PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Scottie Scheffler wasn’t old enough to steer a golf cart when he got his first taste of the island green.
As he recalls, he was young — 10, 12 years old — when he played the hole with his father: “Just us two, and just going out there and having fun.”
“I think anytime when you see stuff on TV it always looks so much larger than life, whether it’s a person or a hole or a golf course,” Scheffler said, “and then you get out there and you’re like, OK, wait, like it’s a normal-sized green and I can do this.
He’s ranked second in the world. He’s finished in the top 12 in each of his last eight PGA Tour events. He could leap to No. 1 with victory at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass this weekend.
But as the 26-year-old reigning Masters champion begins this week’s Players Championship, the earliest memories are often the best, like that unofficial challenge at 17 with his father, Scott.
“He’s always done a good job of helping me enjoy things because I feel like I’m pretty serious when it comes to golf, and he does a good job of keeping things light, and we went out and had some fun, and it was definitely a special memory,” Scheffler said.
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Rapid rise from Texas
A three-time Big 12 champion at the University of Texas, where his teammates included Ponte Vedra’s Taylor Funk, he made a speedy start in the professional ranks during a Player of the Year campaign on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019.
In the past year-plus, he’s really taken off.
A first PGA Tour win, the WM Phoenix Open in February 2022. His first major title at Augusta National two months later. A meteoric rise to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking in two separate stints beginning last spring, including 31 weeks at No. 1.
He isn’t fading, either, even though Spain’s Jon Rahm has displaced him for the moment atop the ranking.
Scheffler’s last eight events on the Tour: tie for third, tie for ninth, second, tie for seventh, tie for 11th, first (a second WM Phoenix Open title in February), tie for 12th and a tie for fourth during last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
“Looking back towards this year, definitely feel like I’m playing solid and trending in the right direction,” he said.
Rocky ride at Stadium Course
The Stadium Course is an exception. Since that early visit, Scheffler’s stops here haven’t been so smooth.
“I was talking to a few guys earlier, and somebody said it was a thinking man’s golf course, and I said it’s actually kind of the opposite because you just have to hit really good shots if you want to play well,” he said. “You can’t scrape it around this place. You just have to hit fairways and hit greens and go from there.”
Scheffler hasn’t hit quite enough. In 2021, he came to the Players and missed the cut. He fared better last spring, but a pair of 76s in the second and fourth rounds torpedoed any championship hopes and stranded him in a tie for 55th, 15 strokes off the lead.
His misfortunes on the First Coast extend to his youth career at the Junior Players, where he played well enough to contend in all three visits if not for first-round disaster. In 2011, an opening 80 left him in a deep hole, so a subsequent 67-69 only netted fifth place. In 2012, he shot 81-70-73 and tied for 33rd, and in 2013, Scheffler shot 76-71-70 and came in sixth.
His prime competitive success in Ponte Vedra came at the nearby Sawgrass Country Club, when he helped the University of Texas win the Hayt Collegiate Invitational in 2015. He’s one of four Longhorns on that team, along with Doug Ghim, Kramer Hickok and individual champion Beau Hossler, on the Players Stadium Course this week.
“I was very blessed just to be a part of that team,” Scheffler said. “I got to learn a lot from those guys.”
For Scheffler, the 17th stirs the early memories. He cites the 18th — “it almost kind of teases you” — as his toughest.
Through more than a decade, he’s known the challenge. Spurred by that early experience, he’s up for the test.
“The finish out here is so tough to beat with it being 16, 17, 18, all great risk-reward holes,” he said. “I mean, really, when you go back to the whole golf course, if you hit good shots you’re going to get rewarded for it. That is so great for us to be able to come out here and play.”