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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Scottie Scheffler was heading toward Augusta National’s practice green when his father, Scott, stopped him near the big leaderboard off the first fairway. For some reason, Las Vegas was listed on the board as Scheffler’s hometown.
“Should I tell them you’re from Ridgewood, New Jersey?” his father asked.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to Ridgewood,” Scottie responded.
“You were born there,” Scott shot back. “I know. I was the one who took you home.”
Home. Everything about Scottie Scheffler, legitimate Masters contender, suggests that home for him is Texas. He spent most of his youth in Dallas and attended the University of Texas. He walks tall, at 6-foot-3, with a bit of a cowboy’s swagger, and hits it a country mile long.
“But when people say he was born and raised in Texas,” said his wife, Meredith, “he’ll be the first one to say, ‘No, I was born in New Jersey.’ ”
Into a family that was raised in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge.
Scheffler’s journey to Augusta is really a New Jersey story, not a Texas story, which is an important distinction to make for this reason:
No Jersey-born golfer has ever won the Masters, which has been conquered by an endless parade of Texans. Scheffler’s father played basketball at my alma mater, St. Cecilia High School of Englewood, N.J., made famous by a promising football (and basketball) coach by the name of Vince Lombardi. Scott also joined me in a few dozen indoor pickup games on the cliffs above the Hudson River. Note: You didn’t want him guarding you. He was a poor man’s Patrick Beverley.
Of greater consequence, Scottie’s mother, Diane, was a friend and Park Ridge High School classmate of the late, great James Gandolfini. “Jimmy, we called him,” Diane said. If Gandolfini were still around and acting in character as Tony Soprano, he might have had a private word or two with young Mr. Scheffler to make sure he was repping the Garden State first, and the Lone Star State second.
Either way, the 24-year-old Scheffler is a player to watch this week. He was the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 2020, when he finished tied for fourth at his first PGA Championship and tied for 19th at his first Masters and, with his second-round 59 at the Northern Trust, when he became only the 11th man in PGA Tour history to break 60. Two weeks ago, Scheffler beat Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm, and Matt Kuchar to advance to the Match Play final, before losing to Billy Horschel.
If you were going to pick 20 players with a credible shot to win this Masters, Scheffler would be on your list.
He’s come a long way from his days as a 5-year-old hitting balls at the 9W Driving Range off the west side of the Hudson. Little Scottie loved swinging away, and would plead with his father to drive him to the range even in the dead of winter. On one 25-degree day, Scott took Scottie to 9W just to prove to him that the place was closed. On arrival, the owner, George Kopac, suddenly emerged from his shed to hand the boy a bucket of balls, and to hand his father a shovel to clear the snow from a mat. Kopac said he would always leave out a bucket a balls for Scottie, “if the kid was crazy enough to keep coming back in this weather.”
Scottie was crazy enough. He would arrive at the range before 10 a.m. to score the half-price discount — $5 for two huge buckets — and hit for hours. Stan Mosel, a New Jersey pro, was struck by Scottie’s skill and persistence, and asked Scott if he could work with his son. Scott Scheffler told the pro he couldn’t afford to pay him. “I’m not asking for money,” Mosel said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Nor had Scott Scheffler. He was one of five children, the son of a car salesman who grew up relatively poor in the pricey Jersey town of Englewood Cliffs. “We were the dead-end kids,” Scott said. They did not live the country club life. He would play with his brother Peter and their father twice every summer, waiting on line at 5 a.m. at the Overpeck public course in Teaneck, during the old man’s vacation time. “I loved the game,” Scott said, “but was never any good at it.” That was OK. His only son would end up with the love and the talent.
As young Scottie practiced chipping and putting into the night, his father would hold a flashlight near the flagstick so his son could see the hole. Scott was a stay-at-home dad who shuttled Scottie and daughters Callie, Sara, and Molly to and from their practices, games, tournaments, and meets, and Diane chipped in while working in the city as a business manager at Skadden. When Scottie was 6, Diane was offered the COO job at the Thompson & Knight law firm in Dallas, and off to Texas the Schefflers went.
Scott and Diane borrowed $50,000 to join Royal Oaks Country Club so Scottie could work with Justin Leonard’s teacher, Randy Smith, who took one look at the kid’s John Daly-esque backswing — all the way down to his ankles — and knew he had something to work with. Nearly two decades later, Smith was walking with Scottie’s parents and sisters on a Tuesday at the Masters while the 22nd-ranked player in the world practiced with Collin Morikawa and Ryan Palmer.
“Watch out for Scottie, Collin,” Scott Scheffler playfully shouted at Morikawa on the third hole. “He’s from New Jersey.”
Damn right he is.
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