OK, so maybe I’ve mentioned this before: Michael Schur, Brandon McCarthy and I have a pretty active and quite bizarre group text. I say “quite bizarre” because you never really know where it’s going to go. Usually, it’s predictable enough — Mike ranting about a missed ball-strike call from an umpire, Brandon testing some wild theory he just came up with, me asking some strange question that happened to pop into my mind — but it will often just go off the rails.
Example: Somebody will complain about something relatively innocuous like manual scoreboards or mayors making side bets before big sporting events or the Atlanta Braves’ new World Series ring.
And then the other two will say, “Nah, that doesn’t bother me.”
And then the first person will grump, “You two are terrible friends,” and it will go on from there.
My favorite group-text theme is when two of us talk about something that the third person cares almost nothing about.
Like Mike and Brandon will go into these long and deeply-felt heart-to-hearts about Liverpool football, and I will just kind of read along.*
*Brandon and Mike both live on West Coast time and I’m on the East Coast, so one of their favorite things has been having these long, long, long back-and-forths about something they know I don’t care about … but having it late at night so that I wake up and look at my phone and see that I had missed 63 messages and think, “What incredible thing did I miss? Did Will Smith slap someone else?” And then I’d read through and find that all the messages are play-by-play of some not-especially-famous Liverpool game from eight years ago.
Or Mike and I will break off into another incomprehensible Yankee-loathing diatribe, and Brandon will virtually roll his eyes and call us children.
And then sometimes, Brandon and I will go fairly deep about golf. Mike really doesn’t care about golf. He will check in around Augusta and maybe a couple of the other majors as sports fans do, but he doesn’t care, and so there is usually just radio silence from him or he might check in with something like, “I’ve honestly never even heard of that person.”
Scottie Scheffler was one of those people Mike had never heard of … and that’s no surprise. I’d say until about two months ago, nobody except the most serious golf fans had heard of him. Scottie Scheffler’s Q rating was more or less in the range of Scott Schebler, who hit 30 home runs for the Reds back in 2017, and Scottie Wilbekin, who was SEC player of the year when he played basketball for Florida in 2014.
The only thing even serious golf fans knew about Scheffler back then was that he was chosen for the Ryder Cup team, and most golf fans thought he should not have been, and then he played really well at the actual Ryder Cup.
Then, rather suddenly, beginning on Super Bowl Sunday, Scottie Scheffler decided to start winning pretty much every tournament he entered. That day, he won the Phoenix Open in a playoff against Patrick Cantlay, another very good golfer who I imagine Mike has never heard of.
Two weeks later, Scheffler won again — this time at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Then three weeks after that, Scheffler won yet again — this time beating Ian Poulter (who non-golf fans probably HAVE heard of because of the weird golf pants and bold statements) to win the WGC Match Play competition. He won eight matches to take that title.
And that victory, suddenly and officially, made Scheffler the No. 1 golfer in the world.
I’m not sure I can ever remember that fast a climb from obscurity to the top.* It was kind of startling, even for those of us who have followed Scheffler’s rise, to hear the announcers at the Masters refer to him as the No. 1 golfer in the world. He had not won a single PGA tournament before this year. Yes, he was rookie of the year in 2020, and he certainly had some good performances, top 10 at a couple of majors, but this? Who saw this?
*I guess No. 1 on this list of fastest rises from obscurity to the top was Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson, right?
Thing is, when you watch Scheffler play, you do sense something. Thursday was the first time I really watched him closely, and what struck me is the same thing that probably struck you if you watched the Masters: Nothing fazes him. Nothing frustrates him. Nothing thrills him. He just goes along with that blank face and plays the next shot, whatever that shot happens to be, and whatever competitive fires burn inside him stay very much inside him.
It seemed to me the absolutely ideal temperament and disposition for a golfer.
And as Brandon and I texted back and forth about what might happen in this Masters — while Mike sat back and waited for the text thread to take a more interesting turn — I finally settled on this prediction:
“Scottie Scheffler could just go out and shoot a boring 69 every day and win by 5.”
I wrote that early Thursday, just as the tournament was getting started.
Now, I want to fast-forward to the finish as Scottie Scheffler walked to the 18th green. He was at that moment 12-under par. You know what 12-under par is at Augusta? Right: It’s like shooting 69 every day.
