The real genius of Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is between his ears
AUGUSTA, Ga. — There’s an odd and interesting page in Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom where Shivas Irons, the book’s protagonist, makes an unlikely list he calls “men who knew.” (It was a more sexist time.) Among the names on his roll, he includes Calamus the Gymnosophist, Sherlock Holmes, Picasso — and Ben Hogan, the great Texas golfer who won the Masters twice and started the Tuesday-night Champions Dinner.
Well, the time has come to add another golfer from Texas to this list: Scottie Scheffler, winner of the 86th Masters on Sunday, by a field goal over Rory McIlroy. Scheffler knows.
Scheffler, at 25, knows things about golf that the great Hogan, who won his first major at 34, never figured out. Hogan’s genius was for puzzling through the game’s deep complexities. Scheffler’s genius is to keep it simple.
See ball, hit ball. See hole, putt to its high side. Wear clothing with one logo on it. Nike will pay you enough. Don’t go chasing waterfalls or paydays or turbo-charged souped-up drivers. Scheffler knows: what got him here is more than good enough.
*On Feb. 23, Scheffler won his first PGA Tour event, the WM Phoenix Open, in a playoff over Patrick Cantlay on a pushover golf course;
*On March 6, Scheffler won his second PGA Tour event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, by a shot, on a windy, demanding course crowded with ponds;
*On March 27, Scheffler won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on a baked course and became the No. 1 ranked player in the world;
*On Sunday, April 10, Scheffler won the 86th Masters, in his third appearance in the tournament.
A run like that is way beyond a heater. Four wins in seven weeks? That’s Tiger-like. That’s historic. That’s not sustainable.
Maybe it is.
This guy should be good for years to come. He’s big, strong, limber, sound of mind and body, married, religious, close to his family, simple in the best way. Looking at Scheffler, he brings to mind a 1950s Big 10 linebacker who, done with school and the gridiron, takes his talents first to the driving range and then to professional golf, telling his fraternity brothers, “Beats selling insurance!” Scheffler brings to mind Mike Souchak and Jim Thorpe and Hale Irwin, to cite a threesome of college football players who took their strength and athleticism to the PGA Tour.
People used to use the word jock. Scheffler looks like a jock of a most particular and relatable kind. He has a receding hairline, linebacker’s shoulders, a hockey player’s chin, a boxer’s nose. He has a heavy beard, thick eyebrows, wide-spaced eyes and a nice sense of humor. He showed up at his winner’s press conference with his collar of his golf shirt stuffed under the collar of his new green club coat.
He said this of his birdie 3 on the third: “I hit a great drive right down the middle. Chipped on the green to like three feet and made the putt.”
He hit a bad tee shot, an OK second, a chip that was too hot and likely would have gone 10 feet past the hole. When you hit three eh shots you don’t usually bury the putt. A bogey 5 there would have meant a totally different Sunday. But the chip, you likely know, went in.
Here’s a list of Texas Golfers Who Knew and the years they won the Masters:
Byron Nelson, ’37 and ’42;
Ralph Guldahl, ’39;
Jimmy Demaret, ‘40, ’47 and ’50;
Ben Hogan, ’51 and ’53;
Jackie Burke Jr., ’56;
Charles Coody, ’71;
Ben Crenshaw ’84 and ’95;
Jordan Spieth, ’15.
Scottie Scheffler, ‘22
(Yes, we know: Patrick Reed is a Texan and he won the 2018 Masters. Those facts alone do not qualify you for this list.)
Now it is true that Scheffler spent his first years in northern New Jersey before the family moved to Dallas so that Scheffler’s mother could take a position as the COO of a large law firm. Scheffler’s father, also Scott, was a full-time father to his son and three daughters. “He always wanted to hit golf balls,” the father, as modest and low-key as the father of a new Masters champion could be, told reporters shortly after the day’s final putt was holed, just before 7 p.m. on a dreamy spring night. “He always wanted to play golf.”
But he played every sport in season. Jack Nicklaus did, too.
As for the list of Texas Golfers who Know, he actually brings one man to mind more than another other: Lord Byron himself.
The father noted, with humor, that his son was a blend of Jersey and Texas. The son, with Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nelson teed up for him, was asked which way his musical tastes leaned. His answer: “I do have influences from both. My dad, he loved Bruce, so I like Bruce, too. Most of what I listen to is Texas country. Then I listen to some kind of older rock from like the ’70s maybe. Honestly, I don’t know the time period. I’m kind of just making that up. But I’ll send you the playlist. How’s that?”
That sounds good?
The weather was so insanely bad for much of this week, that the beauty of a still, warm Sunday afternoon and night was especially welcome. And given the madness of this golf year — Phil and the Saudis and Greg Norman and the whole Tiger watch thing — it was just so welcome to see golf show its sense of dignity again.
When Scheffler’s caddie, Ted Scott, who won this tournament twice with Bubba Watson, came off the 18th green, he headed to the clubhouse with his boss’s golf bag on his right shoulder and the tapered, yellow 18th-hole flagstick in his left hand. He marched down a path lined by clapping, cheering fans. He smiled but otherwise did not respond. Scott knew: The folks were there to see the winner. He’s the caddie, not the star. When he talked to reporters he tried to control his emotions, but tears were gathering below his left eye.
Later, Scheffler himself made his way down that same pathway, arm-in-arm with wife, Meredith, whom he met when they were both in high school. (Of course.) He towers over her. She was wearing a floral sundress and carried a green pocketbook. That ringing phone you hear is 1962 calling. There was something serene and appropriate about the whole final day. By the way, Cam Smith would have been a great winner, too. He lost his way as a golfer on Masters Sunday, for a brief while, but not, at all, as a person.
On Tuesday night of Masters week, in a second-floor dining room in the clubhouse, the Masters winners gather for dinner. Hogan started the tradition. Scheffler will keep it going. Everybody sits at one long table and Bernhard Langer, Zach Johnson and Larry Mize sit together in the praise-the-Lord, pass-the-biscuits section of the table. Scheffler will be right at home with them.
It’s easy, when writing any sort of game story, to skip right over any mention of God on the part of the protagonists. That started as a reaction to athletes saying that God was on their side, etc. Oh please.
But when Scheffler talks about his faith it’s in the context of balance and in this year of golfing madness and much noise his priority system is just refreshing. He doesn’t come off as a me-me-me person, or as a golfer looking for more and more and more. He was asked about (to use a modern phrase) his life-work balance.
“It all goes back to my faith,” he said. “The reason why I play golf is that I’m trying to glorify God and all that he’s done in my life. So for me, my identity isn’t a golf score. Like Meredith told me this morning, if you win this golf tournament today, if you lose this golf tournament by 10 shots, if you never win another golf tournament again she goes, I’m still going to love you, you’re still going to be the same person.”
Does that sound like a 25-year-old who just won the Masters?
It’s like he’s figured something out. It’s like he knows.
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