Why betting on Xander Schauffele at the PGA Championship was doomed to failure

The importance of a golf course fitting a player’s eye can be key and that's why the American could be a far better bet in this week's Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.

In theory, Xander Schauffele looked a decent bet for the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

The course was a long one and set by the ocean. Schauffele likes to pull driver and, as a former runner-up in the Open Championship, he'd performed strongly in coastal conditions.

In addition, the Californian went into the event in good form: in his two previous starts he'd finished third in the Masters at Augusta National and followed that with a top 15 at the Wells Fargo Championship.

Perhaps most convincing of all was Schauffele's fantastic record in Majors: eight top 10s in 15 starts before Kiawah, with seven of those top sixes.

Yes, the 22/1 for the then World No.4 looked an attractive each-way punt.

But instead of finding him on the Friday evening leaderboard again, the 27-year-old was heading home after rounds of 73 and 77. He'd missed just his second ever cut in the Majors.

So what went wrong?

Something was off with Schauffele at Kiawah Island and in his press conference at this week's Memorial Tournament, he shed some light on it.

Frame of mind cost Schauffele at Kiawah

When discussing his season so far, the American admitted that there had been a lot of good but he wasn't in the right frame of mind at Kiawah Island.

Schauffele was asked why not and his response was admirably honest.

"You know, I think frame of mind is a lot of choice. I just -- honestly, I had somewhat of a bad attitude about the golf course. I just didn't really like it.

"And normally my attitude is some of the best. I always joke about beating Webb Simpson and I did not beat him that week. It's just small stuff like that for me that's really crucial and kind of put me in the wrong direction early.

"My set-up and everything was great. I was kind of ready for the week. I wasn't hitting it great. I'm not saying I had enough game to win that week, but I definitely had enough game to compete, and for me to miss the cut was a bit reckless and kind of stupid.

"So just didn't really like the course and moving forward even if I don't like a course I got to wash that out of my mind and move along."

Fitting your eye

The concept of liking a particular venue or set-up is regularly latched onto by punters: it's always reassuring to hear a golfer say that the course fits their eye, as if a secret door has been opened.

Kiawah didn't fit Schauffele's eye and his response wasn't good.

It was an interesting revelation and the great Jack Nicklaus was asked about it when he came in for his own press conference later that day.

Surely the Golden Bear would never have shown such mental weakness. However, this week's tournament host had a surprise answer in store.

Schauffele's admission set off a chime of recognition and Nicklaus added that another legend of the game, Lee Trevino, had also suffered from the same affliction when teeing it up at Augusta National.

When Jack let it get to him

Nicklaus won an incredible 18 Majors, finished runner-up another 19 times and had a staggering 56 top fives. All are records that may never be broken.

But when asked if he'd ever let a course get into his head and performed poorly, Nicklaus responded: "Oh, are you kidding? Sure. Absolutely. Not very often. But you realise it when you did it. I mean, I remember -- I can go back through the years and quickly pick out three or four sites that didn't fit my eye or something I didn't like or didn't prepare for.

"One was '68 Pecan Valley, San Antonio. I just, I didn't, I never got interested. I mean, it was ridiculous. You only got four Majors a year. What in the world are you doing? I mean, that's stupid (the word used by Schauffele)."

He continued: "You're not supposed to fit the golf course to your eye, you're supposed to fit your eye to the golf course. In other words, you're supposed to fit your game to the course. That's why we play different courses. Otherwise, we play the same course every week. So that was my fault to do that and I missed the cut."

So rare was it for Nicklaus to miss a cut in the Majors in those days that he suffered just one other halfway exit between Pecan Valley in 1968 and the 1983 Masters.

Nicklaus' Open secret revealed

The "fits my eye" factor also affected Nicklaus' performances in the Open Championship.

He explained: "I mean, if I took the British rota, I mean St. Andrews fit my eye well, Muirfield fit my eye well. Birkdale actually I was in between. Sandwich is the one that I could never get to fit my eye the way I wanted it and I never played great at Sandwich. But that's my fault not the golf course's."

Jack Nicklaus wins the 1970 Open at St. Andrews
Jack Nicklaus wins the 1970 Open at St. Andrews

Jack won at St. Andrews (twice) and Muirfield and was runner-up at Birkdale. But he shot 10-over (tied 23rd), 12-over (missed cut) and 4-over (missed cut) at Sandwich (Royal St. George's) which will host this summer's Open once more.

"If you got one that doesn't fit you, you got to work a little extra hard to make it fit it. That's basically all it is. You don't arrive on Monday and expect it to get there. If you don't like what you're doing, go in the Monday before and play some practice rounds and you need to get it there if you want to win."

Trevino's troubles at Augusta

And then there was the case of the great Lee Trevino at Augusta National.

"Trevino always said, he said he could never play at Augusta," said Nicklaus. "He says, 'I can't play this golf course'. I said, Lee -- he says, 'The golf course doesn't fit me'. I said, Lee, it's not supposed to fit you, you're supposed to fit your game to the golf course. And I said, you can play any golf course. Lee Trevino was as good a golfer as ever lived. This guy could really play golf. And he just got it in his head that he could not play that golf course."

Lee Trevino - could never master Augusta
Lee Trevino - could never master Augusta

Trevino won two US Opens, two Open Championships and two PGAs but a Masters green jacket always eluded him.

He tried his luck 20 times at Augusta but never managed anything better than tied 10th. It's a remarkably poor record for one of the greats.

Of course, the secret for punters is knowing that a player doesn't fancy a course prior to the event.

No-one will ever come out and say "this course doesn't fit my eye". But looking back at Schauffele's pre-tournament interview at Kiawah Island, there were some clues.

When asked for his opinion of the course, he replied: "Yeah, I played 18 holes yesterday; I played nine today. Saving the back nine for tomorrow. Let it kick my butt before I start the tournament on Thursday.

"It's tough. I read that the scoring average in 2012 was 74 or 74.6, which was the second hardest tournament the guys played in 2012. With it being windy and sort of a constant wind and breeze, I feel that it's going to be a very difficult task and a big ask on certain holes. Just a really good test, honestly.

"I think it's a really good venue for a Major, and it seems like everyone is excited to play."

A certain amount of reading between the lines is required but from that it can be noted that it didn't go well in practice and he was focusing on the negative elements before trying to round off with a bit of diplomacy.

Schauffele ready to make amends at Memorial

As for this week's course, Muirfield Village, Schauffele has finished in the top 15 in each of his last three starts at the Nicklaus design.

The course has undergone changes since last year so what does he think?

"It's always nice to be back at Jack's place. I played nine holes yesterday, obviously everyone's looking forward to the changes he made.

"I played the back nine and the changes were very obvious to me and I think they're for the better. So looking forward to playing the front nine this afternoon and checking those out as well."

It's not quite the full "this course fits my eye" but there's enough there to suggest that Schauffele can recover from his Kiawah Island blip and get in the mix again.

As at the PGA Championship, Schauffele is 22/1 for the win at Memorial with Betfair.

With the benefit of hindsight, he looks a far better bet this week than he did at Kiawah.

READ MORE: Four angles at Muirfield Village: Preview of the Memorial Tournament

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