AUSTIN, Texas – Caddies, like coaches, often get far too much blame in defeat and credit in triumph.
After professional golf’s most grueling week, Ted Scott didn’t have any interest in either. His man, Scottie Scheffler, had just outlasted the other 63 players at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with an inspired performance, beating Kevin Kisner in the final match, 4 and 3. It was his third win of the season and moved him atop the world ranking.
There’s all manner of statistic to quantify what Scheffler has accomplished in a shockingly short amount of time, but his ascent is best explained by the fact that he went from his first PGA Tour victory, the WM Phoenix Open in February, to world No. 1 in 42 days. That’s the fastest anyone has made that leap, including Tiger Woods, who is now second on that list after needing 252 days to climb to world No. 1 following his first Tour victory.
That this has all happened with Scott, who wrapped up an eventful 15-year career working for Bubba Watson last September, along for the ride is worth noting.
Again, caddies don’t do credit.
“He was the No. 1 junior in the world, won the U.S. Junior, great college player, Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year, he’s a winner. It’s not like he wasn’t a winner and suddenly I started caddying for him and, all of a sudden it’s like, he’s a winner,” a weary Scott said late Sunday at Austin Country Club. “It was inevitable.”
Perhaps it was inevitable. Those closest to Scheffler knew the talent and the drive and the dedication were all there to win on Tour and become the world’ best player. But Scott’s modesty aside, there is a correlation between his arrival on Scheffler’s bag and the cosmic breakthrough the duo is now enjoying.
In his quest for his first Tour title last year, Scheffler finished runner-up at the WGC-Match Play; third at the Memorial, after starting the final round two shots off the lead; and, perhaps in his most glaring near-miss, second at the Houston Open, where he held a one-stroke lead through 54 holes. The runner-up in Houston is particularly noteworthy because the next week at the RSM Classic was his first with Scott on the bag.
Since then, Scheffler has won a raucous playoff against Patrick Cantlay at TPC Scottsdale, endured brutal conditions during the final round at Bay Hill to win at Arnie’s Place, and survived 120 holes in five days in Austin.
At 25 years old, there is a direct link between Scheffler’s near-misses and where he now finds himself. Learning to win is a thing in every professional sport and Scheffler’s learning curve has included plenty of impressive steps, most notably a solid rookie performance at the Ryder Cup that featured a Sunday singles victory over then-world No. 1 Jon Rahm.
“Obviously, there’s a maturation process. The more you embrace it, embracing the big situations, looking forward to it, that has a heck of a lot to do with who he is,” said Randy Smith, Scheffler’s swing coach since he was 7 years old. “The most positive I think I saw him was after the PGA [where he tied for eighth]. He was very positive. He was looking forward to getting back and getting better. The bigger the moment you can stick on him, the better he performs.”
And then there’s Scott, who for 15 seasons was a central figure in the Bubba Show. On good days and bad, Watson was a lot and Scott handled every quirky curveball with a Zen-like calm.
That same even hand was there on Sunday in Austin, when the winds whipped through the Texas hill country and Kevin Kisner was threatening to do Kevin Kisner things. It was a tough opponent on a tough course with all the intrigue you could possibly ask for.
“With Ted, what you notice, and this is not pointing a finger at any other caddie, Teddy has been in the fire a bunch with a very particular player. He knows what the Masters is like. He knows these big situations,” Smith said. “When he and Bubba played with other players, Tiger [Woods] even, Teddy watched what they were doing. How they handled different situations.”
Scheffler reached out to Scott in November. In Scott’s mind, he was finished with professional caddying after more than two decades on various bags, including Watson and Paul Azinger. But there was something about Scheffler that he couldn’t ignore – the drive, the vision, and the beliefs.
“I really didn’t want to go to work for anyone else, Bubba was a Christian, Scott is a Christian. If I was going to go back to work, I wanted there to be a higher purpose,” Scott said.
The best example of what this relationship could become came on the 11th hole during Sunday’s final match. With the wind swirling and a pond looming, it was clear Scheffler was uncomfortable. After stepping away from the shot, he and Scott talked it out, in real time for the world to hear.
“You could hear the trees up near the green. It sounded like a mini-tornado,” Scott said. “It stopped making the noise, but then the wind started coming from [a different direction]. We were like, let’s chip one more club and take the water out of play. Every caddie is doing that for a player.”
Perhaps. The Tour is filled with good caddies. What makes a great caddie, however, is how they coexist with their player. How, as Scott explains, they fill in the blanks. More times than not, that goes well beyond yardage books and clean towels and almost always resembles a friendship more than a working arrangement.
“Obviously, we're clicking on the course and stuff, but he's a good buddy of mine and we've been having some fun together,” Scheffler said. “He works really hard. He does a good job and I respect his work ethic and I respect him as a person. He's a pretty easy guy to be around.”
For caddies, who would all rather avoid both the blame and praise, “easy guy to be around” might be the ultimate compliment.