Golf’s unsung genius: what Scottie Scheffler lacks in razzmatazz he makes up for in talent

World No 1 and Masters favourite may lack the aura of Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson but will be the man to beat at Augusta

Before the 2006 Masters the British golf media reacted with incredulity as, buried in the report of a car being shot at in Augusta, sat the identity of the driver. Tom Lehman, the US Ryder Cup captain and former Open champion, was unharmed despite Troy Smith unleashing a bullet at his Cadillac. Smith was later jailed for five years. Lehman missed the cut – no wonder – in his final Masters appearance. He was presumably in no rush to return to that particular corner of Georgia.

It is hardly underplaying the seriousness of this incident to point out that, finally, there was something stimulating about Tom Lehman. He had reached the summit of golf – including the world rankings – without creating ripples. This was the era of peak Tiger Woods; most others in golf, major winners included, were simply extras. A bullet hole in a car door somehow gave Lehman fresh eminence.

On Thursday, Scottie Scheffler’s fast start at the Houston Open had bookmakers diving for cover. Scheffler was odds-on to win the event with, incredibly, half of the field still to take to the opening tee. By Sunday night Scheffler had displayed his fallibility. A missed putt from close range meant he failed to force Stephan Jaeger into a Houston playoff. Scheffler had to make do with a 37th top-five finish in 119 PGA Tour starts, a run as world No 1 which will continue into its 81st week, and Masters odds that in places are as tight as 7-2. Jon Rahm may be the defending champion at Augusta but Scheffler is the overwhelming favourite.

Scheffler is the dominant sportsman hiding in plain sight. He is the all-conquering golfer who has ball‑striking statistics to at least challenge Woods in his prime. As golf has cascaded into turf war and civil war, it can be no coincidence that the calmest man in the room has prevailed. The 27-year-old has won eight mainstream tour titles since February 2022. A run of 28 consecutive rounds under par was broken only by a 70 on Friday. Last month, while injured, he became the first man to win back-to-back titles at the Players Championship.

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Those of us who have long insisted no golfer can touch Rory McIlroy if the Northern Irishman plays at his best have been handed food for thought. Yet Scheffler has somehow failed to capture hearts and minds beyond the PGA Tour. Many recognise his brilliance while offering a shrug about his persona. Scheffler is seen as vanilla, dull, lacking the “wow” factor of Woods, McIlroy or Phil Mickelson. When Brooks Koepka set about winning majors, there was a chippiness that resonated outside the ropes.

Scheffler is a devout Christian who married his childhood sweetheart. “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said. “That’s why I play golf. I’m out here to compete because that’s where he wants me. He’s in control of what happens in the end. So it’s about staying the course, staying faithful and letting him be the guidance for me versus anything that I do.” Presumably Jesus was otherwise engaged when Scheffler missed from a foot during round two in Houston. Scheffler picked Ted Scott as his caddie after the pair clicked at a Bible studies class.

Is it golf’s fault that Scheffler remains so understated? Is it his fault? Or is society to blame? The answer is a combination of all three. Golf in a post‑Tiger world has never looked altogether appealing. It is sad, though, that Scheffler would have more kudos were he the subject of salacious headlines, an on‑course lout or an issuer of controversial comment. He is surely allowed simply to be exceptional at what he does.

There are actually interesting facets to the Scheffler story. His golf swing, for example; Scheffler morphs into Michael Flatley when hitting drives. Those with deep understanding of such matters insist Scheffler’s wild foot movement is irrelevant because it takes place after the ball has been struck but it is still highly unusual. A 2012 United States Golf Association report on the young Scheffler reveals he played nine holes in just 37 shots at the age of five. At six, the figure was 33. More striking is the detail that the Scheffler family chose to uproot from New Jersey to Texas as a consequence of the 9/11 attacks. Scheffler’s mother, Diane, was a New York City lawyer. Strangely this theme never appears to have been developed.

Scheffler was reduced to tears after a record tanking, 9&7, alongside Koepka against Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Åberg at the last Ryder Cup. This rather contradicts Scheffler’s own much-used theory that he can compartmentalise between professional pursuits and what is properly important in life. When asked about that Saturday morning experience in Rome, Scheffler deliberately and skilfully swerved the tearful scene.

He clearly sees no merit in revisiting a rare situation of on-course embarrassment, which is fascinating in terms of psychology. Scheffler’s putting looks to have improved in 2024 but there is weakness there, which is amplified by how accurate his iron play is. Lost in Scheffler’s Masters success of 2022 was that he amazingly four-putted the 72nd green. His was the ugliest denouement from a champion in major history.

As Woods limps towards the end of an incredible career, he will capture Augusta attention. So, too, will Rahm as he looks to win again after a high-profile switch to LIV. McIlroy is still pursuing his holy grail. Scheffler is the player of whom all others have cause to be afraid. It just feels unsatisfactory that a wider world remains unaware of his golfing genius.

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