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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Spend enough time around elite golfers and it becomes clear that the ingredients for success – and sanity, for that matter – are a short memory, a thick hide and a stout ego. All three are intimately connected, but ego is the most important component, with the others essential for keeping it intact.

Padraig Harrington isn’t known as boastful or brash, but in a long-ago conversation the amiable Dubliner stressed the importance of self-admiration in professional golf. “I have a huge ego. We all do,” he said. “Do you think we’d go out and risk having our heads chopped off every week if we didn’t want the glory that comes with winning?”

One hundred fifty-six egos came to Valhalla for the 106th PGA Championship. Most are like Harrington’s, strictly professional, largely understated and well-disguised. A few are more obvious and worn openly, like the personal logo emblazoned on the sleeve of Bryson DeChambeau, which resembles a paramilitary patch favored by mercenaries who serve unsavory causes. By Sunday afternoon, it was clear who among the egotists could call upon the benefit of having a short memory too.

Viktor Hovland could. A few days earlier, he was so mired in the quagmire of swing theories that he considered withdrawing from the tournament. An 11th-hour reunion with the instructor who helped him earn more than $35 million in 2023 provided clarity and erased confusion. Collin Morikawa’s story was similar. He left his longtime coach, Rick Sessinghaus, last year but recently returned to base camp and his old self. Shane Lowry forgot a season of iffy putting and moved into contention because of the short stick. Even Scottie Scheffler needed a touch of amnesia, moving beyond his detour to jail 48 hours earlier.

Most tour players will tell you that a bad shot has a longer life span than a good one, that misfires at a crucial moment linger longer in the memory than well-executed deliveries. The ability to forget those shots – or to at least rationalize them – is key. Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors in part by creating alibis for his 19 second-place finishes. Even today, the Bear struggles to recall the particulars of those times he came up short.

It’s a skill Xander Schauffele has had to call upon often in his still-young career. He has seven PGA Tour wins but twice as many runners-up. His 42 top-five finishes entering the 2024 PGA Championship are almost a quarter of his career starts. That’s an awful lot of time in the mix with not a lot to show for it. In majors, a similar trend. Through 27 starts before this week, a dozen top 10s, half of them top 5s, two of them seconds. Yet no trophy, jug or jacket.

That’s where the thick hide comes in.

If there was crushing disappointment along the way, and there must have been, Schauffele hid it gamely. Every near miss was chalked up as a lesson learned, as experience gained, as steps taken closer to the goal, his wan smile permafixed. Analysis by others wasn’t always so optimistic. He was accused of lacking fortitude, of tilting toward safe options on Sundays, of waiting for others to lose rather than grabbing victory by the throat.

Perhaps he was nicked by those razors so often that eventually they no longer drew blood. None of those traits were in evidence at Valhalla. Not when he opted for fairway metal from the bunker on No. 10, even when the aggressive play led to bogey. Not when he slashed 4-iron from a treacherous stance on No. 18, when faint hearts would have played it safer. Not when he nipped lob wedge from a tight lie to the final green. And certainly not when he rolled in the winning putt from 6 feet, 2 inches.

It’s facile to say that a golfer deserves a major championship victory. After all, the game’s toughest titles are hard earned, and many terrific talents never earned what seemed their due. But this one was deserved. Not merely on talent and application, but on attitude. We live in an era when athletes too often default to a ‘woe-is-me’ disposition, quick to reassign responsibility for shortcomings, eager to deflect fair criticism as unduly harsh. Schauffele never did.

Buried somewhere in there is an ego and a short memory. But what brought Schauffele to his crowning moment in Louisville was a hide thicker than he was ever given credit for.

Source: Golfweek


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