National

Scottie Scheffler's fame is catching up to his game

PINEHURST, N.C. — The kids were packed three and four deep around the back of the 17th tee, momentarily — miraculously — completely silent. Then the big Texan in the azure golf shirt blasted his tee shot into the Carolina blue sky, and the kids erupted.

“Scottie! Scottie! Scottie!”

There was nothing organized whatsoever about the gaggle of kids around Scottie Scheffler. They just wanted to get close to him, however they could.

The kids aren't alone. Scheffler arrived in Pinehurst for this week's U.S. Open as the undisputed heavyweight champion of golf, an overwhelming betting favorite and the prevailing storyline. Here's the tell: almost every other player is getting questioned about Scottie. Not since Tiger Woods' highest highs (and lowest lows) has one player been the subject of so many questions to other players.

“You can have a nice little run, but then most of the time you kind of fall back to whatever, a more average week,” Viktor Hovland said. “But his average week is just really, really good.”

“Every week we play,” PGA champion Xander Schauffele said, “he seems to build a bigger lead, and somehow make the mountain even taller for all of us to climb.”

“He is the gold standard right now,” Bryson DeChambeau said, “and we're all looking up to him going, ‘All right, how do we get to that level?’”

“It's nice to hear a little bit of good things from my peers because I think we all try to bust each other up at times when we're out there playing and competing,” Scheffler said. “I think that part of the friendship bond is, you want to mess with your buddies, so to hear some compliments every now and then is definitely nice.”

Thing is, Scottie has earned every bit of this acclaim. In an age where athletes from Caitlin Clark to Travis Kelce ride waves of viral hype right into the nation’s consciousness, Scheffler is stacking fame the old-fashioned way: by getting arrested. Oh, and also by winning.

Let's start with the wins first. Scheffler is on an ungodly heater right now. He's won five tournaments already this year, and it's only June. He hasn't missed a cut in any of his 13 tournaments this year. His lowest finish is a T17, and that was back in January. It's a legitimate shocker at this point when he's not on a weekend leaderboard.

“Winning the tournaments he’s winning — to win Bay Hill, Players, Masters, RBC and then Memorial,” Jon Rahm said, “you're basically replicating a Tiger Woods season.”

There it is — the Tiger Woods connection, if not yet comparison. Scheffler isn’t anywhere near Woods’ territory, mostly because Woods’ territory is a freaking continent. Woods won nine tournaments in 2000, eight in 1999 and 2006, seven in 2007, six in 2005 and 2009, and five each year from 2001 to 2003 and in 2013. (You forgot how good Woods used to be, didn’t you?)

But you can’t create a legendary career without stacking legendary seasons, and Scheffler is well on the way to doing exactly that. Over his last eight tournaments, he has five wins, two runner-up finishes and a tie for eighth. That low point came at the PGA Championship, where there were, shall we say, mitigating circumstances.

“The only thing that took him from winning a golf tournament,” Rory McIlroy joked, “was going into a jail cell for an hour.”

Ah yes, the jail cell.Scheffler's brief stint in the pokey, thanks to a traffic stop outside the PGA Championship gone horribly wrong, only added to his legend. With all charges dropped (and all pants replaced), all that's left now is the jokes … like, for instance, the guy who showed up at a Louisville member-guest tournament with a "police officer" hanging from his door:

And then there’s the “Pinehurst Police Department” getting some helpful education to avoid similar problems this week:

Scheffler acknowledged that he’s seen some of the jokes – often because Schauffele and others text them to him. “I don't love reliving it, but sometimes being able to laugh about it is a good skill, too,” he said. “When they make jokes, it's definitely hard not to laugh.”

The stint behind bars didn’t take a whole lot of Scheffler’s time, but it did wonders for his fame. The “Free Scottie” brigade hasn’t yet made its way to North Carolina from Louisville yet, but it’s likely you’ll hear a couple of those shouts as you’re watching Scheffler this weekend. And you almost certainly will be watching him this weekend, probably late on Sunday.

One of the key weapons in Scheffler's arsenal, perhaps the most important, is his ability to compartmentalize, to keep himself focused on the task at hand and shut out the outside world. Whether it's a new baby, a stint in jail or a triple-bogey, Scheffler has a remarkable ability to keep himself level-headed.

“He's really in control of the environment, not only his environment but the conditions on the golf course,” DeChambeau said. “He knows what the golf ball is going to do. He knows how to react accordingly. When things go [wrong], he's able to right the ship pretty quickly. That's just a recipe for success.”

“Bad breaks are going to come,” Scheffler acknowledged Tuesday, “but it's more about your response to those things than really receiving the bad break because over the course of a 72-hole tournament you're going to get plenty of bad breaks and hit plenty of bad shots. It's more about, ‘How am I going to recover from those shots?’”

Some of that equilibrium comes from the fact that Scheffler keeps his personal and professional lives separate. Being a new father forces that upon you.

“When I'm at home, having (son) Bennett around, it's almost easier to not be on my phone, not be watching TV,” he said. “I just want to hang out with him and hang out with (wife) Mere, and rocking him to sleep puts me to sleep. Being at home is fun. I haven't been bored at home in quite some time, that's for sure.”

Scheffler is in the midst of one of the most remarkable runs in recent golf history, but don’t ask him to reflect on it just yet. There’s still work to be done.

“I try not to think about the past too much, and I try not to think about the future too much, and I just try and live in the present,” he said. “I'm not thinking about my wins anymore. All I'm focused on is this week and getting ready to play. Just because I won last week doesn't give me any shots against the field this week. We all start even par, and the field is level again starting on Thursday.”

Scheffler tees it up alongside McIlroy and Schauffele at 1:14 p.m. on Thursday. And if the past few weeks are any indication, he won’t be at even par for very long.

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