Players 2023: Scottie Scheffler’s 6 victories in 13 months have some believing he’s just getting started
The gallery reacts to Scottie Scheffler after just winning the Players Championship, his sixth victory in the last 13 months.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH — When Jordan Spieth seeks affirmation for the soundness of his golf game, he doesn’t have to look very far. The three-time major winner merely measures himself against his Dallas neighbor, Scottie Scheffler, who is about as useful a measuring stick as you’ll find in professional golf.
Scheffler was dominating in capturing the Players Championship on Sunday, his sixth victory in the last 13 months as he joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only men to hold the Masters and Players titles at the same time. With a step-on-their-throats burst of five straight birdies around the turn—a display of bloodless, brutal golf that exceptional players summon at crucial times—Scheffler pulled away to win by five over Tyrrell Hatton.
The Englishman birdied his last five holes and didn’t even make a dent. Playing carefully down the stretch after building his lead to as many as six strokes, Scheffler closed with a three-under-par 69 and finished and 17-under 271 for the largest margin of victory in his career. He overtook Jon Rahm as the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, the third time he has risen to the top of golf’s very deep, talented heap.
But whether Scheffler is ranked first is immaterial to Spieth, a former No. 1 himself and currently sitting 14th. “I play against him a lot at home, and consistently he’s shooting really low rounds,” Spieth said after an even-par 72 left him tied for T-19 at 282. “When I feel like I get the better of him, it's a boost of confidence because he's arguably the best player in the world right now. He and Jon and Rory [McIlroy] … I guess you guys have all written about how that change [in the world ranking] has gone down, but it's easy to say right now that I consider him the best in the world.”
Rahm has an argument to the contrary, winning five of his last 11 starts worldwide and three times this year. But the algorithm of the World Ranking favors Scheffler, and the Texan’s body of work over a longer stretch, which includes a green jacket, is without question more consistent. And that is without winning the FedEx Cup last year when he coughed up a six-stroke lead to McIlroy.
No one is perfect. But Scheffler, 26, has been notably proficient once he learned how to win at last year’s WM Phoenix Open. Since that playoff victory at TPC Scottsdale, Scheffler has made 25 official PGA Tour starts and missed just three cuts and finished outside the top 25 two other times. One of those was a T-55 at last year’s Players. Meanwhile, he has five wins and five more finishes of fourth or better.
Jared C. Tilton
Clearly, he is not the same player who struggled to find the podium early in his tour career.
“He’s just got a lot more experience,” said his swing coach, Randy Smith. “It’s about being in situations. When you play out here for a living, situations come up, and if you’ve got a library of stuff to go back on and kind of draw up in your mind a little bit … you tend to think about how to do things differently.”
Of course, it’s more than that. Smith said that Scheffler is “probably about as complete a player as I’ve ever seen.”
And his peers agree.
“He does everything well, and when you do everything well you are going to be very tough to beat and you’re going to be on leaderboards with a chance to win because you don’t need to be hitting all on cylinders,” 2015 Players winner Rickie Fowler said. “His consistency comes from just having that overall skill level and the confidence you get from knowing there are different ways of winning.”
“He's got great hands. He's got every shot, and then at this point, once he won last year and obviously won the Masters, I feel like … there's nothing to lose, everything to gain for him, and it's a really nice place to be where he's at,” Spieth said. “I've been there. It's a really fun time playing golf that way.”
Fun is the word readily rolling off Scheffler’s tongue when asked to describe this current stretch of golf. Winning another $4.5 million, which he pocketed on Sunday, represents an undeniable satisfaction, but with Scheffler, the enjoyment runs deeper. It’s more granular, visceral.
“The beauty of it is that he is having so much fun playing,” Smith said. “It could be here, or it could be with the guys back home. He enjoys hitting shots and seeing what he can create and if it matches what he saw. Since he was a young kid, Scottie has been around the game and has a great love for everything about it.”
It doesn’t hurt that he’s a gifted athlete, that he is 6-foot-3, sinewy strong and driven to succeed. He began channeling his interest into golf when he was a youngster, hanging out on the range at Dallas’ Royal Oaks Country Club with the likes of Justin Leonard and other tour players. Smith was out there, too. There aren't likely to be many players, if any—Rahm and Justin Thomas come to mind as equals—who are more invested and immersed in the game for the game itself.
“I love playing golf at home, I love social golf, I love going out and gambling with my buddies and just having fun and cutting up with each other, and I love to practice,” Scheffler said. “I enjoy being able to try and shape the ball and the challenge of the game. It's been a huge part of my life since I was probably three or four years old.”
In other words, the run that Scheffler currently enjoys far exceeds his recent window of success but is rather the culmination of a lifelong dedication to golf. It seems surprising, but it shouldn’t be knowing the particulars of his ascent.
He’s proving to be quite special, not that Scheffler has given the notion much consideration.
“I never really thought that much of myself. I always just tried to stay in my own little bubble,” he said. “I did a good job of being a good junior, and then I was a pretty good college player, and then I played good on the Korn Ferry Tour, and I just keep trying to get a little bit better. I never really looked too far ahead. I always believed that I could make it out here and play well on tour, but I never expected it. It's kind of hard to describe the feeling, but I just, I never really looked that far ahead, I just tried to get a little bit better and just go through all the proper steps.”
And now he is stepping on the competition in a way that Golf Channel’s Paul McGinley described as “Tigeresque.” He was referring to this particular performance in which he posted four rounds in the 60s at the Stadium Course and registered the largest victory in the Players since Stephen Ames won by six in 2006. We shall see how that observation holds up over a career. We’re not there yet. But Scheffler seems to be warming up to something worth watching.
“Scottie’s having, like, this accelerated, Hall of Fame kind of career all in the last 12 months, you know? It’s impressive,” said Adam Scott, who like Scheffler has won the Masters and the Players. “It's just 12 months and all of a sudden he's definitely putting himself in this category of … he's a future hall of fame guy in 12 months, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he might add to that. My guess is there’s a lot more to come.”