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Bohls: Unflappable Scottie Scheffler on a rapid ascent on PGA Tour

Scottie Scheffler took down match play guru Matt Kuchar, who has won more WGC matches than any golfer besides Tiger Woods, and won 1-up in the semifinals to reach the championship match of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
  • Scottie Scheffler never trailed Matt Kuchar in his semifinals match and clinched it on final hole.
  • "He's a fighter," Scottie's mom Diane said of her 24-year-old son.
  • Former U.S. Open champ Tom Kite said of Scheffler, "He's just got everything there is."

It’d be a mistake to say this was Scottie Scheffler’s coming-out party.

Not a grave one perhaps, but an error nonetheless.

Scheffler announced his presence long ago.

This party’s been ongoing for a while now.

The former Texas Longhorn arrived on the PGA Tour scene long before he survived a grueling morning match against match play phenom Matt Kuchar and reached the finals of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play before falling 2-down to Billy Horschel on a blustery Sunday afternoon.

And he was rightfully ticked off about losing.

"I really, really hate losing," Scheffler said after his runner-up finish. "I'm pretty pissed off right now, and I'll do anything to avoid this feeling again. I don't like to lose."

This was just the latest example of Scheffler’s — if not meteoric at least momentous — ascent. He played masterfully for six rounds and beat some of the top players in golf, including third-seeded Jon Rahm, but ran out of steam in the last match and failed to make any clutch putts.

As Horschel said after his first WGC title in his 20th attempt, "It wasn't pretty. I felt sorry for the golf fans because they saw a lot of sloppiness and a lot of pars to win holes. I made one birdie, and I may have given him one. I don't think Scottie has his great stuff either."

This may not have been how NBC or Dell projected this event to turn out, but many would find themselves properly introduced for the first time to a young, rising star in Scheffler, who is the latest in a long line of outstanding University of Texas golfers. He's right on the heels of Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite and Jordan Spieth, in talent if not yet titles.

He’s New Jersey-born, but like most smart folks, got to Texas as soon as he could when his family moved to Dallas when he was 6. That in so many ways prepared Scheffler for a moment like Sunday from getting tutored by Dallas legend Randy Smith or playing in winds so stiff in Texas it’d blow a man over if his pockets were empty.

That kind of inborn confidence and training have helped Scheffler this week as he navigated a dangerous path and overcame a string of opponents like third-seeded Jon Rahm, match play guru Ian Poulter, top 10 golfer Xander Schauffele and 2016 Dell champion Jason Day. In fact, he never trailed in his duel with Kuchar, whose 33 Dell Match Play victories are second only to Woods’ 36. 

“He’s a fighter,” Scottie’s mom, Diane, said. “But he’s always very calm.”

If anything, Scheffler blamed his hotly contested, 1-up victory over Kuchar, the winningest golfer in match play this side of Tiger Woods — on being too comfortable. After solid birdie putts on Nos. 9 and 11 holes to go 2-up, he lost the next two holes with drives in the water before taking the lead for good with a nifty 10-foot putt on No. 17.

“I felt really good about how I was playing all day,” Scheffler said. “My stroke felt good. My swing felt very good, and I was comfortable. I think I was almost too comfortable. Kind of lost focus on 12 and 13. I felt good about my game, and I knew if I kept executing and hitting good shots I would have a chance to win.”

That he did.

With a No. 30 ranking in this week-long grind for 64 of the top 69 golfers in the world, Scheffler may have been the lowest seed to get to this point. But he’s already accomplished enough in his brief pro career that he’s far from a nobody and has such a dominant overall game and a strong will to ensure he’ll be a somebody for a long time.

"I think early in my career I've already seen myself perform in big moments and big events, and I look forward to continuing to do that far into the future," Scheffler said. "I think this week is definitely a little bit of a confidence boost. I'm obviously unhappy with how it finished but definitely have some confidence moving into the next two events."

Scheffler, a tall, powerful 24-year-old who has length and accuracy off the tee and can putt the eyes out of a pin, won the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors. He’s finished in the top four of last year’s PGA Championship with three rounds in the 60s. He tied for fourth in his FedEx playoff debut. And he’s already played in five majors, including a couple of U.S. Opens.

When it was mentioned to Tom Kite during Sunday’s semifinals match that Scheffler had yet to win his first PGA event, the 1992 U.S. Open champion said, “The big word you said is yet.”

“There’s no question he’s going to win,” Kite added. “Hey, it may happen this afternoon.”

It didn't, but he wasn't far off. One almost wonders if Scheffler’s mad he hasn’t broken through yet in his previous 41 Tour starts. But his family members discount that emotion.

He has finished third in two tournaments at the 2019 Bermuda Championship and the 2020 The American Express and now has a second-place in the Dell to build on.

But no one should be surprised he was playing for his first winner’s check, even if it was his first appearance in the Dell tourney and just his fourth WGC start ever.

Heck, at this rate, Scheffler will become a strong consideration to join the U.S. Ryder Cup team for the knock-down, drag-out at Whistling Straits in September. No one should underestimate this guy, not even Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker. "Obviously, I want to be on that team," Scheffler said.

Stricker watched the golf on television and told Golf Digest, "It's good to see three Americans in the Final Four (at the Dell), and it looks like they won the top three sports (counting Matt Kuchar in the consolation match). And it's also very exciting to see Scottie take down two of their top players (Rahm and Poulter)."

Kite just marvels at Scheffler's well-rounded game.

“He’s so good, he’s just got everything there is,” Kite said. “He’s got tremendous length off the tee, and he’s got the build for today’s game. He’s got so much game. Just been rock-solid on all his putts.”

Scheffler’s been chock full of confidence ever since he won three state championships in high school and competed as an amateur at a couple of U.S. Opens.

On his bag then was his sister, Callie, a former Texas A&M golfer who caddied for her brother for much of his amateur career before she became a commercial real estate developer in Temple. Oddly enough, this is a family that has always come to an understanding since Callie and Molly are Aggies, and Sara and Scottie are Longhorns.

This is such a golf family that Callie even helped club him to a hole-in-one on the second hole when he was playing the hometown Byron Nelson as a teenager.

Scheffler was convinced a 4-iron was the right club. Callie handed him a 5-iron, and in trickled the ace.

“We got a great hugging picture out of it,” their dad, Scott Scheffler, said.

Mom’s said Callie was always the most prepared caddie he’d ever had.

Of course, Scottie’s pretty much been calm and controlled his entire life. Unflappable, no matter how much stress.

“He had to be even-keeled,” Callie said. “He’s got three sisters.”

In fact, nothing much at all ever rankles Scottie, even though Sara said he’s not too happy with how his March Madness bracket is faring. 

But this is definitely one tight-knit family that sticks together, no matter what their college allegiances.

Callie followed her brother’s round Sunday morning along with Sara and Molly as well as Scottie’s wife, Meredith, and mom Diane. Their parents aren’t big golfers. Diane has worked as the CEO of a law firm in Dallas, and Scott pretty much raised the kids. But they all took in every shot Sunday.

“They’re great golf watchers,” Callie said.

Good thing. They figure to watch plenty more high-caliber golf in the future.

Pretty much everyone on Tour has learned that by now.

Why, even Florida Gator Horschel said of Scheffler on Saturday, “Other than being a Texas Longhorn, he's a really good player. It's a matter of time before he wins and I'm not saying it because he's (standing) here. He's going to have a long career. It's just a matter of time before he gets a victory.”

Then, he added wryly,  “You can pay me later, Scottie.”

If he won't, many tournament sponsors soon will.