Commentary

Scheffler set for PGA Tour debut

The 17-year-old following in Jordan Spieth's footsteps

Updated: May 14, 2014, 7:52 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPN.com

DALLAS -- In so many ways, Scottie Scheffler, the youngest golfer in this week's HP Byron Nelson Championship field, doesn't fit the mold of a typical country club kid.

Take Scheffler's car, for starters. A quick scan down the rows of Lexus SUVs and BMW sedans at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas reveals a red, weathered 1991 Volvo station wagon.

[+] EnlargeScottie Scheffler
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesAfter looking at several prominent golf schools, Scottie Scheffler plans to attend the University of Texas for his collegiate career.

The interior has some wear and tear and there's a bit of rust, a giveaway that the car didn't begin its life in Texas. The odometer reads 185,000 miles, but don't believe what you see.

"That thing broke about a year ago," Scheffler said.

It's the perfect vehicle for a 17-year-old, in other words. There's little doubt that if the station wagon -- which was purchased in New Jersey by Scheffler's mother, Diane, and passed to his older sister, Callie, and finally to him -- finds itself in a wreck, it's the other car that has more to worry about.

Scheffler, like the old car, sure seems reliable. His parents do anything but hover when it comes to their son's life. They don't have to because he's earned their trust.

"He does his schoolwork, studies and fits golf in," said Scott Scheffler, Scottie's dad and a stay-at-home father to the couple's four kids. "I don't know how he does it."

A few weeks ago, Scheffler won a prestigious junior tournament in South Carolina, got up in time for a 5:45 a.m. flight, jumped in a car with his mother when he landed in Dallas and drove to Austin for the state tournament. She asked him to get some sleep because he looked exhausted. His answer: "I have to get this practice homework and quiz done for my accounting class. It's due tonight at 6."

He did it, completing the work for a college course online through Richland College, and then got his mind set on winning the Class 4A state tournament, which he did for a third consecutive time.

It's that kind of attitude that makes his parents proud. But they are mindful that his life is much more complicated than your average high school senior's.

Scheffler, to his credit, doesn't seem to let his early golf touring life impact his daily high school activities too much. He attended a high school dance recently, borrowing one of his dad's old shirts and his sister's shorts to dress for the theme -- neon.

The next Jordan Spieth?
Scheffler knows the comparisons to young PGA Tour phenom Jordan Spieth are natural. Both put up impressive junior golf résumés playing out of clubs in Dallas. Like Spieth, Scheffler won three straight state titles, doing so at Class 4A Highland Park. And like Spieth, Scheffler is a U.S. Junior Amateur champion, winning last year (in his final year of eligibility) at Martis Camp Club in California. The Dallas resident is the No. 1 junior golfer in the country.

The Nelson was Spieth's first PGA Tour event in 2010. It will also be Scheffler's first foray inside the ropes against some of the best professional golfers in the world.

Just as Spieth did prior to turning professional, Scheffler is headed to the University of Texas to play college golf.

"I liked the place and I want to go to business school," said Scheffler, who visited a handful of colleges, including Georgia, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Stanford.

Golf wasn't the singular obsession for Scheffler that sports was in general. If the game had a ball, bat, racket or club, Scheffler played it as a kid. But golf was a constant since he was 4 or 5, only because he tagged along with his father to a small driving range in New Jersey. The owner, George Kopac, noticed how much young Scottie liked beating balls and would leave a basket for him even when the range was closed.

"That was in winter, too," Scott said. "He told me that if Scottie was willing to sit out there in the cold and hit balls, he was going to make sure he had balls to hit."

Scheffler kept playing and improving, though this wasn't a case of a terrific golfing father pushing his son.

Scott Scheffler and Diane, whose job as chief operating officer of Thompson & Knight -- a large law firm in Dallas -- got the Schefflers to Texas when Scottie was 6 years old, say they play in a few charity events a year.

"We're hoping to break 100," Diane said.

No, golf was Scottie's choice, though he didn't quit everything else to pursue it like so many with his type of talent do. The 17-year-old loves basketball too much and played on the Highland Park team as recently as this past season. At 6-foot-3, Scheffler played shooting guard and small forward as the Scots were upset in the first round of the playoffs.

Much of his height -- his parents think close to a foot -- came in a spurt during his sophomore season. He didn't complain as he went through a few different sets of golf clubs and adjusted his swing to his newfound height.

But unlike Spieth, Scheffler didn't spend his youth lining up 5-foot putts and pretending they were to win majors. It's not that Scheffler doesn't dream of donning green jackets -- he says the Masters is his favorite tournament -- but his focus has always simply been on getting better, rather than setting specific goals.

