Defending Masters champ Scottie Scheffler’s blandness is by design

Defending Masters champ Scottie Scheffler’s blandness is by design

AUGUSTA, Ga. — WHEN SCOTT SCHEFFLER showed up in Dr. Troy Van Biezen’s office in Dallas one day in fall 2014, he was panicked.

Scheffler’s son, Scottie, had been one of the best junior golfers in the world, but was struggling to even hit a ball straight as a freshman at the University of Texas. The player who only months earlier had tied for 22nd (and made a hole-in-one) in the 2014 Byron Nelson Championship, a PGA Tour event, could no longer break par. He posted an 18-over total in 54 holes in his first collegiate start. He carded a 15-over score in his second start.

Making matters worse, Scottie’s ailing back had forced him to pull out of a tournament. After growing about 13 inches during a 14-month span in high school, Scottie’s muscles and joints were no longer able to support his 6-foot-2 frame.

“We sat there on a Saturday and just said, ‘Enough is enough. Let’s figure this out. How do we get him better? How do we get him back on the golf course competing at a high level, like he has been?'” said Van Biezen, a trainer and chiropractor who has worked with many athletes, including Tiger Woods. “You can’t compete at a high level in pain or with an injury. You just can’t do that anymore.”

There had always been signs that Scheffler might one day slip on a green jacket as the Masters champion and become one of the best players in the world. He shot 37 over nine holes as a 5-year-old. He carded a 33 the next year. From 2004 to 2010, he won nearly 60% of his starts in junior tournaments, amassing a staggering 74 victories. In high school, he was a three-time individual state champion.

But now Scheffler’s dream was in danger of being derailed by an ailing back and rapidly fading confidence.

“The hardest thing for any athlete is if your brain wants to compete but your body doesn’t let you,” Van Biezen said. “That’s really, really difficult, and that’s where Scottie was. He knew he could play good golf, he knew he could compete at a high level, but the body was not allowing him to do that. You can’t stop Mother Nature.”

SINCE THE TIME Scheffler had first displayed signs of potentially being a golf prodigy around the age of 5 or 6, his family, coaches and friends — many of the same people surrounding him today — had worked tirelessly to keep him grounded through values, modesty and faith. And, now, at a time when Scheffler needed them most, they went to work to piece him back together physically and rebuild his confidence.

“I’m telling you, the best thing about Scottie Scheffler is he is singularly surrounded by a group of angels,” Texas coach John Fields said. “They were all a step-by-step process to help Scottie become a God-fearing man that is not identified by his golf game.”

One of the primary reasons for Scheffler’s success is that the team around him has remained so stable. He has been working with his coach, Randy Smith, for nearly two decades. Smith’s son, Blake, one of Scheffler’s longtime friends, is his manager. Scheffler dated his wife, Meredith, in high school and for four years while they attended different colleges. They married in 2020. Van Biezen has worked with Scheffler since he was 14. His caddie, Ted Scott, who helped Bubba Watson win two Masters titles, has been a calming influence on the course the past two seasons.

“He’s got a lot of people back home that really hold him in the palm of their hand,” Randy Smith said. “They really do. I’d say that’s probably the biggest part of him being grounded. Plus, that’s kind of the way he is. There’s a lot of people back home and his family, from top to bottom, who will hold him accountable. So if he slips up, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Scott and Diane Scheffler moved their family from Montvale, New Jersey to Dallas when Scottie was 6. Shortly after the move, they took out a loan to join Royal Oaks Country Club, where Smith worked with 1997 Open Championship winner Justin Leonard, Anthony Kim and other PGA Tour pros.

Diane, who worked as the chief operating officer of a law firm, was the family’s sole breadwinner. Scott was a stay-at-home dad, shuttling Scottie and his sisters, Callie, Molly and Cara, to school, practices and anywhere else. Scottie and his sisters attended school in Highland Park, an affluent area north of Dallas.

The first time Fields heard about Scheffler was in 2007 when he asked his team who the next great player from the talent-rich state was going to be. Charlie Holland, an All-American at the time, spoke up and mentioned a seventh-grader who was working with Smith.

“Coach, there’s no question about it,” Holland told Fields. “There’s this little guy, I think he’s 12 or 13 years old, he’s like in seventh grade. I think this guy is going to be absolutely great. He’s just so good.”

