Humble superstar braces for life as the sport’s top-ranked player
By Mike McAllister
As a teenage amateur golfer in Dallas, Scottie Scheffler preferred to practice and play wearing long pants. That might not seem like a big deal unless you’ve suffered through a brutally hot Texas summer and the extended seasons of warm temperatures and high humidity. Generally speaking, wearing shorts not only is an acceptable fashion choice, but often a necessary one in the Lone Star State.
But Scheffler wore pants when working on his game at Royal Oaks Country Club. After all, pro golfers (at least back then) were required to wear pants during practice rounds as well as tournament days — and Scheffler wanted to be a pro golfer. It was always his dream.
So he wore pants, just like the pros did.
What wasn’t in his dreams, however, was to be the world’s top-ranked golfer. The idea never really entered his mind. Sure, he wanted to be the best golfer he could be, and he loves the competition, so he certainly sought to beat the field and win tournaments. But rising to No. 1?
“Never really got that far in my dreams,” he said.
Thus, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Scheffler entered the recent World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play unaware of the possibility that he could end the week ranked No. 1 in the world. In fact, it didn’t dawn on him until a day or so before the championship final, when a TV broadcaster conducting an interview with Scheffler mentioned it.
Even then, as Scheffler advanced through the Sweet 16 weekend bracket to reach the championship final against Kevin Kisner at Austin Country Club, he never focused on it — other than telling his wife Meredith on that Saturday night about the possibility of it happening the next day.
Meredith had not been aware that No. 1 was in reach until her husband told her.
“She had no idea,” Scheffler said. “I told her that because I want her to be able to experience these things with me, because she doesn’t care what I’m ranked in the world, obviously.
“She gets to see how hard I work. She’s seen the failures I’ve had over time and the sadness that comes with trying to achieve something and not being able to succeed at it.”
Meredith told her husband that failure was not an option, that he would succeed the next day. And so he did, beating former No. 1 Dustin Johnson in the semifinals before defeating Kisner, a previous Dell Technologies Match Play winner.
It was his third PGA TOUR win in his last five starts, allowing Scheffler to overtake Spain’s Jon Rahm as No. 1. It’s been a quick rise for a player who, until February, had never been inside the world’s top 10.
Now, even though he never sought the position, he’s the world’s best golfer.
“It’s not something that I didn’t want to achieve or didn’t believe that I could do,” the 25-year-old Scheffler said.
But he insists that his focus is strictly on beating his fellow pros. What follows after that is just gravy.
“I’ve always been, I would say, fiercely competitive,” Scheffler said, “and so for me getting out here was a goal per se, and being out here, I like competing and I enjoy the challenge of playing out here every week. Just competing out here is really fun for me and just being able to win tournaments is pretty awesome.
“The rankings never really crossed my mind. It was always just about being out here and competing.”
Of course, now that he’s No. 1, Scheffler now has a bigger target on his back. Expectations will rise. So will the pressure to maintain a position from which there is only one direction — down.
Consider Australia’s Jason Day, who never shied away from discussing his goal of reaching World No. 1. But once he did, once he achieved what he worked so hard to obtain, it seemed to consume his energy.
When Day won the Dell Technologies Match Play in 2016, he began a reign of nearly a year atop the rankings until early February of 2017. Despite two wins in 2018, Day has yet to return to No. 1 – and with a winless drought of more than three years, he’s fallen to 118th.
Will Scheffler’s mindset be different? Perhaps, if only because Scheffler didn’t seek the top ranking. He says it will not impact his approach going forward, and his friends and colleagues insist he will not get caught up trying to live up to the hype.
“I’ve known Scottie since he was 8, and I think it will serve him really well,” said fellow Dallas golfer (and former No. 1) Jordan Spieth. “He’s just very happy-go-lucky. He’s a competitor on the course, but he’s so light. Like he gets along with everybody. I think that he just looks at that (No. 1) as the label as something that’s really cool but just loves to play golf.”
Spieth says it’s Scheffler’s personality that drives his game, more than any desire to be No. 1. “He just loves playing the game,” Spieth said, “and he’s playing it better than anybody else right now.”
Sam Burns, one of Scheffler’s closest friends on the PGA TOUR, stayed in the same house as Scheffler during this year’s Masters at Augusta National. In describing Scheffler, one of the words Burns uses is “goofy.”
And being goofy might be the perfect antidote to the pressures of being ranked No. 1.
“He isn’t necessarily defined by golf,” Burns said, “so I think that will serve him well because obviously golf is very difficult, and you’re going to have great stretches and you’re going to have some bad stretches. At the end of the day, he knows that golf isn’t everything. It’s not who he is, it’s what he does. So I think that’s probably the most important thing.
“Once you become No. 1 in the world, you get a lot of attention, and things change a little bit. … He has not changed a single bit, so I can tell you that.”
“He’s just his goofy self. Off the golf course, he’s a fun guy to hang out with. He just relaxes and doesn’t take life too seriously. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met.”
Upon hearing that Burns described him as “goofy,” Scheffler pretty much agreed with it.
“I guess so,” he smiled. “I like to laugh. We have some fun. I think it’s important to not take yourself too seriously, so maybe a little bit goofy.
“I think it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself because you’re going to have a lot of hard days out here on TOUR, and golf’s going to get really hard. We lose a lot more than we win, so being able to not take yourself too seriously is pretty important because we experience failure on a weekly basis out here.”
Perhaps one other thing that will serve Scheffler well in maintaining a position as golf’s latest superstar: Staying humble. Those closest to him evidently are seeing to that.
“My friends are still making fun of me,” Scheffler said. “I’ve still got to do my chores at home. Nothing really changes.”
Staying goofy and winning golf tournaments. Seems like a pretty fun approach for golf’s newest No. 1.