U.S. Open

U.S. Open 2024: Scottie Scheffler looked human

June 14, 2024

Andrew Redington

PINEHURST, N.C. — For his first 31 holes, Scott Scheffler was in a constant state of righteous indignation, unwilling to accept the reality that was unfolding. For the better part of three years he has consistently made this ridiculously hard game look easy, his performance so absolute over the last six months that he’s no longer judged against his peers but versus history. Why Pinehurst wasn’t privy to this, why it refused to yield to his will, vexed him.

Then came the 32nd hole of his U.S. Open, the 14th of his day, the fifth on No. 2’s front. The par 5 has been the easiest so far through this national championship, one of the few respites to be found. Scheffler’s shortish drive found the right fairway at the 596-yard hole, yet he watched his second dive hard to the left into a native area. Birdie very much in play, at worst par secured. Only Scheffler’s pitch lost its war against gravity, the ball climbing the turtleback contours but failing to reach the top. Scheffler and caddie Ted Scott stared at the ground as the ball meekly returned to Scheffler’s feet, and what Scheffler exhibited in the ensuing fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh shots could only be described as dazed resignation. The man knew what the scoreboard already showed: This has not been his week.

Scheffler’s historic heater was iced on Friday, as the World No. 1 labored to a four-over 74, putting him on the cut line and miles behind the leaders at the 2024 U.S. Open.

“Yeah, it was for sure [a grind],” Scheffler said Friday afternoon. “Around this place you have to hit such good shots. The golf course is challenging. I think personally it's fun to play, but yeah, it was definitely a grind.”

It can’t be overstated how much of an aberration Scheffler’s Pinehurst display is against his recent past. He’s won five times in 2024, including five days ago in Columbus. The only times he hasn’t won in the past 10 weeks were at two tournaments where he faced pending felony charges … and in those weeks he finished eighth and second. In fact, he hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since January and outside the top 20 since Labor Day. The last time he missed a cut was August of 2022.

So what went wrong? Scholars argue Scheffler, like the great biblical warrior Samson, lost his strength after his head was shaved. The more data-minded set would point to his putter. The short game is no longer the bane of his existence like it was last summer, but Scheffler lost a whopping three strokes on the green in Round 2. Those struggles on and around the putting surfaces are why Scheffler, who averages a tour-best five birdies per round, has yet to make a red figure through two days.

“I felt like especially the back nine today I actually hit it really well,” Scheffler said. “I just couldn't get a putt to fall early. Then I had that unfortunate deal on No. 5 which probably on any other golf course if I hit those two shots, driver, 3-wood into a green on a par-5 and probably have a pretty good look at birdie, I'm not going to have walking off with a 7. But just unfortunate place for me to put myself.”

In a broader sense, however, it’s just been one of those weeks. Where every roll and bounce is bad, when the wind turns on the fan as the ball is in mid-flight, when the flag posts a sign that says “Sorry, we’re closed,” when it seems like there are higher forces at work and for some reason they are working against you. The casual fans mistakenly think Scheffler runs cool, forever and always, but the truth is he runs as hot as anyone inside the ropes. He just does an amazing job at concealing the fire that burns within.

The past two days those flames have been shooting out his ears, at one point tossing his putter like a baton after a missed putt, his hands on his hips and his head tilted towards the sky as the putter came crashing back to earth.

To Scheffler’s credit, he did not let the double-bogey at the fifth officially finish his week, battling for four consecutive pars to end his round. He is far from the only player that has come out on the business end of Pinehurst. The nuance of No. 2 punishes anything less than good, and sometimes even good is not enough. There will be plenty of bruised egos and hurt psyches by the time this weekend’s through; it is the U.S. Open, after all. With the afternoon wave still to play, with the temperatures rising and property’s green browning out by the hour, Scheffler could still have a Saturday tee time.

“I’m proud of how I fought today. I gave myself a good chance. Really yesterday I felt like I did a great job. Today I just couldn't get the putts to fall,” Scheffler explained. “This golf course can be unpredictable at times, and maybe it got the better of me the last couple days. I'll sit down and think about where we're going the last few days and figure it out.”

Still, as Scheffler walked off the course Friday afternoon, he took a look down his final hole and briefly shook his head. For the first time in a long time, Scheffler’s transcendent play looked human.