NOT LONG AFTER, Fields went to watch Scheffler play in a junior tournament at Barton Creek Country Club in Austin. He was surprised that Scheffler was only 5 feet, 1 inch and 100 pounds, yet still winning. Even then, Fields recognized the same spectacular short game he had seen in another high-profile recruit, Jordan Spieth, who would spend two seasons at Texas before becoming a PGA Tour star.

“They can get it up and down from anywhere and hit remarkable shots at that age with spin and distance control,” Fields said. “That’s just incomparable to anybody. People ask me all the time, ‘What’s the difference between Scottie and Jordan and everybody else?’ Well, around the greens, they’re off the charts with regard to tour players. I mean, how many times have you now seen those guys make shots from off the green or in a bunker or spectacular moments? I’ve always said that great players hit great shots at the right time. Those guys do.”

Scheffler might have been small for his age, but he wasn’t intimidated. In fact, Smith said he had to help Scheffler dial back his energy on the course.

“When he came up as a kid, he’d get a little red and hot,” Smith said. “And you’d say, ‘You better quit it now because there’s going to be some people who really give you crap the older you get.'”

Highland Park boys’ golf coach Jeff Loyd had witnessed Scheffler’s competitive fire while playing in kickball games and other sports in elementary school.

“There were times in the gym that I kind of had to sit on him a little bit just because he’d get so mad and angry with some of the games we’d play,” Loyd said. “So, nothing out of the ordinary, but he’s a fierce competitor.”

Scheffler grew up in a hurry, at least physically, when he experienced the sudden growth spurt between his freshman and sophomore seasons in high school. He started hitting the ball farther and won three straight Class 4A individual state titles. In 2012, Scheffler set or tied course records on two Dallas courses, carding a 10-under 61 at Northwood Club to break PGA Tour pro Hunter Mahan’s record and a 9-under 61 at Dallas Country Club just days later.

Neither Smith nor Loyd attempted to change Scheffler’s unorthodox golf swing. On the downswing, Scheffler’s feet actually jump and his right foot slides toward his left, helping him transfer weight. It isn’t pretty, by any stretch of the imagination, but it works. When Spain’s Jon Rahm was asked about Scheffler’s swing at the Masters last year, he said, “You can’t teach that. It’s unteachable. If you try, you’d probably end up hurting people.”

Scheffler’s unorthodox swing was tested just before the state championship during his junior year in 2013. There were about two weeks between regionals and the state tournament, and Loyd warned his players about pickup basketball games and horsing around. A few days before the tournament, Scheffler texted Loyd: “Hey, coach, just wanted to let you know that I twisted my ankle but I’m fine.”

Immediately, Loyd called Scheffler.

“What do you mean you sprained your ankle?” Loyd asked him.

“Coach, I’m fine,” Scheffler said. “It’s no big deal.”

“Well, with it being this close to state I’m going to do my due diligence and have a backup plan ready if this turns out to not be exactly what you’re telling me,” Loyd said.

When Loyd arrived at the driving range at Onion Creek Club outside Austin the day before the state finals, he learned that Scheffler had sprained his left ankle when he stepped on an acorn.

“How’s it affecting your swing?” Loyd asked him.

Scheffler explained that the only adjustment he had to make was pointing his left foot toward the target. “Yeah, but it’s no big deal. I can swing with it.”

“I’ll be the one to determine that,” Loyd told him. “All right, let me see what you’ve got.”

Scheffler swung a 5-iron and knocked a ball within a few feet of his target.

“Well, I’ve seen all I need to see,” Loyd said. “We’re good to go, boys.”

Playing on a bum ankle, Scheffler led the Scots to their 16th state championship by carding a 36-hole total of 135 to win the individual title by 3 strokes. Highland Park won the team championship by a whopping 25 strokes. Scheffler even had a hole-in-one on the 144-yard 17th hole.

“He played the whole stinking tournament with his foot pointed toward the target,” Loyd said. “Every once in a while he got a little off balance, especially with Scottie’s famous footwork, but he adjusted and made it work.”

It wasn’t the only close encounter Loyd remembers having with Scheffler. Each of the four Scheffler children started driving with the same car, a red Volvo station wagon they fondly called the “Red Rocket.” It was passed down from one sibling to the next. When it was Scottie’s turn to drive a few teammates to a course for a match, he jumped on Interstate 635, one of the loops in Dallas. While they were driving about 65 mph, the Volvo’s hood popped up. He had to navigate to the shoulder and tie the hood down with rope to finish the drive.