And you know what Scottie Scheffler’s lead was? Right: Five shots.
Thank you very much. I don’t get many predictions right. But when I do … look out below.
Now, to be fair, I don’t think Scheffler’s game itself is boring at all. In fact, contrary to the pleasantly bland way he carries himself, his game is quite daring, it is a game of touch and feel and saving bad shots with Seve Ballesteros-like miracles. He won the tournament on the third hole, really. His lead had dwindled to one shot, he snap-hooked an extraordinarily bad drive behind a scoreboard. He got some relief (which just about made our friend Joe Sheehan lose his mind) and then found some opening to the left of the trees, and then, impossibly, chipped it in to take hold of the tournament again, and he never let it go.
But while his game wasn’t boring, he did make the Masters pretty boring. Oh, there were plenty of amazing shots — Tiger Woods had a couple of them, Stewart Cink had a hole in one, Rory McIlroy hit an awesome shot from the sand on the 18th hole, etc. — but none of them really mattered. The whole tournament was Scheffler, his wry smile, his casual walk, his refusal to yield no matter how hard the wind blew or how intense the pressure should have been.
In fact, it’s this last part that struck me most — Scheffler’s seeming obliviousness to pressure. Some years ago, a golfer you may never have heard of named Dan Forsman did an amazing job explaining the pressure of the Masters. He said that if you put a two-foot-wide board down on the ground and challenged someone, “Walk across this,” it would be so easy to do.
But then, he said, if you put that same board between two skyscrapers and challenged someone, “Walk across this,” it would be a much different thing.
What I love about that is that the only difference between the two walks is the pressure that you put on yourself. It’s no HARDER to walk across the board between the skyscrapers*, but your mind will make it much harder for all the obvious reasons.
*Not counting the wind, which is obviously another important part of playing Augusta National.
So it is with Augusta National. So much of what makes it hard is that it’s the Masters, and there’s so much history attached, and this is where Nicklaus made the putt, and this is where Hoch missed his, and this is where Tiger chipped in, and this is where Rory lost his way, and this is where Norman spun the ball off the green, and this is where Mickelson hit through the trees, and this is where Spieth lost his ball in the water.
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None of that ever seemed to back up on Scheffler at all. He was undoubtedly aware of all of it, they all are. He undoubtedly felt things that his face never expressed. But all we saw was a player strolling through Augusta like it was a weekend foursome with some buddies. Scheffler has spoken eloquently about how golf is just what does, it is not who he is. He spent Saturday night watching episodes of his favorite show, “The Office”*, and said he didn’t think all that much about leading The Masters.
The only pressure that exists, you see, is the pressure you allow yourself to feel.
And Scottie Scheffler seemed impervious to those feelings.
*It thrills me that before Sunday, Scottie Scheffler was more aware of Mike Schur than Mike was aware of Scheffler.
That is — until the 18th hole. Ah, he started the 18th hole with that five-shot lead I mentioned, and he hit a fine drive, and then he put the ball safely on the edge of the fairway and then hit a safe shot to the green, 41 feet away from the hole. It was a tricky downhill putt from there, but he navigated it with the same calmness that he had used all weekend, and left his putt five feet away.
And then the stage was his, the crowd was chanting, his wife Meredith was crying.
And, suddenly, for just a moment, we saw what was actually churning inside Scottie Scheffler. He was not impervious to pressure at all. In the morning, he was so nervous he actually started crying. “I don’t think I’m ready for this,” he had told Meredith. His stomach hurt badly. He’d kept all of that in, kept all of that hidden from the world, because that’s what you do.
But now, with the tournament in hand, he relaxed. Just for a moment. He tried to take all of it in because if you can’t enjoy the scene when you’re standing on the 18th green at Augusta with a five-shot lead, what’s the point of anything?
And then he missed the five-foot putt.
OK, fine, it would be a four-shot victory.
And then he missed the two-foot comeback putt.
He laughed. Of course, he did. What else was there to do? He made the final putt, won by three, hugged his wife, and walked off to get his green jacket. You don’t know what comes next. But for right now, Scottie Scheffler really is the best golfer in the world.