By David Westin
Photos courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club
For Scottie Scheffler, the “golf look” started in the third grade. Since his dream was to one day play on the PGA Tour, why not get a head start and dress the part?
So while classmates were wearing jeans, t-shirts and shorts to class, Scheffler opted for the look he saw the pros wearing on TV and tour events in his home of Dallas.
“I would wear pants and a collared shirt and get made fun of — rightfully so. I always wanted to be out here,” Scheffler said of the PGA Tour.
“I felt comfortable with pretty much most of the aspects of my game. My swing maybe felt a little bit off, but other than that, I feel like I wasn’t ever really going to make a bogey. That was my goal. I just tried to hit good shots, and that’s really all I was thinking about.”– Scottie Scheffler
There was a limit to his golf clothing dreams, though. He never thought about wearing a green jacket, symbolic of winning the Masters Tournament, even around his house. But he did dream of playing in the exclusive tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club.
That’s why when he received his first invitation to the Masters, for the 2020 event, he teared up when he opened the envelope with the Augusta, Georgia return address.
But what would have been his wildest dream happened, and at age 25 in April 2022, Scheffler was slipping on the famous jacket after a command performance in the 86th Masters. It is a tournament which will also be remembered for the emotional return of Tiger Woods to golf, 14 months after a life-threatening car accident.
Scheffler trailed first-round leader Sungjae Im by two shots after an opening 3-under-par 69, but after that, it was his tournament to win. Scheffler went up by five shots after a second-round 67 and led by three after his third-round 71, which he matched in the final round. He was the only player in the field to break par in each round and finished at 10-under 278.
He ended winning by three, but it really wasn’t that close. As Rory McIlroy was being interviewed in the press center after a closing 64, Scheffler was on the green in regulation two shots on the 18th hole. At the time, he was five ahead of McIlroy, his closest pursuer, facing a 41-foot birdie putt.
In the midst of answering a question, McIlroy was told Scheffler was in the process of four-putting the 18th hole for double bogey, three-putting from 5 feet, for his 71.
McIlroy just shook his head. He knew it was too little too late. He would be solo second, three back of Scheffler.
“He’s sort of been head and shoulders above everyone else this week,” McIlroy said at the time. “Scottie just had such a lead [after the second round]. It wasn’t just me that struggled the first two days. It was basically every other person in the field apart from Scottie.”
Indeed, after McIlroy, the third-place finishers —Shane Lowry and Cameron Smith — were five back of the winner.
As his caddie Ted Scott said after the round, Scheffler has no weaknesses in his game. He finished tied for fifth in greens in regulation (49 of 72, two behind the leader in that category) and fifth in putting with 110, which included that four putt on the 72nd hole. He averaged nearly 300 yards off the tee, ranking 16th.
As for Woods, the five-time Masters champion and 15-time major champion, he finished tied for 47th after missing the 2021 Masters after his horrific car crash two months prior. In the days leading up the 2022 tournament and after he opened with 71, Woods was the story of the Masters, until Scheffler took co-billing honors after the second round.
Playing on a right leg that was injured so badly that there was talk of amputation at the time, Woods showed his determination by making the cut (74 in the second round) before closing with 78-78. He received standing ovations all over the course during the tournament for his grit.
After the third round, Woods was noticeably limping and in such pain there were questions whether he’d play in the final round. He was asked at the time what he hoped to show with his inspired effort that week.
“Never give up. Always chase after your dreams,” said Woods, making his participation in the final round a foregone conclusion.
Scheffler, who knows all about dreams, turned his Masters fantasy into a reality with out-of-this-world play. The four-putt on No. 18 in the final round was the rare mistake he made all week. And the four-putt was set in motion because he had such a big lead going to the 72nd hole that he knew he couldn’t lose it. His focus, so laser-like all week, disappeared when he reached the green on the 72nd hole. He could have six-putted and still won. After his short third putt missed, Scheffler put his hand over his mouth as if to hide a laugh, then tapped in his fourth putt.
“The only thing I imagined [about winning the Masters] was probably that walk up 18,” Scheffler said. “I’ve seen some guys do that, the first one that comes to mind is watching Jordan [fellow Texan Jordan Spieth] take that walk up 18 with that huge lead [in 2015].”
In the wake of his victory, among the multitude of texts that Scheffler received was one from Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. He later got a congratulatory letter from former President George W. Bush.
“Yeah, his handwriting is really hard to read,’’ Scheffler said of the former president. “I heard he’s a good artist now. He’s got to do some work on his handwriting.
“Stuff like that is pretty cool,” Scheffler said. “To have someone like that [Bush] to reach out just to congratulate me is pretty special. That’s probably kind of the only moments I’ve had where I kind of sit and reflect on what’s happened … Obviously the Masters is such a different event than the rest of them.
