After '18 St. Andrews peek, Xander Schauffele now at Old Course as golf's hottest player

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – On his way home from the eventful 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie, Xander Schauffele took a predictable detour.

Schauffele and his father, Stefan, ventured over to St. Andrews, turned left onto Golf Place and cruised past the stately R&A clubhouse for a quick look at the ancient links. From the road they didn’t see much but, as a golfer, it had to be done.

It’s as close as Schauffele had been to the Old Course before Monday’s practice round with Patrick Cantlay, which prompted a reporter to ask why he and Stefan didn’t play the legendary links back in 2018?

“I’d had enough golf at that time,” he smiled.

For context, Schauffele had just finished runner-up at The Open after a closing 74. He’d started the day tied for the lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner only to play Nos. 5-7 in 4 over par. He wasn’t in the mood for golf, even at a magical place like the Old Course.

It was still relatively early in what was by any measure a promising career and that Open was just his sixth major start. Coming up short on a championship Sunday will always leave a mark, but there would be other Opens. There would be other Sundays.

By comparison, the vibe Monday at St. Andrews was jubilant. Although admittedly exhausted, Schauffele set out for his first trip around the Old Course alongside Cantlay and Stefan less than 24 hours after winning the Genesis Scottish Open.

Full-field tee times from the 150th Open Championship

“I've never played St Andrews. I've never played the Old Course so I have a lot of homework to do,” said Schauffele, who is looking to become the first player since Phil Mickelson in 2013 to pull off the Links Slam and win both the Scottish Open and The Open in the same year. “Going to rely a lot on my caddie to do that. I'm tired. I've played a bit and I need a rest and I need to get ready for the week.”

In ’18, he didn’t want to get out of the car. This time he couldn’t wait. These are different times and Schauffele is a vastly different player, a player transformed by a breakthrough that was a long time coming.

Before last month’s Travelers Championship, Schauffele was 0-for-4 on the PGA Tour converting 54-hole leads into victories. Although he’d won four times on Tour, his inability to close – be it perceived or otherwise – was a problem. But then he started the final round at TPC River Highlands with a one-stroke lead, closed with a steady 68 and won by two shots.

Xander Schauffele on a heater but feeling 'rushed' heading into Open

“Of course, it means a lot to me. That's what I want to do. I'll take a win any time, anyway. But I'm not picky. Of course, it feels better, more rewarding,” he said of his seminal victory in Hartford.

What once seemed so difficult has now become second nature for Schauffele, who was impressively composed on Sunday at The Renaissance Club after starting the last lap with a two-shot lead. Although he stumbled early to fall out of the lead, he rallied with birdies at Nos. 14 and 16 for a hard-fought victory.

It's hard to envision the player who made his way around wide-eyed at the Home of Golf on Monday ever wanting for confidence. The world golf ranking correctly pegs Scottie Scheffler as the world’s best at the moment and according to the two-year rolling math, it’s not even particularly close. But a snapshot of the last three months reveals a much different equation.

In his last seven starts, Schauffele has three victories and he hasn’t finished worse than 18th. He may be fifth in the world, but by any measure, he’s the most consistent player.

“I'm playing some of the best golf of my life and capitalizing on playing really well,” he said. “There's a lot of times all the top players, any player plays professionally plays very well but they don't get everything out of it and I feel like I've been successful in getting the most out of my game.”

Schauffele and Stefan drove up to St. Andrews late Sunday night after he’d completed his media obligations. There was no celebrating the victory (although he hinted there would probably be a cigar on the way), there was no time.

A crash course in links golf and a long-awaited introduction to the Old Course was calling.

“I don't know if it was love at first sight but I did enjoy playing with winds blowing 30 [mph] and playing the ball down closer to the ground and being OK to sort of aim 100 yards away from a bunker you can't go in and just play from there,” he said. “It's just fun golf for me.”

Four years after his Old Course drive-by Schauffele’s mood and professional outlook have brightened.