Xander Schauffele’s 6-word phrase sums up Players heartbreak

Xander Schauffele came up one shot short at the Players Championship.

Xander Schauffele came up one shot short at the Players Championship.

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Wyndham Clark’s Players Championship ended violently. His birdie try on 18 — a putt to force a playoff with Scottie Scheffler at 20-under par — fell into the left side of the cup and then horseshoed viciously before it lurched back out the front side, the best place for a cruel staredown with the man who’d struck it. Clark’s chance at the win was suddenly, definitively snuffed out.

As for Clark’s playing partner Xander Schauffele? Whose day looked, midway through, like it could be the biggest of his PGA Tour career? His tournament ended with a whimper. With a missed putt at 17 and an imprecise tee shot at 18 and a lengthy two-putt that cemented his loss by a single shot. The tournament that had felt like his suddenly wasn’t.

SCHAUFFELE SAID SOMETHING INTERESTING on Saturday night, something he’s been discussing with his swing coach Chris Como.

“A steady drip caves a stone,” he said, asked about his efforts to get better.

A steady drip caves a stone. I’d never heard it. I liked the way he said it. I wondered where it came from. A Google search revealed zero exact matches, but there were cousins.

There was this, from Margaret Atwood: “Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water.”

And this, from Ovid: “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”

It echoed the stonecutter’s credo, the one Kobe Bryant taped to his locker and Max Homa later borrowed as his own ideology: “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

Inspired to get dripping? Maybe hammering?

It’s an appropriate expression for Schauffele, who likes the long view. The long view has been good to him — he’s been very good at golf for a very long time, among the best golfers in the world for a half-decade or more. He’s been a regular contender in major championships since then, too, logging 11 top-10s in 26 career starts. His resume is dotted with notable wins: the Tour Championship in 2017, a World Golf Championship in 2018, the Tournament of Champions in 2019, Olympic gold in 2021, the elevated Travelers Championship in 2022, the co-sanctioned Genesis Scottish Open the week after that. He’s been a key figure in Presidents Cups and Ryder Cups. He’s done plenty of winning. But the 0-fer in majors still threatens to define his terrific career. Winning a Players Championship wouldn’t have changed his major total. But it would have changed the conversation.

Coming up short, on the other hand, after getting so close? That gave fuel to the doubters.

“I’ll probably join them in [drinking] the Haterade at this moment,” Schauffele said, asked about his detractors. “But it is what it is. These suck. When I went to bed last night, it’s not exactly how I envisioned walking off the 18th green. I’ll lick my wounds and right back to it next week.”

THERE’S MORE GOING ON IN THE BACKGROUND. There’s more to the work. More proof that Schauffele is all in on the process of getting better, that he’s hammering away harder than he ever has. He moved to Florida last year, the year he turned 30, leaving his beloved West Coast behind. He left his lifelong swing coach — his father Stefan — behind, too; the two didn’t split up but he’s been working with Chris Como on the day-to-day.

“From a very young age, my dad told me, ‘[I’m] happy that I can be your coach, but there might be a time where in order for you to take it to the next level you may need to go see someone else.’ So he said those words to me when I was a kid, and he’ll still say them now.”

The next level looms. Together Schauffele and Como have been tweaking and he’s been picking up swing speed and picking up distance, too. The work is working: This week marked his 42nd consecutive made cut and his seventh top-10 in his past 10 starts. Behind Scheffler, the clear-cut World No. 1, you could make the case that Schauffele’s playing golf at as high a level as anybody else.

That’s the long view. That’s the dripping.

But there’s frustration, too. While Sunday’s final round showcased some of Schauffele’s best stuff — a clutch nine-footer for par at No. 5 kept him in a share of the lead, a 14-footer for birdie at No. 7 game him the outright advantage, and he navigated touchy up-and-downs for birdie at No. 9 and No. 12 to sit squarely in the driver’s seat — several high-profile missteps cost him the tournament. An imprecise tee shot at No. 14 resulted in bogey. Another blocked drive at No. 15 led to another bogey. His dynamic short game couldn’t bail him out either time. Untimely mistakes, he called ’em.

“When you’re trying to win a tournament you’ve got to make those sketchy nine-footers,” he said.

He’d been making ’em all week. He missed a nine-footer at No. 15. He missed an eight-footer at No. 17. And that was that. Those echoed misses on the back nine at the Genesis Invitational, where Schauffele contended on Sunday before fading to T4. They echoed runner-up finishes at last year’s Tour Championship and Wells Fargo Championship. They echoed top-five finishes at majors, six of ’em for his career. This is a sport of futility, after all. If you’re looking for examples of a pro golfer’s failure, you should have plenty of fodder.

Schauffele was intentional about taking this one on the chin.

“My dad told me a long time ago to commit, execute and accept,” he said. “I’m swallowing a heavy dose of acceptance right now, but that’s kind of what I did. I tried to commit, I executed poorly on some shots, and here I am accepting it.”

He admitted it hurt, too. He said that he was bathing in a “bath of misery.” Schauffele is no stranger to a vivid turn of phrase.

But then there’s the big picture. That he played against one of the strongest fields in golf and lost only to the best player in the world. That he tied for second with two other top-10 pros.

And that the dripping continues.

Dylan welcomes your comments at dylan_dethier@golf.com.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.