Scottie Scheffler isn’t sneaking up on anyone

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – You could have doubted Scottie Scheffler.

No, really. A year ago, you could have debated what kind of future he had at the game’s highest level. It just doesn’t seem like it in the aftermath of his final-round 69 and five-shot victory over Tyrrell Hatton (65) at THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday, his PGA TOUR-leading sixth victory in 13 months returning him to world No. 1.

“He was never the perennial ball-striker,” said fellow TOUR pro Vincent Whaley, who has known Scheffler since elementary school. “He has the best short game I’ve seen, but I thought if that went away, he was in trouble.” Whaley laughed. “I never thought what would happen if it went the other way and the ball-striking caught up with the short game.”

Scheffler can beat you any way you want it: with the short game, long game, or mental game. He can sneak up on you, as he did last season, winning four times on the way to being named PGA TOUR Player of the Year. Or he can win as a clear-cut pre-tournament favorite, as he did at THE PLAYERS, where he pulled away with five straight birdies (holes 8-12).

He’s not sneaking up on anyone anymore. He doesn’t seem to care.

“A lot of it comes down to blocking out the noise,” said Jordan Spieth, a fellow Dallas resident and FOS – Friend of Scottie’s – with whom he competes back home. When he ruled golf in 2015, Spieth added, he didn’t do that as well as he could have. But Scheffler? Spieth has seen exactly zero drop-off amid this year’s higher expectations.

“That golf is pretty incredible, given he lost in a couple playoffs, and I mean, his top 10s are off the charts,” Spieth said. “He’s just playing that good. I think the team around him and the way he’s wired, he’s got – he’s extremely grounded. He’s got really good parents, great family structure. Randy Smith’s been around for a long time, his coach, and he’s been with him forever.

“So, I don’t see it changing. He’s in a good position to be able to continue to do this for a while.”

Ask Scheffler how his life has changed, and he’ll tell you he’s asked to do more off the course now. He talks to the media more, often about the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, which he’s swapped back and forth with Rahm and McIlroy. (His playing partners at the outset of this PLAYERS withdrew with illness and missed the cut, respectively.) He has to manage his time these days and can’t hang out at the course all day like when he was a rookie.

Other than that, though, he’s the same guy. The distraction, the noise – that’s for other people.

“It just takes a bit more energy to go from place to place and to practice,” he said. “It’s all good problems. It’s fun having people out there on the practice round. … I don’t feel any different. I still feel the same as I did in college. I still feel like I might even be in high school.”

If he professes indifference to being in the Who’s Who as opposed to a Who’s He, not so his caddie, Ted Scott, who points out that no one was really focused on Scheffler when he won the 2022 WM Phoenix Open, his first win in his 71st PGA TOUR start. At this year’s WM Phoenix Open, however, virtually everyone was focused on Scheffler, who nevertheless converted on his 54-hole lead to successfully defend his title. Scott said the second one was harder because of the heightened expectations. You’d never know it, though, watching Scheffler.

“I don’t know what he was like as a child,” Scott said at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday night, “but apparently at 7 years old he was wearing pants to the golf course, and so he was visualizing himself being in this position. He’s practiced his whole life to get to this spot.
“… There’s just a little more distraction out here because the stage is bigger. Like an actor in a movie, you’ve just got to get rid of all the lights and cameras and do your job and perform.”

The only real gaffe for Scheffler lately has been his failure to close out the TOUR Championship last summer, when he lost a six-shot final-round lead to McIlroy, who became the first player to win the FedExCup three times and later took over the No. 1 ranking. The loss at East Lake took a toll, Scheffler admitted Sunday, “but the hard times make the good times that much sweeter.”

Randy Smith, Scheffler’s coach, cited a deeper understanding of pressure moments this season.

“It’s becoming a habit to make the right decision,” Smith said Scheffler says he feels like he’s improving as he goes, each pressure situation preparing him for the next. That’s a scary prospect, but perhaps not a fanciful one.

“It’s pretty incredible, what he’s done,” said Whaley, his old boyhood running mate and Korn Ferry Tour roommate. “But I know how elite he is. I think he’s got more in the tank.”

Even at the watery Stadium Course, even with the $4.5 million winner’s check in the balance, and even now that he’s The Man, Scheffler couldn’t look more comfortable. No, he won’t be sneaking up on anyone for some time, and there will be talk of rankings and legacy, 54-hole leads and the FedExCup, national teams and Player of the Year votes – but that’s all just noise. He’s got golf to play. He’s practiced his whole life to get to this spot.