A Star is Born at Augusta National | Golf News and Tour Information
AUGUSTA, Ga.—The loneliest place in golf is the Augusta National Driving Range on Masters Sunday afternoon. Two by two, the suitors (and suitors) leave for their rendezvous with destiny, carried away by the polite applause of a packed grandstand. A little after 2 p.m. on Sunday, there were only three players left: Sungjae Im, short irons at flag; Cam Smith, his glorious mule blowing in the breeze, crushing pilots as he pondered how to close a three-stroke deficit; and 36- and 54-hole leader Scottie Scheffler, who emerged from the caddies’ shack after a brief respite, carrying a green bag of balls and his wedge. The crowd cheered and Scheffler nodded, looking a little shy. He walked past Smith, but neither recognized the other. These talented twenty-somethings have been the two hottest players in golf this season, trading daily victories on the PGA Tour, but to be at the top of the Masters rankings was something else entirely: one of their lives was about to change. . Yet even on the empty beach, no player is truly alone. He carries with him the spirit of all the golf buddies, teammates and parents who have pushed, supported and berated him. Randy Smith, Scheffler’s coach since childhood, was now with him, watching from a discreet distance. How many swings has Smith seen his student do over the years? The number is incalculable.
Scheffler took his bag of balls and took up residence in a bunker near the expansive practice green, and soon Smith came over to hit some chips. There are three flags on the green but, of course, both ended up aiming for the same one. These two scholars of the short game danced shots around the hole, the ball of one sometimes ricocheting on that of the other. Their facial expressions never changed, but the vibe was unmistakable: Anything you can do, I can do better. They took that energy to the 1st tee. Smith birdied the first two holes early, cutting Scheffler’s lead to a single stroke, the smallest margin since grabbing this tournament by the throat with a 67 in the second round. “He doesn’t get as much credit for it, but Scottie is like [Dustin Johnson] in the sense that nothing ever bothers him,” says Max Homa. “He has the perfect temperament for golf. This mental side is the differentiator.
On the small but dangerous 3rd hole, both players in the final pair missed the short-left green. Scheffler was the first to play. On the driving range before the round, he had easily chatted with Ted Scott, his jester caddy who had guided Bubba Watson to two Masters victories. Now Scott was just business. As Smith witnessed in the pre-game, Scheffler can play a dazzling variety of chips and pitches. Scott told his man, firmly, that the large downslope in front of the green had firmed up and he could play a “driver” there; that is to say, a low and hard ground crushed in the grass which would flow on the green. Scheffler did just that, and his ball hit the flagstick and was gone, reminiscent of a shot Charl Schwartzel played on the 1st hole en route to winning the Masters in 2011. Smith may have the best short game on the Tour, but, thus shaken, he threw his shot well beyond the hole and took a bogey. It was a monumental two-shot swing that Smith never really recovered from. He stuffed his approach shot on 7 but upon reaching the elevated green he must have been dismayed that Scheffler’s ball was even closer. Anything you can do, I can do better.
Watching from his home in Austin, Texas, two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw recognized his protege’s steel. “He’s a gentle giant,” Crenshaw said. “He’s just the nicest person you could imagine, but put him in a competitive situation and he’s tough as nails.”
By playing the first seven holes at 2 under, Scheffler shattered the dreams of other prowlers who hoped he would come back. His lead over Smith was still three strokes when the pair reached the difficult par-3 12th hole. Playing first, Smith drove his tee shot into the hazard. Scheffler cautiously searched his ball to the left and just over the green, then stepped on Smith’s neck with a shrewd back and forth while his opponent made a triple bogey 6. “My God, he’s got good hands,” enthused Crenshaw. “How many great little shots did he play today? Ups, downs, turns, currents. For someone so big and strong, he just has a wonderful touch.
Scheffler had to pass one last test. With his usual late charge, Rory McIlroy roared home with a 64, netting an outrageous bunker shot on the 18 to sneak within three strokes of the lead. But on the 14th, Scheffler used his long, flowing, athletic, idiosyncratic, old-school swing to smash a drive down the middle, then nearly knock the flag down, restoring order. On the dangerous par-5 15th hole, he played a daring 5-iron over the water to set up a second straight birdie and begin a stress-free walk to the clubhouse. Besides losing focus on the final green, it was a spectacular performance that validated Scheffler’s recent rise to world No. Asked what he likes most about Scheffler’s game, Harry Higgs replies: “There’s nothing he doesn’t do. well so that’s all. I don’t know if many people would ever teach someone to swing the club the way he does, but he hits golf shots and gets the ball where it’s supposed to go and shoots great scores. I think it’s very simple for Scottie.
Indeed, a big night out for Scheffler and his wife, Meredith, playing board games and watching Office. “He’s about as boring as they come, in the best way,” Higgs says. “He minds his own business. He keeps a low profile at home. I hardly ever saw him in [their shared hometown of Dallas]. No, I don’t have many Scottie stories. I don’t know if anyone would. He’s really good at what he does and he kind of stays in his own lane.
Lest we worry the new Masters champion is losing his sense of self, Scheffler was asked this week about when he played a state championship game in high school with a broken leg. He corrected the record saying it was just a sprain…and laughingly noted that it happened when he stepped on an acorn. Now, this earnest, self-deprecating 25-year-old with a big boyish laugh joins the pantheon of Masters champions, alongside fellow Texans Crenshaw and Jordan Spieth. At the winner’s press conference, Scheffler recalled walking Spieth 18 with an equally big cushion in 2015. There are uncanny parallels between that victory and this one, in the way Scheffler took a commanding lead. (five strokes) through 36 holes, fought like heck in the third round, then met the moment on Sunday. Like Spieth, Scheffler is humanly attractive. He gave much of the credit for this victory to his younger brother and all the glory to its creator, and he spoke fondly of his three sisters and parents. At a club that only recently began to welcome female members, it was moving to hear Scheffler salute his mother, Diane, as the breadwinner and his father, Scott, for taking care of the children.
Scheffler also paid tribute to his hero Tiger Woods, beyond his custom of wearing the TW shoes and shirt. After instilling Woods’ vibe through countless YouTube binges, Scheffler did his best to emulate Tiger’s intensity and determination throughout the final round. But Woods always wanted us to believe her makeup was superhuman. Scheffler’s vulnerability might be his most likable trait. He admitted to breaking down on Masters Sunday morning, he was so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the opportunity. “I cried like a baby this morning,” Scheffler said. “I was so stressed. I didn’t know what to do. I was sitting there saying to Meredith, I don’t think I’m ready for this.
On the contrary: the Masters could not have crowned a more worthy champion. As Scheffler recounted his emotional Sunday morning, his parents, wife and sisters wiped away tears in the Augusta National interview room. Scheffler began his journey in the loneliest place in golf. He finished it in the warm embrace of his family.