspects that have dominated golf headlines for two years were put on hold. At least for a day. The final round of the PGA Championship was about the golf, and only those with their usual grievances from either side were looking to making it any more.

Bryson DeChambeau, a polarizing figure if there ever was one and who made the controversial leap to LIV Golf two years ago, was simply a golfer. And a very good one who nearly pulled off a second major championship victory. It was a strong performance, on the back of a strong one at the Masters.

And it was kind of nice.

If ever there was evidence of why golf needs to put all the strife behind it, there was Sunday to shine a glowing light on what is great about the sport.

While undoubtedly there were those who rooted for or against DeChambeau because he plays for LIV—or for or against Schauffele because he’s a PGA Tour loyalist—those were not overriding talking points.

The story was the golf. Schauffele eliminated the demons that have plagued him as he’s had trouble closing out tournaments, especially since last winning in 2022. And it puts some perspective on his major record. In 28 career starts, he has six top-5 finishes and 12 top-10s.

DeChambeau put to rest the narrative that LIV golfers can’t compete in the majors because of the limited schedule. (Actually, Brooks Koepka did this last year; he was second at the Masters and won the PGA.) For elite players, that talking point always had flaws. These guys are going to find a way to be competitive.

And to be fair, Jon Rahm’s missed cut at the PGA had little to do with lack of preparation. He played twice since the Masters; Scottie Scheffler just once.

Viktor Hovland contended after getting back with his coach. Shane Lowry matched a major championship scoring record on Saturday. Collin Morikawa put himself in position to win a third major before his putter went cold on Sunday.

Aside from Schauffele, DeChambeau clearly did the most to help himself. The reception he got in Louisville was far different than the booing he heard at last year’s PGA at Oak Hill—where he tied for fourth.

DeChambeau has transformed in many ways, and not just physically, having shed some of the extra weight and gotten healthier by eating better. He still blasts the ball forever—he routinely outdrove Hovland by 40 to 50 yards Sunday and averaged 330.5 yards off the tee for the week—and there is certainly an appeal to that.

But he’s worked hard to cultivate a following with fans and talks often about the reach he’s gotten with his YouTube channel. There was a significant portion of folks rooting for him on Sunday, as will likely be the case next month at Pinehurst for the U.S. Open.

DeChambeau was classy in defeat, greeting Schauffele as he came off 18 and then trying to find the positives in his own game.

“I gave it my all,” said DeChambeau, whose 64 came up a shot too many. “I put as much effort as I possibly could into it and I knew that my ‘B’ game would be enough. It’s just clearly somebody played incredibly well.

“Xander’s well deserving of a major championship. And yeah, emptying the tank, I certainly love to do that and give the fans everything I can.”

The top players never played together all the time. But they played together more than four times a year. And that is the current situation, pending some resolution to the issues that are ongoing.

Perhaps the weekend’s drama will be another signal to the powers that be: figure it out.

A wild week in Louisville

A two-year-plus run of volatility in the game of golf took no respite during the week of the PGA Championship. As much as we’d love for the storylines to all be inside the ropes, that was not always the case at the second major example of the year. A sampling.

Monday: Jimmy Dunne, the architect of the “framework agreement” that sent the golf world into hysterics nearly a year ago, resigns from the PGA Tour Policy Board, citing a lack of progress on the deal and how he’s more or less been marginalized.

Tuesday: A TMZ report later confirmed via Florida public-record court documents says Rory McIlroy has filed for divorce from his wife, Erica, after seven years of marriage. The filing occurs on the day after McIlroy wins for the 26th time on the PGA Tour and fourth time at the Wells Fargo Championship and during one of the biggest weeks on the golf calendar.