“Just getting messages like that from people I’ve looked up to for so long is really special.’’
He also got to drop the puck at a Dallas Stars NHL hockey game and throw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers’ baseball game.
The biggest perk, though, came when he tapped in for the Masters victory. As a Masters champion, he receives a lifetime invitation to play in the tournament.
“That’s the coolest part about this whole deal,” Scheffler said. “This is such a fun golf course, it’s such a fun piece of property. It’s Augusta National. It’s about as cool as it gets. It’s so fun to play. I just can’t believe I can come back for a lifetime and enjoy this golf course.”
In the lead-in to the Masters, Scheffler had won three of his previous five starts and had ascended to No. 1 in the world, a spot he reached in late March and held for 30 weeks, until October. He would win the tour’s player of the year, garnering 89 percent of the votes from his fellow players.
On the eve of the Masters, he’d been winning so much that even Scheffler lost track of the hot streak.
“For me, I don’t look too far ahead. I don’t pay attention to that kind of stuff. People kept asking me at the Masters, I think they kept saying three out of six, and I had to remember if it was three out of five or four of six, I couldn’t remember what it was.”
Staying in the moment led to some uncomfortable feelings in the morning of the final round. Scheffler said he “cried like a baby” that morning because he wasn’t sure he had it in him to hold on and win his first major championship.
“There’s just a lot that goes on with that golf tournament. For me, I always struggle kind of letting people in, so in that moment I was just honest with my wife [Meredith]. I was like, ‘man, I’m really scared. This is a big day for me.’ What better opportunity to win my first major than the Masters. It’s a tournament everybody wants to win the most and I have a three-shot lead and there’s really only a handful of guys that have a chance. So, for me, what better opportunity is there than now.”
His wife, whom he met as a freshman in high school and married in December 2020, at first listened to his concerns.
“I kind of felt the weight of that because I’ve wanted that for so long, and so I just told my wife, I was like, ‘man, this is hard.’ It’s not easy to win golf tournaments. It’s not easy to win the Masters … I don’t believe that it’s easy for anybody to win golf tournaments, and so for me to just be honest with myself and approach it the way I did, I think was really helpful.”
Then Meredith set her husband straight, giving him the words he needed to hear.
“She told me, ‘Who are you to say that you are not ready? Who am I to say that I know what’s best for my life?’ And so what we talked about is that God is in control and that the Lord is leading me; and if today is my time, it’s my time. And if I shot 82 today, you know, somehow I was going to use it for His glory.’ Gosh, it was a long morning. It was long.”
When he got on the course for his afternoon starting time, Scheffler holed out a chip shot for birdie on No. 3 then parred the difficult fourth and fifth holes.
“After that, I just started cruising,” he said. “I felt comfortable with pretty much most of the aspects of my game. My swing maybe felt a little bit off, but other than that, I feel like I wasn’t ever really going to make a bogey. That was my goal. I just tried to hit good shots, and that’s really all I was thinking about.”
Meredith helped her husband win that Green Jacket — and she knows it. He is allowed to keep it for a year at home before returning it to his new locker in the Champions Locker Room on the second floor of the Augusta National clubhouse before the 2023 Masters.
Just because he has the Green Jacket for now, it doesn’t impress her.
“When my wife asks me to do stuff at home, sometimes I’ll grab it out of the closest and look at her. She says ‘Huh, really?’” he joked. “It hasn’t worked yet.”
As the defending Masters champion, Scheffler will play host to the annual Champions Dinner on the Tuesday night before the tournament. It will be one unlike any other in the past since six former champions who normally attend the dinner have broken away from the PGA Tour since the 2022 Masters.
They have joined the LIV Golf tour, creating hard feelings among many of their former PGA Tour brethren. The six were suspended by the PGA Tour and can’t play in the events the PGA Tour runs. The Masters is recognized as an official PGA Tour event, but it is owned and operated by Augusta National Golf Club. The club said the six LIV golfers qualified for the 2023 Masters with their lifetime invitations for winning at Augusta National and thus earned their spot in the tournament — and at the Champions Dinner table Tuesday night.
Scheffler ran into Bubba Watson, one of the former Masters champions who joined the LIV Golf tour in the offseason. The others are Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Charl Schwartzel.
“I saw Bubba on a vacation this year and I told him that I was just going to have a separate table for him in the corner [at the Champions Dinner]. Only kidding, obviously.”
There is a possibility of contention at the dinner since some of the former Masters champions, such as Woods, have been highly critical of the defectors to LIV Golf for various reasons. This will be one of the few times during the year when PGA Tour players will see the LIV golfers.
Scheffler hopes everyone will be on their best behavior.
“I think we can put all our stuff aside and just get together for a fun meal, all in a room together and just kind of celebrate the game of golf and Augusta National and just hang out.”
Appears in the April 2023 issue of Augusta Magazine