Scottie Scheffler seeks to add St. Andrews win to Masters triumph
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Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Scottie Scheffler already has had success this year on some of the game’s most historic grounds. His win at Augusta National was followed by a runner-up at the U.S. Open on a course best known for an unlikely victory more than a century ago.
St. Andrews trumps them all, however. It holds a unique place in the game as the Home of Golf, but its advanced age also presents a unique challenge. Its rolling terrain and oversized greens are a couple of the reasons Jack Nicklaus once called it golf’s toughest course to learn and said there was nowhere else “remotely like it.”
It’s easy to get romantic about the requirements of the Old Course, but that can lead to an overemphasis on the role of experience. When asked about the Old Course in advance of his first trip there as a pro in 2000, Tiger Woods once replied, “Any course suits my game when I’m playing well.” He went on to win by eight.
Woods is a unique case, of course, but the point stands. Form can trump experience, even at St. Andrews, and Scheffler may be the latest example.
A pair of 68s have him firmly in contention at The Open as he seeks to become the first player to win at Augusta National and St. Andrews in the same year since Woods. Scheffler shot the same score despite facing extremely disparate conditions in each day. There were high winds Thursday afternoon, which, when combined with the firm conditions, had him concerned about fairway bunkers some 400 yards away. Friday brought cold and drizzle, but less wind, a trade that most players would gladly make.
“I think yesterday I played pretty fantastic to shoot 4 under,” Scheffler said. “It was playing so difficult yesterday in the afternoon. This morning it was tough getting started. But the weather kind of calmed down a little bit once we got through about hole 6, and I played really good after that. Just a few putts that were close to going in that didn't.”
Scheffler is playing just his second Open Championship, but a T8 in his debut last year at Royal St. George’s showed he is a quick study. Some of that comes from his childhood at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas, where instructor Randy Smith emphasized shotmaking over launch-monitor readings.
The last time The Open was held at St. Andrews, it was another player out of Dallas who was trying to add the Claret Jug to his Masters triumph. Jordan Spieth was going for the third leg of the Grand Slam, and Scheffler, who’d just completed his first year at the University of Texas, was among the interested observers.
“It was must-watch TV for all of us,” Scheffler said. “I saw a good amount of it.”
There were concerns that playing the John Deere Classic the week before would leave Spieth unprepared, but he followed his win in America’s heartland by nearly winning at the Home of Golf. Spieth finished a shot out of the playoff won by Zach Johnson. Links golf is undoubtedly unique from the American game, but it does not present an insurmountable challenge.
Seven of the last 10 Opens at St. Andrews have been won by Americans. That list includes two wins apiece by Woods and Nicklaus, who could win anywhere with 18 holes, but perhaps Scheffler can draw inspiration from the story of Tony Lema, who arrived in 1964 as the hottest player in golf and won at St. Andrews despite just 28 holes of practice.
Lema didn’t get to St. Andrews until midday Monday of tournament week. He’d won three of his last four starts, however, and employed Tip Anderson, who’d caddied for Arnold Palmer in his previous Opens.
“It took Tony Lema only four days and 12 hours to make himself acquainted with British weather, British food, the British ball, British crowds, and the best – and most individual – course in Britain,” wrote the correspondent for the Evening Times. Nicklaus finished second.
Those who were surprised by Lema’s win, Nicklaus later wrote, “failed to take into account … how superbly Tony was playing at that time and how confident he had become.”
The same can be said for Scheffler, whose position as the best player in the game right now is unquestioned. Though the Masters was the most recent of his four wins this year, he does have a pair of runners-up, at the Charles Schwab Challenge and U.S. Open, since. And, of course, he has an experienced caddie on the bag in Ted Scott, whose arrival on Scheffler’s bag has coincided with Scheffler’s ascension up the world ranking. Scheffler has finished first or second in six of his past 13 starts.
He said at last week’s Genesis Scottish Open that links golf comes naturally, and he’s confirmed that statement through two rounds. The same creativity that served him well at Augusta National is a strength at St. Andrews, as well.
“He enjoys playing different kinds of shots,” said Justin Leonard, who has known Scheffler since he was a kid at Royal Oaks Country Club and won the 1997 Open at Royal Troon. “He is not afraid to move the ball in different directions and different trajectories.”
And maybe most importantly, “He is just really good at finding a way to get the ball in the hole,” Leonard added.
Scheffler said he fought his swing on the front nine Friday, making one birdie and one bogey. Two solid swings on the ninth hole turned things around, however. He birdied the first three holes of the back nine before adding one more on 18. He had several opportunities to go even lower, bouncing his approach shot on 16 off of the flagstick and missing a handful of makeable birdie putts.
“I'm just here trying to do my best and put myself in position,” he said. The aim is the same, even if the venue has changed.
Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.