Rory McIlroy walks to the eighth hole during the third round of the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla.
Rory McIlroy's divorce filing dominated the news Tuesday at Valhalla. But much bigger off-course developments would soon arrive. / Clare Grant/Courier Journal / USA TODAY

Wednesday: Although through its actions the PGA of America has been the most receptive to LIV golfers in its major championship, CEO Seth Waugh does not hold back on what he feels about the Saudi-backed league and calls for a deal between the PGA Tour and Public Investment Fund.

“What has been an unsustainable business model has put pressure on other places like the Tour that creates some financial dynamics as well as other dynamics that are very hard, and quite frankly it puts some financial pressure on us, as well,” Waugh says. “I don't think the game is big enough for two tours like that, and I think we are diluting the game in a way that is not healthy.

“I hope there's a deal. I think both sides are not only committed to trying to find a deal but really need a deal, and in my history of dealmaking, when both sides kind of need something to happen, it generally does. I don't know the timing. I don't have any insider information that you all don't have. But I'm hopeful that there will be a deal over time.”

Thursday: Xander Schauffele opens the PGA with a 62, matching the major championship record he already shared with Branden Grace (2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale) and Rickie Fowler (2023 U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club, where he also shot 62). It comes days after finishing second to McIlroy at Quail Hollow and means another chance at an elusive as he had not won since the 2022 Scottish Open.

Friday: One of the wildest days ever at a major championship and marred by the death of a tournament worker who was simply trying to get to the course across a busy highway in the wee hours of the morning. That tragedy and the ensuing police presence leads to a “misunderstanding” by Scottie Scheffler, who ends up in handcuffs, arrested, jailed and later released in time for his second-round tee time—which was delayed by an hour and 20 minutes.

The scene was surreal and of course all under the pall of such a sad occurrence. Scheffler somehow put aside all the distractions, played great golf and deftly handled media questions afterward while being sensitive to the family of the deceased. He’s got a June 3 court date (postponed from May 21) to deal with what went wrong, but no question it’s a day not soon forgotten. Oh, and Schauffele and Collin Morikawa managed to get to the top of the leaderboard.

Saturday: Scheffler finally hits the wall, his streak of 42 consecutive rounds of par or better ending with a 73, dropping out of contention to win a second straight major. Shane Lowry fires a 62 that could have been 61 had he made an 11-footer on the last hole but matches again the lowest score in major history. And both Morikawa and Schauffele hold the 54-hole lead.

Sunday: It was all about the golf on a sun-splashed day that saw Xander Schauffele prevail in a riveting final round. Bryson DeChambeau finished second with Viktor Hovland third and any number of possibilities. The big shots those players hit down the stretch were impressive.

The plight of Tiger Woods

After a frustrating performance at Valhalla, Tiger Woods faces the usual pushback that is prevalent whenever he plays poorly, typically centering around the idea that he should retire.

First, golfers never retire. People retire to play golf. Golfers don’t retire. Second, he’s earned the right to handle this however he wants. If Woods believes he can somehow find the magic again, it’s up to him.

Tiger Woods reacts to his putt on the seventh green during the second round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla.
Tiger Woods as usual got plenty of attention at the PGA Championship but his play fell short of standards. / Clare Grant/Courier Journal / USA TODAY

He’s played six tournaments in the last two years, so it’s not like he’s continually clogging up tee sheets and ruining the viewing pleasure of those who seem so quick to cry for him to be gone.

Fact is, when Woods plays, ratings and interest are considerably higher. It’ll likely be that way until the time he actually does hang up his spikes, if that ever becomes official.

But there is the issue of how he is going about things and if it can even work. Since returning in 2022 from the car crash that severely impacts his ability to walk, Woods has faced the unenviable task of trying to balance preparing for tournaments while also trying to not over do it. Even for someone still as skilled as Woods, it’s not an easy gameplan.

“I can still hit shots,” Woods said last week before the tournament. “It’s getting around is more of the difficulty that I face day-to-day and the recovery of pushing myself either in practice our competition days.”

So how does this situation get better? Woods has said he believes he is improving, getting stronger. And that is certainly important. But it is often forgotten that it is not just the leg that gives Woods fits, but his back, too.

