Scottie Scheffler will not play in this year's U.S. Open due to resting positive for COVID-19. [Phelan M. Ebenhack/The Associated Press]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas’ Scottie Scheffler is soaring in the PGA, but missing his chance at Dell

Posted March 21st, 2020

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Story highlights
  • Up to this point in the season, the 23-year-old Dallasite was streaking through the 2019-2020 PGA season, having posted four top 10 finishes and having twice flirted with winning his first career event.
  • Three times on the PGA Tour, he held a share of the 36-hole lead before faltering down the stretch and finishing third twice in the Bermuda and The American Express tournaments. He currently sits 19th in the FedEx Cup standings and had made $1.7 million this season.
  • So does he know what it takes to win? “I’m not sure,” he said laughing. “I haven’t done it yet.”

For Scottie Scheffler, it was to have been a homecoming of sorts.

The former All-American golfer at Texas was greatly anticipating a return to Austin where he once starred for John Fields’ team that was a NCAA runner-up in 2016.

Heck, the Austin Country Club, where the fifth annual World Golf Championship-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament was scheduled to start on Wednesday, was practically Scheffler’s home course after the UT Golf Club.

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The three-time high school state champion — only he and former Longhorn Jordan Spieth accomplished that feat — had played at ACC so often, he could barely remember how many times he’d set foot on the challenging course.

“A lot,” Scheffler said recently from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on the eve of The Players Championship, which was canceled after the first round because of the coronavirus pandemic. “A hundred times? Maybe.”

“But,” he added, “not in tournament conditions.”

A small crowd watches Scottie Scheffler hit from the sand on the eighth hole, during the first round of The Players Championship on March 12. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Alas, his debut in the Dell Match Play was not to be, canceled like eight other events on the PGA Tour through the PGA Championship in San Francisco in mid-May. After the opening round of the TPC at Sawgrass, where he and fellow rookie Viktor Hovland shot matching 4-under 68s, it was abruptly halted by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who said it was the prudent and safe thing to do.

So, too, have the Masters and PGA Championship fallen victim to the infection, both postponed possibly until later this fall.

Scheffler and the rest of the PGA Tour pros were instantly shut down.

Former Texas golfer Scottie Scheffler was a key part of the Longhorns’ 2016 NCAA runner-up team. (Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)

Up to this point in the season, the 23-year-old Dallasite was streaking through the PGA season, having posted four top-10 finishes and having twice flirted with winning his first career event. He was killing it.

“I’m doing all right,” he offered.

He’s climbed to No. 45 in the world and had easily qualified for the Dell event as one of golf’s top 64 ranked players, a huge ascent since he sat at No. 190 as recently as last fall.

Scheffler said he was so looking forward to getting back to Austin after having been on the PGA Tour for 13 events as a fully exempt player in his first year. He’d qualified as the leading points winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he’d won twice with a tour-best 10 top-10 finishes.

Three times on the PGA Tour, he’s held a share of the 36-hole lead before faltering down the stretch and he’s finished third twice in the Bermuda and The American Express tournaments. He currently sits 19th in the FedEx Cup standings and had made $1.7 million this season.

So does he know what it takes to win?

“I’m not sure,” Scheffler said laughing. “I haven’t done it yet.”

Scottie Scheffler has played in 24 career PGA Tour events, including five when he was an amateur. The former Texas standout was prepared to compete in the Dell match play tournament before it was canceled. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

He will, and sooner than later. He’s played in just 24 career Tour Events, including five as an amateur, and ranks 15th on the Tour in scoring average at 69.9 and sits 15th in driving but only 109th in driving accuracy. “I need to clean things up across the board.”

One golf analyst, Notah Begay, said he thinks Scheffler’s game is well-suited to the Tour and he should continue to succeed.

“He has what it takes,” Begay said. “He hits it high and hits it long. He battles the putter a little bit. He missed a four-foot birdie putt on 17 (on the final round of The American Express) and had a bogey on 18 to just miss out on winning.”

He has come close. He’s already shot rounds of 64 or better four times on the Tour this season with a career-low 62 at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier tournament and averages an impressive 4.69 birdies a round.

So has he surprised himself?

“Not really,” he said. “I didn’t place any expectations on myself this year. It’s been fun starting out. I know I’ve gotten a lot of (FedEx) points, but there are a lot more points available.”

And some outlandish competition to battle for them.

Scheffler’s part of a spectacular class of rookies that are experiencing wild success early in their careers, including Harry Higgs, Maverick McNealy and former teammate Doug Ghim. Of the 21 first-timers on the Tour, Hovland has already won, but nine have posted top-10 finishes. Six rookies own FedEx Cup spots in the top 64.

“We’re friends,” Scheffler said of Hovland, his Oklahoma State rival who became the first Norwegian golfer to win a PGA Tour event, capturing this year’s Puerto Rico Open. “The guys all share a little bit of knowledge. You have to learn how to travel, how to handle your emotions. You spend a lot of time by yourself.” 

Hovland’s first victory continues a trend of hot rookies on the Tour, a result maybe Scheffler said because they “come out pretty prepared.” Korean Sungjan Im, last year’s Tour rookie of the year, won his first event, the Honda Classic, in his 50th event on the Tour.

In 2018-19, five of the 22 rookies won. In the last four seasons before the current one, rookies won a total of 16 times.

Scheffler would love to win the Arnold Palmer award that goes to the Tour’s most outstanding rookie as voted by the players, but it’s not his focus.

“I don’t really look too far in the future,” he said, “but that would be a great award to win.”

So does he think he’s ready to win, once Tour play resumes?

“I feel like I’m pretty close,” he said. “I’ve given myself a few chances. I definitely feel my game is good enough. I feel I’m in a good place mentally.”

This week he just wishes he was in Austin.

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