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‘Scottie is that guy’: Stories behind Scheffler’s rise to the top of the golf world

By admin May20,2024

  • Todd Archer, ESPN Staff WriterMay 15, 2024, 07:40 AM ET

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      Todd Archer is an NFL reporter at ESPN and covers the Dallas Cowboys. Archer has covered the NFL since 1997 and Dallas since 2003. He joined ESPN in 2010. You can follow him on Twitter at @toddarcher.

IRVING, Texas — Five years ago, they were paired together in the 2019 AT&T Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest Golf Club as sponsor exemptions.

One was a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback-turned-broadcaster. The other was searching for his place in the golf world as a member of the Web.com Tour after a stellar college career at the University of Texas. The gallery following the first two days was mostly fans of Tony Romo, many even decked out in Cowboys No. 9 jerseys and unaware of some golf course etiquette.

Some golf purists wondered if Romo deserved an exemption just because of his celebrity, leaving other golfers at different levels of the professional tree without a spot.

“I think it’s great,” said Scottie Scheffler after shooting a first-round 67 compared to the 76 shot by his playing partner, Romo. “Why would anyone want to watch me?”

Imagine asking that question now.

Scheffler is the No. 1 golfer in the world. This week at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, he will look to become the first golfer to win the first two majors of a season since Jordan Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015.

In his past five events, Scheffler won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Players, the Masters and the RBC Heritage, while finishing second at the Houston Open. Awaiting the birth of his first child with wife, Meredith, Scheffler did not play in his hometown event, The CJ Cup Byron Nelson in McKinney, Texas, or the Wells Fargo Championship.

He has finished outside the top 10 just once (tied for 17th at The American Express) on the season. He has not had an over-par round.

“Oh, man, I can’t say enough about Scottie,” Romo said during last month’s Invited Celebrity Classic. “I honestly believe there’s guys who have their time in the sun, and we see it as time periods where guys are like, ‘Wow, they’re amazing.’ Now, they’re still great and stuff, but it’s so hard to sustain over a long period of time like Tiger [Woods] did, Jack [Nicklaus] did, [Ben] Hogan. These guys are generational.

“I think Scottie is that guy. He does not have a weakness.”

ROMO HAS PLAYED countless rounds with Scheffler over the years as he does with a number of PGA Tour players that call the Dallas area home, such as Spieth and Will Zalatoris. He played with Scheffler the week before Scheffler would win his second Masters.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played a round of golf with Scottie Scheffler and [had] him not break 70 — ever — which is insane,” Romo said. “Now I’m actually starting to count it. We’ve got to be around 500, and I’m like, ‘Not one day you’re off in golf where you shoot 70, 71?’ It’s because he’s had days where he’s played poorly, and he’s 1-over after 6, and I’m like, he should be 7-over. Then the next day he’s 7-under after 6. He all of a sudden gets it back … The next shot, he has the ability to autocorrect.”

Tony Romo said he’s never played a round of golf with Scottie Scheffler where the two-time Masters winner hasn’t broken 70. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Jeff Loyd was Scheffler’s coach at Highland Park High School and saw some autocorrection even then. Highland Park was hosting a 36-hole tournament at Lakewood Country Club, and because the schools were paired together, Loyd was able to walk the entire course with his team.

“Scheff, are you working on a cut ball?” Loyd wondered, as Scheffler went from the end of his first round to his second.

“Nah, my swing feels like crap,” Scheffler said. “Whenever it does, I just cut it. That’s the only way I can get it around the course.”

Scheffler won the tournament.

As a junior, Scheffler won the state individual championship despite a badly sprained ankle after playing basketball the night before a practice round. Scheffler and his teammates loved to hoop.

“We played church league basketball,” Charlie Click, Scheffler’s high school teammate, said, “and I think he dropped 50 a night.”

The game that night was competitive, and Click remembers a teammate pushing Scheffler as he was going up for a basket, resulting in a sprained ankle for Scottie. Loyd received a text from Scheffler, saying he “kind of rolled my ankle, but I’m fine.”

“The next time I saw him I looked at his ankle and this was not just a little roll,” Loyd said. “He could not take a stance.”