"I want to turn 71s and 72s into 67s and 68s," Scheffler said.

Putting golf in context
Still, golf is his passion. He's constantly practicing at the driving range and playing rounds. And that's when he's not competing in tournaments or doing his homework.

[+] EnlargeScottie Scheffler
Courtesy the Scheffler FamilyA 6-year-old Scottie Scheffler clearly took to golf at a very young age and will continue that passion for the game this week on the PGA Tour stage.

"I like everything that golf tests about me -- my touch, feel, my mind," Scheffler said. "It gets me sometimes."

And in those moments, Scheffler's frustration would boil over at times. He'd yell at himself and even toss a club.

"I'm more mature now," Scheffler said.

It's something he credits to context. Scheffler met James Ragan, another junior golfer, while he was playing in some events and the two became close friends. Scheffler watched as Ragan, diagnosed with pediatric cancer at 13, played golf because he loved it.

"He was always so happy, it was tough for me not to be happy, with what he was going through," Scheffler said.

Ragan died Feb. 17, 2014, at the age of 20. Scheffler returned to Ragan's hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, earlier this month to act as an honorary starter for a tournament to benefit "Triumph Over Kid Cancer," a foundation that Ragan co-founded that's dedicated to pediatric cancer research.

Talking about Ragan clearly emotionally impacts Scheffler. It has also made a lasting impression on him, allowing him to channel calmness when he needs it most.

Before he hoisted yet another trophy in late April at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, Scheffler triple-bogeyed his 13th hole in the first round. It was a four-putt that might have ruined his entire day just a few years ago. Scheffler shrugged it off, shot 5-under for the rest of the tournament and won by a stroke.

"I just stayed pretty comfortable," Scheffler said. "I got angry, but I went to the next hole."

Strategy sessions
Scheffler always seems to be studying things, whether it's his surroundings, the grips on his clubs or the layout of a specific golf hole.

Just a few weeks ago, Scheffler was on the driving range at Royal Oaks with teacher Randy Smith, who has a slew of PGA Tour players under his tutelage. Smith has worked with Scheffler since he moved to Dallas and has seen him go from a kid on the range beating balls to the top-ranked junior in the country.

[+] EnlargeScottie Scheffler
Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesScottie Scheffler, a former U.S. junior amateur champion, reached the quarterfinals of the 2013 U.S. Amateur.

On a recent Saturday, Smith wasn't tweaking anything about Scheffler's mechanics -- why mess with a swing that is clearly sound right now? -- but was instead going over each hole at the TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas with Scheffler.

"I've walked that course so many times I can't count them," Smith said.

He talked about what kind of drives Scheffler should hit and where. He then put him through a dress rehearsal of sorts on the range. Smith watched, sometimes visibly marveling at how Scheffler could bend the ball exactly where he wanted.

"When he was little he could not understand a bad shot," Smith said. "He didn't understand how it happened because he didn't permit himself to hit a bad shot. It was so rare for him. He did not understand bad shots, the trait of a good player. Now as he's matured, he's gotten more accepting of a bad shot and gets it behind him quicker, even quicker than a lot of tour pros, and doesn't carry it with him."

His sister understands that. Callie, a 19-year-old golfer at Texas A&M, has caddied for Scheffler in some of his biggest tournaments, including the U.S. Amateur last summer.

"Our relationship is really good," Callie said. "We go out there and have fun. It's serious, but it's good to have someone out there you trust. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses. I'll help him read a few putts, but he knows what he's doing. I'm a shoulder for him to lean on.

"I love that he asks me and wants me to share these moments. Being with him at the U.S. Amateur was so much fun."

Scheffler made a remarkable run at that Amateur, qualifying for the match-play portion in a playoff and then reeling off three straight match-play victories to get into the quarterfinals. In that match, he had a hole-in-one -- he didn't see it, but heard a roar as he walked toward the green -- yet still lost the match, ending up as the highest-finishing American in the event.

"He has a quiet confidence," Smith said. "He knows he can do it. He works at it. He's unique. He has an understanding of how to play a golf course more than any child I've seen at an early age. He just knows. It's like an experienced player out there."

Scheffler will need all of that when he tees it up with the PGA Tour pros for the first time.

"I'm not nervous yet, but I know I will be," Scheffler said, with the knowing look of someone who doesn't worry about nerves and instead enjoys them.

"I can't wait to see how I do," Scheffler said. "It's a chance to learn something."

And that drives Scheffler more than anything.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


ESPN TOP HEADLINES