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11D AGO

Scottie Scheffler poised to continue success at U.S. Open

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    Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin

    PINEHURST, N.C. – The hats hanging in his home gym are sweat-stained security blankets. They help him remember all the exertion, all the effort, that precedes each round. In those reminders, he finds comfort.

    “I always remind myself walking to the tee that I'm prepared for this, I did everything I could in order to play well,” Scheffler said. “I checked all the boxes when I step up there on the tee.”

    Scheffler’s opponents also are thinking about him before their rounds. Golf is an individual pursuit, one where a player cannot directly impact his opponent, but Scheffler has become impossible to ignore. His opponents know that it will require something extra to defeat Scheffler, and in that he has an edge.

    He arrives at this week’s U.S. Open in the rarest of roles, as the unrivaled No. 1 in the game. His win Sunday at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday was his fifth in his last eight starts. Even a bad bounce off a tree – and the resulting triple-bogey – couldn’t keep him from winning. He also has two runners-up in that span, and his worst finish is eighth. His wins this season have come in the biggest events and against the best fields of the year; he's won three Signature Events, as well as a second Masters and second PLAYERS in 2024.


    Scottie Scheffler battles tough course conditions to win the Memorial


    Professional golfers do not look for role models in the locker room. They are loathe to admit that they look up to a competitor. But Scheffler has set a standard that serves as an inspiration, one they all can aspire to because none have attained it.

    Even Rory McIlroy, winner of 26 PGA TOUR events including four majors, admitted that he’s never reached Scheffler’s level of extended success. McIlroy won three consecutive starts in 2014, including two majors, but Scheffler’s past two months have been defined by his extended brilliance.

    “It's just very, very impressive to watch,” said Viktor Hovland, the reigning FedExCup champion. “Definitely makes me work harder and motivates me to get better and try to compete against him.”

    Since March 1, there have been four Signature Events in addition to the two majors and THE PLAYERS. Scheffler has won five of those seven events. The only exceptions are the Wells Fargo Championship, which was won by McIlroy, and Xander Schauffele’s win at the PGA Championship.

    “Every week we play, he seems to build a bigger lead, and somehow make the mountain even taller for all of us to climb,” said Schauffele.

    Scheffler has conquered a wide variety of venues this year, from TPC Sawgrass to Augusta National, Bay Hill and Harbour Town to Muirfield Village. This week’s venue will present an old-school U.S. Open, but in score only. Pinehurst No. 2 is unlike any other U.S. Open course, with raw, rustic native areas lining the fairway instead of thick rough, and tabletop greens that exacerbate even the slightest mistake.

    It seems to play right into Scheffler’s hands. No one hits the ball better than him, and his short game, developed in childhood contests against PGA TOUR players at Royal Oaks, is an underrated asset.

    Precision is a prerequisite at Pinehurst, and Scheffler is without peer. He leads the TOUR in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green, Greens in Regulation and Proximity to the Hole. He is second in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, second in Driving Accuracy and first in Distance from the Edge of the Fairway, meaning that his misses off the tee are smaller than anyone else.

    Ranking fourth in Scrambling and 14th in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green shows his propensity to recover from the rare mistake. He has produced clutch chip-ins and hole-outs in many of his biggest victories. The putting was considered his lone weakness but that has shown pronounced improvement this year.

    “What I appreciate about this kind of course is a lot of the areas around the greens are all fairway, and so it may be extremely difficult shots, but there's always opportunity,” Scheffler said.

    That same characteristic will enrage his competition this week as they watch balls slowly pick up steam and roll down steep slopes away from the putting surfaces. Slight misses will be exponentially punished. Mishit chips will roll back to players’ feet. Tiger Woods said some will play ping-pong as they knock shots back and forth across the greens. But where some see Pinehurst’s most frightening trait, Scheffler sees opportunity.

    It's a testament to his mind, an intangible characteristic. Scheffler’s aim throughout his life is to keep things simple, an approach that is important at the U.S. Open. He tries his hardest to reside in the present, forgetting the past so he can strain ahead unhindered toward his goal. Even after winning the Memorial for the first time, he said the celebration only lasted a matter of minutes.

    “My mind kind of just goes on to the next thing,” he said.

    This week, it’s another major. An opportunity to add another achievement to an impressive run. Scheffler has won 11 times since the start of 2022, including two victories apiece at THE PLAYERS and the Masters.

    And now he seems poised to continue his dominance. He is the biggest favorite at a major since Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship (a tournament that Woods did not win, finishing second to Y.E. Yang). Scheffler said he doesn’t feel a target on his back, however.

    “I don't really feel it, and I don't really think about it much,” he said.

    It’s impossible for anyone else to ignore.

    Sean Martin is a senior editor for the PGA TOUR. He is a 2004 graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Attending a small school gave him a heart for the underdog, which is why he enjoys telling stories of golf's lesser-known players. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.

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