Scottie Scheffler only ever wanted to play. That started with watching.
Six years before Scheffler won the weekend’s WGC Match Play to become the world’s No.1 men’s player, he felt lucky just to get tickets to Austin Country Club during his sophomore year at Texas, the toughest of his four years in college.
Even then, there was a purpose.
“I would always try to watch somebody,” Scheffler said.
“I remember watching Rory (McIlroy) hit balls on the range, and I remember hearing the noise that his club head hitting the ball made and being taken aback, like, ‘wow, this was hit really solid’.
“I just remember kind of studying those guys and just seeing what I could learn, because there’s so many talented guys out here and there’s so much I can learn from them that any tidbit I could pick up on was going to be beneficial.”
Randy Smith had seen all this before.
Smith, the PGA Hall of Fame pro at Royal Oaks in Dallas, has worked with 10 juniors who went on to play on the PGA Tour. Scheffler was 6 when his family moved from New Jersey and joined Royal Oaks, and Smith can still remember a boy small enough to hide in a trash can.
Mostly, he remembers how he wanted to hang around the pros.
“I’m not talking run-of-the-mill mini-tour pros,” Smith said.
“He was always up there around the tour pros when he was 8, 9, 10 years old. And it was hilarious. He would just sit there like a sponge. He’d sit over with a shag bag, and then he’d go off and try it himself.
“He was jacking around with these guys, challenging them to chip and putt and compete.”
A winner at every level, Scheffler experienced his low point during his sophomore year at Texas when a growth spurt in high school – now at 1.93m he would have trouble hiding in a dumpster – caught up with him. His arms were suddenly longer. There were back injuries.
After being named NCAA freshman of the year, his only top 10 was finishing ninth in the Big 12 Championship. He struggled to get the ball in play. Scheffler described it as a long year.
“That was hell,” Smith said. “His body didn’t feel right. You see kids go through a growth spurt and there’s pain involved, there’s muscle growth, things that just don’t work right.”
Through it all, Scheffler never lost the feel in his hands or the creativity between the ears – two of his greatest attributes – nor the desire to compete.
“Give him a left-handed set of clubs and he’ll figure out a way to beat you,” Smith said.
He piled up trophies in junior golf, college and now at the highest level – but he never looks beyond the next shot.
“It’s not something that I didn’t want to achieve or didn’t believe that I could do,” Scheffler said.
“I grew up at Royal Oaks. I grew up wearing long pants to go practice because I wanted to be a professional golfer. I dreamed of being out here.”
Not winning until his 60th start as a PGA Tour member didn’t bother him as much as one might think. He was competing, and there was great joy in that alone.
But then he’s won three times over the last six weeks, reached No.1 in the world and his head is spinning trying to take it all in. Scheffler didn’t even realise the top ranking was at stake until Saturday.
That only added to a moment big enough to elicit rare emotion from Scheffler after he won.
He was wiping away tears after so many hugs with wife Meredith, his parents, in-laws, sisters and friends. There was one particularly poignant moment with his father, Scott.
“You’re pretty good at golf, man,” he told his 25-year-old son. “I’m more proud of who you are than your golf. You’re a wonderful young man.”
As for being the world No.1, Scheffler explained at the trophy presentation: “I never really got that far in my dreams.
“I just love to play golf. I love competing. I’m happy to be out here, you know?”