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Xander Schauffele’s level of play shows the weight of the expectations of being one of the top 10 players in the world.

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What to do with Xander Schauffele? has been one of the questions in and around golf, specifically the PGA Tour, over the last three years, and it has often been a question that has not been answered well.

Schauffele is an impressive talent who doesn’t win very often compared to his peers. What are you doing with that? How do you think about that?

He has been ranked inside the top 15 in the Official World Golf Ranking every week since winning the WGC-HSBC Champions at the end of October 2018 since breaking into the top 15 in the world for good. That’s 44 straight months as one of the top 15 players in the world, and until Sunday’s win at the Travelers Championship, he’s only had one singles victory on the PGA Tour in that time span, a comeback in January’s Tournament of Champions. 2019. .

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Since then, he’s added an Olympic gold medal on a mediocre course, to put it kindly, in Japan, as well as a team win at the Zurich Classic earlier this year when he teamed up with vacationing friend Patrick Cantlay. The former does not count on the PGA Tour, the latter does not count in the Official World Golf Ranking. Neither counts as an individual win on the PGA Tour.

Schauffele’s two-shot victory over Sahith Theegala and JT Poston this weekend was a major event. Not only because he did it on a good low-key course (14th best course in the world so far in 2022), but also because he hadn’t done it in a long time.

“I like to talk to my team a lot about how I feel week to week,” Schauffele said after his win. “It’s been a year where my stats have been really strong. I just haven’t had four good rounds of golf. So I think subconsciously, or not really knowing, I was getting a little bit impatient. This week I was just trying to be the best. more aware, as self-aware as possible to be as patient as possible just realize that I put in the work, and if I can do what I’ve been doing and focus a little bit more throughout the day that it’ll be worth it to big thing and luckily he did.

Schauffele has not only thrived in the official world golf rankings. He is ranked No. 5 in the world in total strokes gained since the start of 2019, implying that the lack of wins is not just a function of him maximizing his talent. He’s not necessarily squeezing the best results out of a mediocre game. According to the numbers, his talent is equal to, and in some cases superior to, that of his teammates.

Others who hang out in that neighborhood won hits have won in bunches. Golfers like Jon Rahm (eight wins, although one in a team event), Rory McIlroy (seven wins), Justin Thomas (six wins), Cantlay (six wins, one in a team event), Dustin Johnson (seven wins) , Hideki Matsuyama (four wins), Viktor Hovland (six wins), Scottie Scheffler (seven wins) and Collin Morikawa (six wins) surround Schauffele in the top 10 in strokes gained since the start of 2019.

Schauffele’s closest comparison is probably Webb Simpson, who ranks just behind him in total strokes gained in that time period. But his game is much less complete than the rest. He has just two wins since Jan. 1, 2019, but he also has perhaps the largest categorical deficiency (shots gained off the tee) of anyone in the top 10 in strokes gained. Schauffle, on the other hand, is in the top 30 in all categories of strokes won in the last three and a half years.

Perhaps, like Tony Finau (17th in strokes gained since the start of 2019), Schauffele is a victim of his own statistical success. If he was objectively worse at golf, no one would care that he didn’t win as often as the other top 10 players in the world. However, there is certainly a load of expectation when you never drop out of the top 10 or top 15. It is clear that you have the talent of the best players, but you never take advantage of it. That may make some wonder if you have what it takes to close out wins. That may seem unfair, but the light on a top 10 player in the world is harsh.

Take a look at these numbers below. Prior to Sunday, Schauffele was 10th on this list with a 3.6% winning percentage, and that included a shadow leaderboard win at the 2020 Tour Championship, which is awarded by the OWGR based on actual scoring. at the event and not based on tee shots (which the PGA Tour recognizes). Rahm is also given credit for a shadow qualifying win, but that win affects his overall winning percentage much less than Schauffele (without it, Schauffele would drop to a career winning percentage of 3.0%, 11th). in this list).

While it’s true that Schauffele wasn’t the wunderkind in high school and college that guys like Thomas, McIlroy and Rahm were, we’re not comparing him to his younger self either, we’re comparing him to the best players on the planet. which is now what it is.

“I think to win more,” Schauffele said of his goals the rest of this season. “But I really think this was like, in a small way, this is a big win for me mentally. Just because I had to control myself, you know what I mean? When you’ve been here and things are going easy, just you expect to play well all the time. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back. And I thought I did that this week.

“Like I said, I don’t know if that’s the reason I won, but it definitely made me feel more comfortable and helped me in my process all week.”

That Xander Schauffle hasn’t earned as much as his talent has implied he should (a level of talent that others have capitalized on in their own trophy cases) sounds like criticism, and perhaps in a way it is. However, it is meant to be less of a nod to the level of talent he has and the load of expectations every great player should have and desire.

If little is expected of you, if you are not criticized for how little you earn, it means that you are inconsequential to the game at the highest level. You don’t have the tools to be among the greats. That’s not Schauffele, and hasn’t been for a long time. With a win at the Travelers, he has resumed his march toward obtaining that talent with more and more wins to come. Sunday was a big win in the micro sense that Travelers is a big tournament, but it was perhaps a bigger macro win for one of the best golfers in the world.

Rick Gehman, Kyle Porter, Greg Ducharme and Mark Immelman discuss Xander Schauffele’s victory at the 2022 Travelers Championship. Follow and listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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