“I would not be shocked if Scott still has that stinking car,” Loyd said. “Wouldn’t shock me at all. Who knows, he may be holding it for his grandchildren when they get there.”

When Scheffler left for college, he inherited a 2012 GMC Yukon from his father. During the FedEx Cup playoffs last year, Scheffler said there were about 178,000 miles on the SUV. He’s still driving it.

SCHEFFLER WAS 6 feet, 2 inches, and about 200 pounds when he arrived at Texas, according to Fields. He went from wearing a small women’s cadet glove to a men’s extra-large. Scheffler joined a Longhorns squad that included future PGA Tour players Kramer Hickok, Beau Hossler and Doug Ghim.

Scheffler’s sudden growth spurt was wreaking havoc on his body, according to Fields. His muscles and joints were struggling to keep up, leading to a back injury in his first start. Scheffler was also adjusting to college without Meredith, who attended Texas A&M, and was taking difficult classes as a finance major. In the beginning, it all seemed overwhelming.

“The combination of that growth spurt and what that did to the pressure on his joints, that really made it difficult for him to believe that he had the potential to be great,” Fields said. “We all saw exceptionalism; he did not. He was a U.S. junior champion, and he comes in right after Spieth. Pretty much everybody goes, ‘What’s wrong with Scottie? What’s his problem? How come he’s not doing better for you?’ This was his first semester.”

According to Van Biesen, Scheffler was dealing with many of the problems junior golfers suffer after they grow, including loss of flexibility and mobility in the hips, which puts stress on the lower back. Van Biesen consulted with Smith about what needed to be done to heal Scheffler’s back and adjust his swing to make his movements more efficient and repeatable. Fields gave them the clearance to do whatever was needed. Van Biesen found Scheffler a chiropractor and a soft-tissue masseuse in Austin. He devised a pre-round stretching program for Scheffler and a post-round recovery plan.

“Once we got the body moving better, and he didn’t have any pain, my next phase was performance-based to get the kid stronger and more powerful,” Van Biesen said. “I think with Scottie, he started to see some of the results. He’s like, ‘Wow, I don’t feel much pain anymore. I’m playing pretty good golf,’ and we’ve just kind of stuck with that and he’s bought into it.”

By the end of Scheffler’s freshman season at Texas, he had won the Western Intercollegiate and a Big 12 individual title. He was named the Phil Mickelson Freshman of the Year in college golf.

“People panic because of things like what Scottie went through,” Fields said. “So you’ve got to change teachers because something’s wrong with my back, and you have maybe the trainer telling you that you’re doing things wrong or whatever. The truth was, everybody kind of understood, thank God, that he was just growing. He was still growing when he was in college. It wasn’t like he got here and he was the finished product. He was not.”

Once Scheffler was healthy again, Fields set out to finish what Smith and Loyd had started — keeping his emotions in check on the course. Fields spent two years walking with Scheffler. He said it wasn’t to work on Scheffler’s game or teach him course management, it was more to keep him in the moment.

Ghim, now a PGA Tour player, remembers Scheffler breaking a few ping-pong paddles in college.

“He’s had so much success as a tour player because I feel he’s done a great job managing his emotions in comparison to what he did in college,” Ghim said. “He was definitely very vocal about his feelings when we played in amateur golf. It’s pretty interesting to see him so calm and collected now because that wasn’t always the case. When you watch him on TV, he’s so calm and collected and reserved, but when you get to know him in person and spend time with him over ping pong matches or whatever it is, he’s the class clown. He’s the loudest one in the room.”

“He would get angry,” Fields said. “Let’s say he missed a 4-foot putt, you would’ve thought that the world was coming to an end, that he had just been hit as hard as he could be hit in his chest, and it hurt that bad, like, over the top. It took time for him to be able to put that same sort of competitiveness and maybe that energy into every shot, and then to be able to leave that behind after the shots.”

Fields remembered walking with Scheffler during a round in his sophomore season. Scheffler had just missed a 4-footer on the 16th hole, and his blood was boiling. Walking to the 17th tee, Fields told him, “Scottie, if you are going to get this mad for a missed putt like that, then when you make that next 10-footer, you’ve got to be getting equally as happy or genuinely as excited about that because there’s got to be balance.”

