PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Having caddied for not one but two Masters champions and as a central member of Team Scottie, Teddy Scott was uniquely positioned to appreciate his boss’s performance at TPC Global Headquarters.
He wasn’t, however, savvy enough to even remotely predict Scottie Scheffler’s short-game brilliance this season.
Scheffler and Scott took a page from Jordan Spieth’s book and made a wager on how many chip-ins the 26-year-old would have this season. Scott set the over/under at 10.
“I'll be honest, I think that Teddy made a very bad bet,” Spieth said Sunday at The Players Championship. “I had it with [caddie Michael Greller] and we've had it at 15 or 16 before. I think Teddy will probably reevaluate considering we're not even midway through March. It actually might be a good bet because it's already over and he'll make a new one and win the press.”
Full-field scores The Players Championship
On consecutive days on a flawless canvas, Scheffler recorded chip-ins Nos. 10 and 11 for the season on his way to a commanding victory at The Players Championship.
But these were no ordinary chip-ins.
On Saturday, Scheffler pulled his second shot left of the green at the par-5 second hole leaving a wildly short-sided chip some 60 feet from the hole, which was perched just four paces from the left edge.
“Those shots you're always just really trying to get a look,” said Scheffler of his delicate flop shot that landed on the fringe and tumbled into the hole for an unlikely eagle. “I was definitely fortunate to see it go in, and then Teddy and I got a year-long thing going that I just beat him on and he owes me something, but he didn't have any of it, and so he owes me. It's an IOU from Teddy.”
Chip-in No. 11 for the season came on Sunday at the par-3 eighth hole after his tee shot ended up short of the green and perched on the edge of a bunker. With the ball above his feet, which were planted firmly in the bunker, and 34 feet to the hole he launched his chip perfectly onto the green and watched it tumble perfectly into the cup.
If the field at The Players was feeling overwhelmed by Scheffler’s performance, Scott can sympathize.
“Learning he was competitive in the early part of last season, I was like OK, I need to find a way to motivate or distract him. So I told him I would give him an incentive if he chips in 10 times, I’ll pay you some of my own money,” Scott explained. “He chipped in three times at [the WGC-Match Play] last year so this year I doubled his pay and he chipped in three times this week and he’s gotten to 11. He asked, ‘Do I get a bonus?’ I’m like, ‘No, you’re done.’”
For the week, Scheffler was 13 for 18 in scrambling (fourth in the field) and was fourth in strokes gained: around the green picking up more than five shots, which was not-so-ironically his margin of victory at the PGA Tour’s flagship event. Not that Scheffler has any interest in those types of clinical distinctions. This is art, not science. It always has been ever since he started honing his all-world game under the watchful eye of swing coach Randy Smith at Royal Oaks in Dallas as a 9-year-old.
“All those [chipping contest] when he was little, he was batting 70 percent, that was from age 9 up against the pros,” Smith recalled. “Now he’s got a couple kids doing the same thing to him that he did to them. I’ve seen it once [Scheffler losing a chipping contest to a junior], he didn’t take it well.”
The 9-year-old with the soft hands and fearless imagination has now become the world’s top-ranked player, again, and the easy favorite heading into next month’s Masters, where he will be the defending champion, thanks in large part to his uncanny ability to turn impossible situations, like he had at No. 2 on Saturday and the eighth hole during the final round, into clutch moments that define victories.
It's a style that Spieth didn’t invent but he certainly popularized with his unique brand of renegade golf. The Golden Child has always been at his entertaining best when he’s pushed up against the edge of disaster so he knows how Scheffler’s ability to escape from trouble can fuel success and how that success only emboldens more aggressive play. It's a wonderful cycle.
“Once he won last year and obviously won the Masters, when you're presented with those shots, if you don't feel like you have house money, you play them a certain way, but if you feel like it doesn't matter you're going to play the shot that could go closest even if it means disaster could happen, you still sit there and go for it and pull it off, similar to how Phil Mickelson played most of his rounds,” Spieth explained. “There's nothing to lose, everything to gain for him, and it's a really nice place to be. I've been there.”
It's Scheffler’s complete game – from a swing that led the field in strokes gained: tee to green at TPC Sawgrass to a steady putter that didn’t have a single three-putt at The Players – that makes him the game’s best player. However, it’s his relentlessness to not accept mediocrity that will keep him there and that threshold begins and ends with the short game he dug out of the Texas dirt as a junior.
Impossible shots like his up-and-down at the second hole on Day 3 and No. 8 on Sunday, not to mention his famous chip-in on the third hole during the final round at last year’s Masters, feed a competitive side that’s often hidden by his sheepish smile and calm demeanor.
It’s in these moments when the artist is at his creative best.
“A lot of times, when you are making it, you’re looking at what the ball is going to do on the greens, you’re focused on a spot,” Rickie Fowler said. “It’s damn fun when you see it come out to that and hit that spot and everything happens how you visualize it.”
Scott will likely have to rethink his strategy going forward. At the very least, he’ll need to renegotiate the terms of the bet given Scheffler’s increasing penchant for dramatic chip-ins.
“Probably a bit more fun for me than it is for him because I get to chip in, and he has to owe me for it,” Scheffler admitted with a wry smile. “Just kind of Ted being Ted.”
Similarly, we should count on Scottie being Scottie.