Scottie Scheffler’s unexpected U.S. Open gave us 1 surprise winner

scottie scheffler stares down at the us open in a white hat and striped shirt

Scottie Scheffler's surprise 5-over Masters start has him flirting with the U.S. Open cutline.

Darren Riehl/GOLF

PINEHURST, N.C. — Golf has entertained Scottie Scheffler plenty over these last six months, but Friday at the U.S. Open seemed to bring him amusement of a different kind.

The kind of good time that sends eyes into the heavens and cusses from the throat and golf clubs fluttering through the sky. That kind that’s probably not a very good time at all.

Call it gallows humor. Call it laughter to keep from tears. Call it biting sarcasm. Call it whatever you’d like, Scottie Scheffler had it on Friday at Pinehurst No. 2, the same day he shot 4-over 74 to flirt with the U.S. Open cutline.

“I mean … not really,” he said Friday when asked if he’d enjoyed himself. “Playing poor golf isn’t fun.”

In what is only a compliment to the level of golf Scheffler has maintained over these last six months, the above sentence reads as nothing short of astonishing. Scheffler, the same guy who worked his way down to a three-to-one favorite at Pinehurst by Wednesday afternoon, facing the prospect of missing the weekend altogether? Sure, and I’ve got some beachfront property to sell you in the Carolina sandhills.

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But the truth was even scarier, largely because as the scores kept rising on early Friday afternoon, Scheffler’s agitation grew … cheerier. The World No. 1 was in a near-biblical state of calm as his irons careened off of Pinehurst’s domed greens and into collection areas, his drives skipped past the fairway and into the native areas, and his putts burned edges — sharing smiles and more than a few patented chuckles.

In the moment he wanted it most, his game faltered him more than it has all year. And so Scheffler smiled, wearing the same placidly faux-entertained disposition of an agoraphobe at Coachella. Not because he felt like smiling, but because the truth was funny: The same thing that made him the head-and-shoulders favorite at Pinehurst — his quintet of wins in 2024 — had caused his struggles at Pinehurst.

“Maybe the worst golf shot I’ve ever seen you hit,” he said to himself, laughing, as one particularly ugly tee shot soared towards the sand.

He laughed again as another putt lipped out on the 15th, his sixth hole of the day and what felt like his 60th near-miss, flipping his putter into the sky and sending it crashing back to earth with an audible thud.

It was that kind of Friday for Scheffler, who sunk to 5 over on the tournament and, at the time of this writing, directly on the U.S. Open cutline. Nothing went quite as expected, and the result was something quite unexpected: Scheffler’s first truly bad start of 2024.

The reason for that bad start is what has most of the golf world perplexed on Friday evening. Is it possible, as Scheffler suggested, that he just wasn’t prepared enough for the challenge that laid before him?

“There was definitely a bit of a fatigue aspect,” Scheffler said Friday, admitting his recent stretch of utter dominance had caught up to him at Pinehurst. “I think going forward I’m going to have to take a closer look at my preparation.”

Or is it possible that Scheffler’s supposed lack of preparation has a different origin? Not exhaustion or mental drain, but something more sinister. Like, say, a golf course designed to find and exacerbate his weaknesses.

After five wins in seven starts, preparation figured to be the least of Scheffler’s worries heading into U.S. Open week, or at the very least a small ripple next to his tidal wave of advantages. Like being a high-ball hitter with shotmaking prowess and short-game wizardry at a golf course that rewards precisely those things. Scheffler’s latest win at the annually brutish Memorial only strengthened his case; if he could win by a little at narrow, toothy Muirfield Village, he could by a lot at wider and firmer Pinehurst.

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But the U.S. Open presents challenges unseen in the rest of the golf season, and this year the worst of those challenges can be found on the fringes. Native grass (as it’s called here) is the primary defense of Pinehurst No. 2, shooting from the ground in sandy patches of hell. Scheffler hit into it far too often during his first two rounds at the national championship. Worse yet, he looked unsure of how best to maneuver out of it. (In his defense, his options were unfriendly: punch out and get slapped on the wrist, or swing for the fences and risk going to prison.)

“The only aspect of Pinehurst I don’t really love is the unpredictability of the native areas,” Scheffler said Friday with a sheepish grin. “I would have preferred for it to be just normal for Bermuda rough, but of course that’s why I’m not a course designer.”

Scheffler is not a course designer, but if he were he’d know that Donald Ross smiled from above when he heard that comment. The mark of a great golf course is not in its ability to challenge a golfer’s ability, but rather to challenge a golfer’s mind.

On Thursday and Friday at U.S. Open, Pinehurst challenged the mind of the best golfer alive — with wide fairways and no rough — and won. Scheffler seemed to recognize as much on Friday afternoon, which was why he could not help but smile. He was not happy, but he was amused.

Amused because golf is hard. Even for the best player in the world.

And it might be hardest when you’re beating yourself.

James Colgan Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at

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