About a year later, the wind was howling at the 2017 Big 12 championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kansas. So much that coaches had pleaded with league officials not to be so aggressive with pin placements. On the seventh hole, Scheffler had a 20-foot eagle putt. He made a nice putt, leaving his ball about a foot-and-a-half from the hole. But as he walked over to mark his ball, a gust of wind blew his ball 4 feet past the hole. Then it crept over the false edge and rolled another 20 feet. Scheffler looked at the rules official and asked, “What do I do?”

“Did you get the mark down?” the official asked.

“No,” Scheffler told him.

“Well, then the ball’s in play.”

According to Fields, Scheffler ended up making a double-bogey 7 on the hole.

“He was angry, but he let it go by the time he got to the eighth tee,” Fields said. “He hit a remarkable 9-iron shot to about a foot, and it was over. I was like, ‘Oh my God. He shifted gears, he actually shifted gears. He left that behind.’ I knew he had turned the corner.”

THOSE TEACHING MOMENTS still stick with Scheffler today.

“I always try to stay very calm and patient on the golf course,” Scheffler said. “That’s why you don’t see me celebrate a bunch or do anything crazy or get real mad. I try and stay pretty even keel out there, and I think that’s something that people have definitely noticed. I guess that’s a good thing because that’s kind of the way I want to be. I don’t want to be going crazy one way or another. I just want to go out there and do my business and kind of be done with it. So on that front, I guess I’ve been succeeding at that, which is nice.”

Although his style of play has been described as boring and bland, arguably no one has been better on the PGA Tour over the past 14 months. Yet Scheffler remains true to himself in a sport where success and confidence can be fleeting.

Scheffler might not display Woods’ flair on the course or Rory McIlroy‘s transparency off of it, but he’s hardly an introvert trying to keep details of his life private from the rest of the world — he just chooses not to broadcast them on social media. Those in his tight inner circle insist he’s more like an imposing live oak planted in Texas’ sandy soil, equipped to survive wind and storms because of its deeply embedded roots. Like that live oak, Scheffler is never going to bend too far from the center, no matter how famous he becomes or how chaotic the world around him gets.

“I haven’t changed just because I won a golf tournament,” Scheffler said. “When my buddy gets promoted at work, does he turn into a completely different person? I think sometimes just because people see something on TV they expect somebody that changes at home and maybe think they’re more important than they were before. But I said it a bunch of times: Nothing has changed because I’m still the same person, I’m still married to the same girl, I’m still my father’s son, [and] I still have the same parents. Nothing’s different.”

WHEN SCHEFFLER SLIPPED on a size 44-long green jacket as the Masters champion nearly a year ago, his victory at Augusta National Golf Club was the culmination of his meteoric rise on the PGA Tour. It was his fourth victory in six starts. Arnold Palmer was the only other player in history to win four times by the Masters and including a victory in the Masters.

Scheffler doesn’t seem ready to slow down anytime soon. He has won twice this season and finished in the top 10 in six of nine stroke-play events. He is among the favorites to win the Masters again. He is seeking to become only the fourth back-to-back winner at Augusta National; Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Woods (2001-02) were the others.

“Obviously, he’s a great player, but sometimes that play comes in waves and you’ve got to ride that wave,” Rickie Fowler said. “His wave has been a little longer than some guys and nothing short of impressive. It’s hard to really find a weakness in his game, and a lot of that comes [from] that momentum and confidence. All these guys out here can play, but when you’ve got a lot of momentum and you got a lot of confidence, the game seems pretty easy.”

Everything seems so easy for Scheffler right now, but his past reminds him it won’t be that way forever. Meredith was with him on Sunday morning last year, when the weight of a 3-stroke lead took its toll. Scheffler admitted he “cried like a baby” and didn’t think he was ready for the moment. His wife told him he was.

“I hope it resonated with people,” Scheffler said. “I like to be honest in these settings, and that was definitely something that I wanted to be honest about. I think it was very helpful. It’s always special in marriage when you’re able to share what’s really going on. I think that’s one of the cool things about marriage is that somebody loves you for who you truly are, not some fake version of yourself. So anytime I can get that stuff out in the open, and she can speak truth to me, it’s very special for both of us and it definitely helped me not only that day but it’s very helpful in life as well.”

Regardless of what happens at Augusta National Golf Club this week, Scheffler knows he won’t be alone. Smith will be with him on the range. Scott will be on his bag to help him analyze every shot and putt. Van Biezen will be ready to stretch him out and get him ready for the next round. His parents and sisters and Meredith will be there cheering him on.

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