Masters 2024: Change, stability and the Scottie Effect combine for Scheffler’s second green jacket

Masters 2024: Change, stability and the Scottie Effect combine for Scheffler’s second green jacket
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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Last August, on the plane ride home from the Tour Championship, Scottie Scheffler turned to his agent, Blake Smith, and finally relented.

He wanted to see a putting coach.

Scheffler has been the best player in the world for much of the past three years, but his only perceptible weakness was threatening to unravel the best ball-striking the sport has seen since Tiger Woods’ prime. Every round, every tournament, Scheffler would send towering irons right at the flag, only for him to miss the 5- and 10- and 15-foot putts to pay them off. Despite nine top-5 finishes through the end of the Tour season, he hadn’t won in five months. After resisting, he finally reached a breaking point.

So that night, high above the sky, Scheffler agreed to talk to Blake’s father, Randy, his longtime swing coach, about the next steps.

In Scheffler’s mind, he was already running through a few possibilities. Throughout his time on Tour, Scheffler liked what he had seen with putting guru Phil Kenyon. He liked how Kenyon was open-minded. He liked how Kenyon taught a variety of players and putters, not committed to one single style or method. He liked how, in the era of high-profile coaches, Kenyon was understated and without an ego.

“Randy has taught me for almost 20 years, every single aspect of the game,” Scheffler said. “And so for me to bring in somebody else could have been a shot to his ego, and he may not have wanted me to do it. But Randy sat there, and he said, ‘You know what, I think it’s the right time.’”

Scheffler didn’t win the 88th Masters Tournament because he simply hired a putting coach, of course. Sure, the technical changes have bedded in since last fall, and Scheffler made some clutch putts when it mattered, none bigger than the 8-footer on the eighth green Sunday that kept him from relinquishing the lead. Overall for the week, he ranked 22nd on the greens.

Follow all the action during Sunday’s final round at Augusta National Golf Club.

But it’s more what the move represented – a slight widening of the inner circle.

As Scheffler stamps himself as a player for the ages, it’s become increasingly clear that the key to his consistency on the course can be traced to his stability off of it.

He’s been with the same girl since high school. He’s had the same swing coach since primary school, focusing on the same drills and fundamentals in practice. He’s had the same trainer since middle school. He’s had the same management team since turning pro. He’s kept many of the same friends from college, some of them even crashing with him this weekend in Augusta. For years, he drove the same 2012 GMC Yukon that racked up nearly 200,000 miles. He has remained tight-knit with his family, his parents and at least one sibling often trekking tournament rounds outside the ropes. Scheffler has remained humble and unpretentious and grounded because he is surrounded by many of the same people who were with him when he was a 7-year-old runt wearing khaki pants to fit in with the pros at Royal Oaks.

But Scheffler’s begrudging admission that he needed help – and his team’s acceptance of an outsider like Kenyon – set in motion a series of events that neutralized his biggest deficiency, led to a second green jacket and disheartened a host of competitors who, for the time being at least, feel as though they’re competing for second place.

* * *

It’s more than just Scheffler’s technical proficiency that makes him so good – his long-and-straight driving, his surgical iron play, his soft hands on and around the greens that led to a four-shot romp here at the Masters.

What has become just as pivotal to Scheffler’s success is how his steady, methodical play forces his opponents into mistakes. For the past four days his name has been fixed at or near the top of the leaderboard, and it had an unmistakable effect on the rest of the field.

It starts with Collin Morikawa, Scheffler’s final-round playing partner, who said he was undone by “greed” late on the front nine. After an errant drive on the ninth hole, he found the greenside bunker and needed to get up-and-down to stay in a share of the lead. Instead of splashing out safely beyond the dangerous front-right pin, he tried to get too cute, his sand shot failing to carry the lip and rolling back near his feet.

Why did he take on so much risk?

Because of Scheffler.

Morikawa insisted he wasn’t trying to press, that there was plenty of time left, but it was impossible to ignore the situation: Scheffler had just knocked a wedge to mere inches, throwing his ball past the flag, feeding it down the slope and – after taking a peek at the cup – settling in kick-in range for a go-ahead birdie. Morikawa’s double bogey effectively cost him the tournament.

“After watching Scottie this week,” Morikawa said, “I know what to do if I really want to close this gap on what he’s doing and how impressive he’s playing.”

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It continues with Max Homa, one of the Tour’s fastest-rising stars, who had yet to put it all together at a major before he sat two shots behind Scheffler as he stepped onto the tee of the daunting 12th hole. The pressure was building. The wind was swirling. The flag was sitting in its usual precarious position, on the far-right edge of the green. And Homa ever-so-slightly yanked his tee shot, his ball going long and crashing into the bushes behind the green. It wasn’t far off from his intended line, maybe two or three feet left of his target, but it was just enough to end in a momentum-killing double bogey.

How could he make such a critical mistake?

Because of Scheffler.

