AUGUSTA, Ga. – Ben Crenshaw’s cobalt blue eyes narrowed.
As the emcee of the annual Champions Dinner, each time golf’s most exclusive club gathers is special, but the 2016 event was emotionally charged for the quintessential Texan. The ’16 host was Jordan Spieth, who grew up in Dallas and played college golf in Austin, just like Crenshaw.
The connection between Texas and Augusta National runs deep.
“It’s there,” Gentle Ben said in a way that suggests he knows an answer to a question most haven’t thought of, much like he did at the 1999 Ryder Cup. “We as Texans always had all those people to strive toward – Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret, Jackie Burke, and they’ve done so well here. I don’t know what it is but we had something to shoot for.”
There is no birthright for Texans at Augusta National. Bobby Jones never called Dallas home and by all accounts, he never considered the rugged Hill Country as a possible landing spot for his venerable club. But the history of the Masters weaves through the Lone Star State.
It’s a lineage that was born in a caddie's yard in Ft. Worth, Texas, when Byron Nelson won the 1937 edition, back when the gathering was called the Augusta National Invitational, and he was followed by the likes of Ben Hogan, who won the first of his two Masters in 1951.
And now Scottie Scheffler.
Scott Scheffler, the effervescent father of the 2022 Masters champion, is all New Jersey. He would sneak onto the train to the Bronx as a teenager to watch the Yankees play and started his family in Ridgewood, New Jersey.
The Schefflers moved south when young Scottie was in first grade and he never looked back. On a perfect Masters Sunday, Scottie Scheffler, 25, became the 10th player from Texas to claim a green jacket.
Earlier during Masters week, he was introduced on the first tee as “Scottie Scheffler from Ridgewood, New Jersey.” Although that’s technically correct, know that he’s all Texas, like the brisket Crenshaw served at his Champions Dinner and the cowboy boots Patrick Reed wore to his.
“I was born there [New Jersey]. I lived there, I think for five years. The only thing I remember was our backyard. I used to just hit golf balls in the backyard, hit them over the house,” Scheffler said. “All I remember was the backyard.”
But it was in Dallas, and more specifically Royal Oaks Country Club, where the Masters champion was professionally born. Two years after moving to Texas, Scheffler started working with Randy Smith, a Lone Star legend who has mentored the likes of Justin Leonard. Uniquely talented, if not a bit unorthodox, young Scottie developed a reputation as a goofball. A tireless work ethic combined with an outsized dedication to the craft created a legend that persists to this day.
“He wore pants to every tournament, even if it was 110 degrees. He tried to be a professional at a young age,” said Will Zalatoris, who grew up in Dallas competing against Scheffler. “Goofy is an understatement, to put it mildly.”
That “goofy” kid ascended to world No. 1 two weeks ago with his victory at the WGC-Match Play, which was essentially a home game that was played at Austin Country Club, and he delivered a dominant performance at Augusta National.
Rory McIlroy holed out from a greenside bunker at the 72nd hole for the week’s loudest roar and a closing 64 to finish at 7 under. It wasn’t nearly enough.
There were tense moments for Scheffler. There always are.
The turning point came at the third hole after a rope hook drive and a poor recovery left him short of the green. At the time he was clinging to a one-stroke lead over Cameron Smith and appeared poised to fall out of the top spot for the first time all weekend, but he chipped in for an unlikely birdie. Smith made bogey, and it was never really close after that.
Six of the last nine Masters have included a player from Texas in either first or second place, an impressive run, but one that doesn’t compare to the early years when Texans finished first or second in 16 of 17 tournaments, starting in ’37.
Thoughts vary on exactly why Texans have enjoyed so much success at Augusta National. The most common theme is conditions, which covered all four seasons this week with early storms that transitioned to blustery winds on Saturday and, thankfully, a perfect Sunday. The wind and the rain and the cold are staples in Texas.
“Look at this week,” said Reed, the 2018 champion who was born in San Antonio. “You've seen basically four different types of conditions. You've had windy. You've had rainy. You've had wet, soft, firm, hot, cold. It's kind of like at home. It's what we get at home. You just never know what you're going to get.
“Because of that, it allows us when we get into situations, especially around here where wind swirls and stuff, it's not just about knowing your distances, but you also have to know what window it needs to be out at that distance.”
Creativity also seems to be the common denominator, at least for the modern Texans. Spieth, who finished inside the top 3 in four of his first five starts at Augusta National, arrived truly gifted with the short-game gene and Scheffler was equally brilliant this week, finishing third in the field in scrambling and fifth in putting.
But mostly, it seems like a grit thing. Of the four major championships, the romanticized vision of the Masters creates outsized pressure, which is where Scheffler found himself early Sunday.
Scheffler’s stoic exterior was shattered following his final round when young Scottie revealed he “cried like a baby” early Sunday.
“I was so stressed out. I didn't know what to do. I was sitting there telling [wife Meredith], I don't think I'm ready for this. I'm not ready, I don't feel like I'm ready for this kind of stuff, and I just felt overwhelmed,” Scheffler said.
If that doesn’t exactly dovetail with visions of Texas bravado know that Spieth has told similar stories and Crenshaw’s emotions have become a highlight of the Champions Dinner. Wanting something too much isn’t a weakness. Allowing it to impact your performance is, and Scheffler’s execution would have made Hogan proud.
Less than a year ago, there were some who were questioning Scheffler’s ability to close out tournaments. On Sunday, he joined the likes of Nelson, Hogan, Demaret and Spieth.
He’s not a Texas legend – yet.
“He’s moving up the ladder. He’s 25 and has a major and four wins [on the PGA Tour],” said Smith, Scheffler’s swing coach since he was 7, who Crenshaw affectionately and knowingly called a “handler” of swings. “He still has more golf to play and he’s not there yet. But I’m not going to say he’s not going to be one of the best.”
When Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley introduced Scheffler as this year’s Masters champion there was a smattering of hook ‘em horns that emerged from the gallery, which is no small thing in Georgia Bulldog country. He wasn’t the first and it’s unlikely that he’ll be the last Longhorn to pull the coveted green jacket over his shoulders.
Crenshaw won the last of his two Masters in 1995, the year before Scheffler was born. And the ’96 Champions Dinner was distinctly Texas.
“The first time I won  we had to order from the club menu. The next year when Sandy Lyle won, they said you can bring in whatever you want,” Crenshaw remembered. “The second time I went with Texas BBQ, we had it flown in from the Salt Lick [a BBQ institution] in Austin.”
Scheffler will undoubtedly serve some variation of brisket or beef ribs or bone-in ribeye or some such Texas fare at next year’s Champions Dinner. The Texan, via New Jersey, is simply the next in a long chain that indelibly connects Augusta National to the Lone Star State.