The spinal fusion surgery from 2017 did wonders to help alleviate the disk issues in his lower back. But he’s since had another microdiscectomy—in late 2020—that dealt with a disk higher on the spine. The relative lack of golf over the past four three-plus years has likely helped, but it’s still a problem.

If disk issues kept Woods from competing in eight majors from the beginning of 2014 through 2017, then they are going to continue to be a problem now.

Asked if he was confident his game will improve, Woods said yes: “In time. I just need to play more. Unfortunately, I just haven’t played a whole lot of tournaments, and not a whole lot of tournaments on my schedule either. Hopefully everything will somehow come together in my practice sessions at home and be ready for Pinehurst.”

Woods received a special exemption from the United States Golf Association for next month’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst and he’s also likely to play the British Open at Royal Troon.

He doesn’t make it any easier on himself. He picks the toughest tournaments to play—even Riviera for the Genesis is not an easy venue for him—and then gives up considerable practice time and tournament prep to everyone else in the field.

But what’s the alternative? Woods needs to play more as even he suggested. Should he have entered this week’s tournament at Colonial? Would that help? The Memorial would have been an easy choice a few years ago, but now it is the week prior to the U.S. Open. That won’t work. Would the Canadian Open two weeks prior?

It would be nice to see Woods play some events in the fall, on golf courses less severe and with not as much fanfare. Of course, anything with Woods will bring attention. But doesn’t it make some sense to build up some sort of playing base? Does going from July to December (the Open to the Hero) make sense?

The numbers are tough to comprehend: Since the start of 2014, when Woods had the first of his back issues, he has played in 23 of the 41 majors played, completing 72 holes just 11 times. He has three top-10s including the 2019 Masters win, but also 10 missed cuts and two withdrawals.

More affirmation for LIV Golf? And other notes

Talor Gooch’s inclusion in the PGA Championship field was viewed as maybe ... just maybe ... an olive branch towards LIV Golf. Gooch really had no other credentials to get one of the PGA invites aside from what he did on LIV Golf last year, winning three times and getting its top player honors. Others who received invites such as David Puig, Patrick Reed, Adrian Meronk, Lucas Herbert, Joaquin Niemann and Dean Burmester had other bona-fides the PGA could cite.

But quietly, the PGA also recently invited both Richard Bland and Lee Westwood to this week’s Senior PGA Championship. Westwood, it could be argued, was invited due to past achievements in the game, although he declined the invite. Bland, however, has accepted, and aside from his one DP World Tour win, a majority of what he’s been doing is playing good golf for LIV.

While PGA CEO Seth Waugh again last week questioned the LIV Golf business model, he also acknowledged that his tournaments want the best fields.

And a few more things ...

Xander Schauffele began working with Chris Como late last year. Prior to Schauffele, among Como’s students were Bryson DeChambeau. They worked together for five years but a year after DeChambeau went to LIV, the travel between the two became too much for Como. “He’s an unbelievable competitor,” Como said. “Bryson’s a guy who I’ve had so many good years with him. I’m always rooting for him. I will always have a big place of memories with him. I’m happy to see him play as well as he did.”

Schauffele apparently was unaware of the playoff format at Valhalla. “I really did not want to go into a playoff with Bryson,” he said. “Going up 18 with his length, it’s not something that I would going to have a whole lot of fun with.” The playoff, however, was to a be a three-hole aggregate starting at the short par-4 13th, then continuing to the 17th and 18th. ... In seven previous starts this year, Viktor Hovland had not finished better than a tie for 19th before his third-place finish at the PGA. The reigning FedEx Cup champion, who won the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship to close last season, recently got back with his coach, Joe Mayo. ... The U.S. Open begins in 24 days.


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Bob Harig

BOB HARIG

Bob Harig is a golf writer for SI.com and the author of the book "DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods," which publishes in March and can be ordered here.