Scheffler autocorrected again, pointing his left foot at the target to alleviate the stress from his ankle. Scheffler shot a two-day total of 5-under par, going 6 under on the second day as he won the individual title by 3 strokes, and Highland Park won the Class 4A title by 25 strokes.

“We were so nervous he’d be out and then he goes on to just dominate the tournament,” Click said. “… A 70% Scottie Scheffler was better than everyone in the state.”

Click has another memory from that day.

“I was in the group ahead of him on 18 and he’s on 17, this par 3, and we just heard this big roar,” Click said. “One of the guys in my group looked around, ‘What do you think happened?’ I said, ‘I’m sure Scottie made a hole-in-one.’ And he did.”

Maybe the ankle sprain was a precursor to the swing shuffle Scheffler has become known for now.

“Funny you ask that,” Loyd said. “I remember it a little, but I don’t remember it like it is now. Every once in a while he would pirouette and I’d say, ‘Scheff, that’s an interesting move.’ But it definitely wasn’t as pronounced as it is now.”

LOYD WAS SCHEFFLER’S physical education teacher at Armstrong Elementary School. He knew then that Scheffler was an accomplished golfer, but he was small. In his sophomore year, he had an 8-inch growth spurt to 6-foot-1.

Scottie Scheffler had an 8-inch growth spurt between his freshman and sophomore seasons of high school. (Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“He was always skilled tee to green,” Loyd said. “He maybe didn’t hit it that far, a lot more long irons, maybe some fairway metals into the green, so maybe you’re not as accurate. But the short game always picked him up.”

Click said Scheffler was always giving tips to teammates. He remembers days on the range at Dallas’ Royal Oaks Country Club.

“It was unbelievable to see him work the ball every way,” Click said. “There’d be a pin maybe 150 yards out, 4-iron. We’re trying to hit the pin and he’d do it on the first try. It was unbelievable. We’d sit there and he’d say, ‘What do you want me to do here?’ High cut. Low draw. And it was just automatic.”

Click and his teammates could do the same: “To an extent,” he said, “but not nearly on command every shot.”

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As good as Scheffler was then, Loyd did not see him becoming one of the sport’s elite talents.

“I thought he was going to be a solid PGA Tour player,” Loyd said.

Click echoes the sentiment.

“I don’t think you could’ve guessed he’d be a multi-major winner,” Click said. “I knew he was good. I knew he’d be on the PGA Tour, but I didn’t expect to see him take off like he did and become the No. 1 player so quickly.”

JUSTIN LEONARD WAS already a major champion (The Open, 1997), Ryder Cup winner and multitime winner on the PGA Tour when he first met Scheffler. Leonard’s coach, Randy Smith, has been Scheffler’s coach since he was 6. Leonard remembers seeing Scheffler at his practice sessions with Smith at Royal Oaks.

Justin Leonard called Scottie Scheffler’s current run “pretty remarkable to watch.” (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Smith asked Leonard if he could have his old wedges. A couple of days later, he noticed Scheffler using them on the range.

During his time on tour, Leonard lived through Woods’ dominance. Leonard was not asked to compare Scheffler’s current run to Tiger’s, but he called Scheffler’s “pretty remarkable to watch.”

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“You think about Jordan [Spieth], the couple-year run that he had, Rory [McIlroy], these guys have been consistent performers, but I’m talking Jordan was [2014] and 15. Rory was kind of in that same [time]. Jason Day had a great run through there,” Leonard said. “I think it’s equivalent to that, but it’s two years now, and when is he slowing down? I don’t know. It’s fun to watch. He’s an easy guy to root for.”

For 10 seasons as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback, Romo used Ben Hogan’s line, “the secret is in the dirt,” during his search for self-improvement. It’s something he does with golf these days, as well.

It is something he sees with his sometime playing partner too, as Scheffler reaches for golf history.

“Golf’s hard. I mean, it’s hard to be dominant,” Romo said. “I picture it like Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods. It’s really hard to get in that company. But the fact that we’re even saying that this kid has a chance shows you everything you want. If you knew him, you’d love him. He’s the best kid around, one of the best human beings you’ll ever meet. I love his heart, his spirit, his love of the Lord. He’s just really fun to be around. He plays golf, goes home to Meredith, they talk and then he comes back and plays some golf again, and he enjoys life.

“I think you appreciate that.”

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