Because of the nagging feeling that he was going to have to pick up an extra stroke somewhere, somehow.

“You just know that he’s going to play well,” Homa said. “He’s going to be there, and you’re going to have to do something special at some point – a chip-in, a long putt – and I just didn’t do that.”

And it ends with Ludvig Åberg, who was vying to become the first Masters rookie to win since 1979 as he sized up his 210-yard approach into the 11th green. Directly behind him, he heard a cheer ring out – another Scheffler birdie, his third in a row, to push his lead to two.

All week, Åberg had aimed at the right side of the green on 11 and played a little draw back toward the center of the green. The game plan had worked well: par-par-par. Now, he needed to execute one more time, because with a pair of pars through Amen Corner, he could use his length to attack the remaining par 5s and make his move.

But unlike the first three days, Åberg started his ball a little farther left, and then the wind grabbed ahold of it, and all of a sudden his historic bid was over. His ball kicked off the slope short of the green and back into the water, his only misfire during an otherwise sterling round of 69.

How could he make such a strategic error?

Because of Scheffler.

“It was probably one of the few swings this week,” Åberg said, “where I really put it in a bad spot where I knew I couldn’t miss left and I missed left.”

Minutes later, with his advantage swelling, Scheffler played the disciplined shot, safely out to the right. Åberg could only trudge toward the 12th green.

* * *

Paired with Scheffler in the penultimate group Saturday was Nicolai Hojgaard, who, like Åberg, was competing in his first Masters.

With a spirited run of three consecutive birdies around the turn, and a rare double bogey from Scheffler, Hojgaard had surged into the outright lead for the first time midway through the third round.

What happened next was predictable: Hojgaard carded five consecutive bogeys to plummet down the leaderboard, while Scheffler steadied himself and played the remaining par 5s in 3 under par to stake himself to the 54-hole lead.

A day later, the lessons were apparent. “His biggest asset is his mental game,” Hojgaard said Sunday. “That’s what I thought was a big difference compared to the others – his mental strength. He’s very calm. It doesn’t matter what he’s doing out there. He’s collected all the time. It’s very motivating to keep up.”

But it’s more than just Scheffler’s on-course comportment that left his peers and team overflowing with praise.

How could life changes impact Scheffler’s game?

Rex Hoggard and Ryan Lavner discuss how Scottie Scheffler’s impending life events, including the upcoming birth of his child, could impact the world No. 1’s game after winning his second Masters.

Homa pointed to Scheffler’s high golf IQ and commitment: “He’s pretty amazing at letting things roll off his back and stepping up to very difficult golf shots and treating them like their own. He’s obviously a tremendous talent, but I think that is his superpower.”

Tom Kim, who has befriended Scheffler at home in Dallas, said that Scheffler is comfortable in his own skin: “He knows himself better than anyone else.”

Xander Schauffele applauded how unaffected Scheffler seemed by the spotlight: “It’s been a while since we’ve had a guy out here that tees it up and he’s supposed to win and he wins. I feel like we’ve had a bit of a bounce back with three or four guys for that top spot, and he’s cruising along pretty nicely.”

Smith, his swing coach, credited Scheffler’s competitive instincts: “It’s guts, a competitive athlete, the right environment, he feeds off this. It’s great execution, but he feeds off the environment.”

Scheffler’s caddie, Ted Scott, marveled at his boss’ completeness: “What is he not good at? People that are super powerful are good at everything, and he seems to be good at everything. He’s a different kind of special.”

So special he just became the fourth-youngest player with multiple Masters titles.

So special he just opened up a seven-point lead in the world rankings, or roughly the same distance as between Nos. 2 and 80.

So special he has lost to just one player – total – in his last four starts, the dawning of a dominant new era in golf.

* * *

Except Scheffler’s life is set to change in unimaginable ways.

No, not like the way it did during the 2022 Masters, when he bawled before the final round because he was overwhelmed and unsure if he was prepared for the moment and everything that came with it. In hindsight, he wasn’t just ready – he was just getting started. Over the past two years, he has accomplished so much and, yet, somehow, changed so little.

This is different.

Scheffler was answering questions in the media building Sunday night, once again in his size-44-long green jacket, when he practically blurted out: “In my head, all I can think about right now is getting home. I’m not thinking about the tournament. I’m not thinking about the green jacket. I’m trying to answer your questions and I’m trying to get home.”

Waiting there was his wife, Meredith, who is set to give birth to the couple’s first child in a matter of weeks.

There’s no way to know for sure how Scheffler, 27, will respond to such a significant life event; no one is truly ready. He figures his priorities will change. He knows his practice time might get readjusted. He is prepared to lose sleep for the foreseeable future. That’s about it.

For a player who craves stability and preparation, the rest of this year will be a series of firsts. It’ll be a beautiful and chaotic mess of emotions and experiences before the Scheffler family eventually settles into its new routine, the team’s inner circle growing, once more, just a tiny bit larger, and everyone richer for it.

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