Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980, following the tours to 125 men's major championships, 14 Ryder Cups and one sweet roundtrip flight on the late Concorde. He is likely the only active golf writer who covered Tiger Woods during his first pro victory, in Las Vegas in 1997, and his 81st, in Augusta in April.

by Gary Van Sickle

Louisville, KY — It’s official. Sixty-three isn’t a thing anymore in major championship golf.

Why would it be in a year when Korn Ferry Tour players—you know, the second-tier guys who aren’t good enough yet to break through to the PGA Tour—have already posted a 59, a 58 and a 57?

The history of obscene scoring keeps accelerating in the modern game.It’s a good thing Valhalla Golf Club is such “a big boy course,” as defending champ Brooks Koepka described it, or maybe Xander Schauffele would have gone even lower than the 62 he posted Thursday in the PGA Championship’s opening round.

PGA: 63  Isn’t A Thing Anymore in Major Championship Golf 

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Johnny Miller’s gold standard, the closing 63 he shot to win the 1973 U.S. Open, literally is ancient history. Players have stuck the landings for 62s in majors four times in recent years. This was Schauffele’s encore 62. He and Rickie Fowler kicked off last year’s U.S. Open with that score. Branden Grace was first to do it in the 2017 Open Championship.

These guys are good. Maybe, these guys are too good. The equipment? It is definitely too good. Honk if you think the USGA should move up its planned ball rollback from 2030 to something a little sooner. Like, say, next Wednesday.

That would admittedly be a knee-jerk over-reaction. Greens were soft at Valhalla, skies were cloudy and wind was absent. Soft greens for PGA Tour players equal low scores. Sure, the course played a 7,506 yards in the first round but length is never a deterrent for these guys. So Valhalla got eviscerated. Shoot 20 under par this week and… you might be in the running.

That number is not a joke. Jason Day already won a PGA Championship with that total in 2015 at Whistling Straits. Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith subsequently matched it at the 2017 Open Championship, 2020 Masters and 2022 Open Championship, respectively.

Still, if a guy shoots 9 under par on the first day of a big tournament, he’s going to be in the mood for joking.

Schauffele was asked if he knew who was the last player to shoot 62 in a major? He pretty much knew. “Did I get in before Rickie?” he asked. The answer was no. Fowler posted 62 at Los Angeles Country Club last year first, then Schauffele’s 62 followed. So the answer to the question Schauffele asked was… Schauffele.

Then Schauffele was asked a question no golfer had ever been asked: Which of his major-championship 62s was the better round?

“I can’t nit-pick,” he said, grinning. “I’ll take a 62 in any major any day.”

There was one more joke worth noting, although it was intended as a serious question. Schauffele was asked, Do you feel like you're playing the best golf of your career right now?

Let’s see. He just tied the all-time low mark in a major. And he just got outdueled in a birdie blitz the weekend before when Rory McIlroy went on an eight-hole, 8-under-par run to beat him in the Wells Fargo Championship. Yeah, the question sounded dumb the moment it came out.

What really happened Thursday, as one spectator wearing a blue UK cap (for University of Kentucky)   noted with a guffaw as he wandered past the clubhouse, “Well, I guess Rory done p----ed off ol’ Xander this time.”

The fan wasn’t wrong.

“Not winning makes you want to win more, as weird as that is,” said Schauffele, who hasn’t won a major but does have a coveted Olympic gold medal for golf. “I react to it and it makes me want to work harder and harder and harder.”

Schauffele was paired with Kentucky native and local favorite Justin Thomas, a two-time PGA Championship winner. Thomas shot a solid 3-under 68 yet couldn’t help but feel like he got left in the dust.

“When you’re playing with one of the easiest 9-unders you’ve ever seen,” Thomas said, “it makes you feel like you’re shooting a million. But for the rest of our sakes, I hope he doesn’t shoot any more 9-unders.”

More joking. Possibly.

There is a long-term, serious undertone to this scene. Golf is evolving quickly. We’ve seen it with equipment, from the Pro V1 to exotic shafts to oversized driver heads. Players have gotten bigger (in general), stronger, fitter and are more athletic than ever. Top players not only have a trainer or three, plus a swing coach and a psychologist, but often a personal nutritionist-chef.

Scores have gotten lower in this century despite the fact that PGA Tour course setups are tougher. Four steps from the edge used to be a standard pin location limit. Then it became three steps. Now it’s two.

Tournaments that didn’t use to grow much rough, for recruiting purposes so top players would shoot low scores and have fun and want to return, often have substantial rough now in a desperate attempt to defend par. Despite that, low scores have advanced.

Al Geiberger shot the first 59 on the PGA Tour in 1977. No one matched it for 14 years until Chip Beck in 1991. Then David Duval in 1999. Three in 22 years? Not bad. There have been seven 59s on the PGA Tour in the last 14 years, plus Jim Furyk’s 58 in Hartford. Even women’s golf and the senior circuit have seen 59s. The Korn Ferry guys smash it on a regular basis.

It’s a trend. Johnny Miller often expressed his surprise while broadcasting golf for NBC that his mark of 63 was still standing into the mid-2010s. He knew records are meant to be broken and was simply proud to have held one.

Thursday at Valhalla was another record-setting day. Masters champ Scottie Scheffler teed off in the afternoon wave of the PGA Championship field and did it in an auspicious fashion. He holed out a shot from the fairway for an eagle 2 on the first hole.

A chorus of cheers arose that was heard throughout the course.

And rightly so. On this unusual day, he had just closed to within seven shots of Xander Schauffele.

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