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Fun or phenom, Scottie Scheffler returns to defend at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play as No. 1, yet humble as ever

AUSTIN, Texas — Scottie Scheffler is returning to Austin Country Club where a year ago he punctuated his quick rise to the top of golf and for the first time vaulted to the No. 1 ranking in the world.

He’s the defending champion at this week’s World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play and will open Wednesday with a match against Davis Riley, beginning the first of three days of pool play before the Saturday knockout stage. The former Texas Longhorn great is glad to be back in his comfort zone with his Tex-Mex haunts and his old college buddies.

“I love Austin, I love this tournament, the city, and like I said, it’s our favorite tournament of the year,” Scheffler said on a soggy Tuesday morning before his practice round.

Simple guy. Simple tastes. Simply amazing career already with six PGA Tour victories and a major over the course of just 13 months.

Match Play: Best merch | Final event in Austin

By his own admission, he’s, uh, satisfied with his game. Yeah, not a bad start.

“Form is good,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of good finishes this year, which is nice. This calendar year, I’ve played some really solid golf.”

Sure, solid.

Winning the Players Championship by five strokes over Tyrrell Hatton probably qualifies as solid. So does defending his title at the WM Phoenix Open, where he captured his first PGA Tour event back in February 2022. And that little invitational tournament he won at Augusta, too. That was fun, too, to use Scheffler’s timeworn mantra.

His peers see it as more phenomenal than fun.

“Yeah, I mean, he’s a pretty decent player,” Rickie Fowler deadpanned. “It’s been a lot of fun to watch. Scottie is obviously a very good player, but he’s an even better person. He’s easy to root for. He’s fun to be around.”

There’s that word again.

Truly, perhaps the most impressive thing about Scheffler, however, is that he’s not overly impressed with himself.

Scheffler prefers his bubble over the big time

As he said after winning the Players Championship, “I never really thought that much of myself. I always just tried to stay in my own little bubble. I just keep trying to get a little bit better. I never really looked too far ahead.”

He’s pretty much the same low-key, humble guy at 26 that he was as a freshman when he showed up at Texas as a three-time high school state champion from Highland Park. Just one with a higher tax bracket now, thanks to his most recent $4.5 million payday at the Players and his career earnings of more than $32 million.

The only exception is that he finds himself in front of cameras and microphones much more often.

It made some news recently that he never drinks coffee during tournament play. When asked if coffee sales plummet now that surely other rivals will drop their own caffeine fix to catch up to Scheffler, the tall Texan laughed and reached down to the floor at the media center and showed off a cup of java.

“Till Wednesday,” he cracked, noting the tournament has yet to begin.

Netflix’s cameras followed him around as well for its “Full Swing” docuseries, but he’s not as flamboyant as, say, a Brooks Koepka and may not be the colorful draw of, say, a Fowler, who promises to debut a new line of flashy floral gear this week.

“Yeah,” Scheffler said, “I think they wanted a little more access than I gave them, but …”

Scheffler will gladly sit back in the shadows if it’s up to him. But his game won’t allow that.

“It’s hard to really find a weakness in his game,” Fowler said, “and a lot of that comes from that momentum and confidence.”

A fast start to the PGA Tour hasn’t slowed down yet

His well-rounded game continues to grow at the same pace as his maturity. He’s playing even better than he did in his breakout season of 2022 when he won PGA Tour player of the year honors with the Masters win and two other victories.

Sustaining that level of excellence is the key, and there’s no magic potion — or coffee or no coffee — to assure that.

“I think if you looked at a deep dive into my stats, you may find a little something there,” Scheffler said. “I’m hoping that I’m a little bit better than I was last year. Right now I’ve been playing so solid, but I’m not doing a whole lot of reflecting.”

Plenty of time for that down the road.

Why mess with a good thing? A big key for Scheffler is keeping his inner circle tight, and his laid-back style devoid of self-promotion works for him.

“I think he’s adjusted nicely to being the No. 1 player in the world,” said Texas coach John Fields, his college mentor who has coached a growing list of great golfers that includes three-time major champion Jordan Spieth. “He’s extremely grounded, and that’s a blessing for him.”

Scheffler’s adjustments have continued to work out. He’s had plenty in his life. From his sometimes-painful growth spurt — he was 5-foot-1 and 100 pounds with some golf balls in his pockets as a seventh-grader, but grew to 6-foot-3, 200 pounds before his freshman year at Texas — to his courtship of Meredith, his high school girlfriend and now wife after her studies at Texas A&M, his stringent academic schedule to gain entry to the prestigious McCombs School of Business and his new-found international fame. All has gone remarkably smooth.

Staying grounded, humble vs. having fun, being flashy

Scheffler’s not a guy who lets distractions get in the way and his steady play is indicative of his calm, under-control nature. His is a steely-eyed focus on what’s important to him, deeply personal things like family, marriage and his very public Christian faith. He was even asked Tuesday if a repeat performance at the Masters would be more meaningful because the final day falls on Easter Sunday. It would.

And he doesn’t really get ahead of himself, preferring to live in the moment.

He’s having fun. And winning tournaments. Big tournaments like last year’s Masters and this year’s Players Championship.

And he attributes his quality of life and overall success to those whom he surrounds himself with.

“Scottie bringing Ted Scott into his life as his caddie helps keep everything on balance,” Fields said. “Randy Smith has been his teacher since he was little. His parents, Scott and Diane, are terrific. And Meredith is such a calming influence on him. She’s the most grounded person in his group.”

Fields goes so far as to suggest the somewhat parallel lives of both Scheffler and Spieth — both grew up in Dallas, played for the Longhorns, married their high school sweethearts, won a Masters and have a growing list of admirers — are very similar to the lifestyle of Jack Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara. Golf’s First Family often traveled with five kids in tow in the family station wagon for many Tour stops.

“Everybody aspires to be a Jack Nicklaus type,” Fields said. “Both Scottie and Jordan married girls they dated in high school. Probably both will have kids at some point. And both have won big.”

While Nicklaus won 117 tournaments, Scheffler’s got 111 to go to catch up to him. But at least the Longhorn won the Masters in his third start at Augusta. It took Jack five tries. Just saying.

Obviously the six PGA Tour victories in the last 13 months have stamped Scheffler as a rising star, he has a long way to go to even think about accomplishing anything close to Nicklaus’ 18 majors. But then, he’s not really driven to reach those lofty heights. He doesn’t set a lot of goals.

He has excelled in a short amount of time, dominating at TPC Sawgrass where his 17-under 271 represented the largest margin of victory in his career and made him the only golfer to hold both the Players and Masters titles simultaneously. At Augusta, of course, he led by five shots after the second round and held off the fast-charging Rory McIlroy, another former No. 1, and never blinked. He won by three strokes.

Now he’s got different concerns in a life that can get much more complicated if he let it.

Like arranging the menu for the Champions Dinner he’ll host at the Masters on the Tuesday night before the tournament starts.

He and Meredith and manager Blake Smith huddled together with the chef at Augusta as they discussed his favorite foods, dishes like steak, fried shrimp, mac and cheese. Pretty simple. Just how Scheffler likes it. After a dinner of cheeseburger sliders, firecracker shrimp and ribeye steak in Georgia, he’ll get about the business of trying to win a second major and continue this groove he’s in.

As deep as golf is these days, nothing’s guaranteed, but Scheffler’s about as close to a sure thing as there is.

“Obviously he’s a great player,” Fowler said. “But sometimes that play comes in waves, and you got to ride that wave. His wave has been a little longer than some guys and nothing short of impressive.”

At least someone’s impressed with Scheffler. Just don’t ask Scottie to say so.

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