AUGUSTA, Ga. – Golf is supposed to be the craziest game there is, and yet Scottie Scheffler made it look absurdly easy. He seemed no more stressed about winning the Masters than he was hitting balls in his New Jersey backyard as a 5-year-old, sending them all over his house and toward a charming future as the best player on the planet.
Yes, while having a five-stroke lead, he turned the 18th green Sunday into a back-and-forth comedy worthy of his childhood days spent on Rockland County miniature golf and range across the Hudson River. He had sanded so hard and so long over 71 ¹ / ₂ exhausting holes on a brutal course that he decided to lighten up, break the steel grip on his concentration and have fun. Scheffler grabbed his mouth in false horror after his third missed putt, which inspired the gallery to stand up and cheer on him and successfully the fourth putt for double bogey will enter the cup.
But man, has the child ever earned it.
“I’m giving myself a free pass on it,” Scheffler said, wearing the green jacket.
He has a free pass to Augusta National forever now, as its first Jersey Boy champion.
It turned out that the road to a finish of 10 under and a three-stroke victory over Rory McIlroy was not as easy as it seemed. On Saturday night, Scheffler watched some season 4 iterations of his favorite show, “The Office,” after wasting his dinner in the car on the way home, much to the delight of his wife, Meredith. The following morning, however, was a completely different story. That was when the weight of holding the Masters lead since Friday crashed down on him.
“I cried like a baby this morning,” Scheffler said Sunday night. “I was so stressed. I did not know what to do.”
He had won three PGA Tour events over the past two months, and he was already a certified Ryder Cup hero, and yet Scheffler collapsed before one final round for the first time in his career. He told Meredith that he was not ready for the challenge, that he felt overwhelmed. She gave her spouse a pep talk, made a big breakfast for him, and Scottie calmed down upon arrival at the office.
“This golf course and this tournament are just different,” Scheffler explained.
He conquered it anyway and showed the public no fear in the process. Seventeen years to the day after Tiger Woods lowered his magical, mysterious chip-in on the 16th to win his fourth green jacket, Scheffler sank his own at the third hole to win his first while spending the week wearing Tigers shirts and shoes and swinging Tigers. iron. Cameron Smith, a robust Players Championship winner from Australia, had turned a three-stroke deficit into a one-stroke deficit over the first two holes and had appeared to be pushing the leader hard.
Chip-in defined the 25-year-old Scheffler as a studio in big-game balance.
Once victory was secured, Scheffler’s father, Scott, began evoking memories of his son’s youth – hitting balls in the snow on the 9W course and later in the cold darkness on the nine-hole Orchard Hills course at Bergen Community College. Scott was standing near a flagpole with a flashlight near his daughters, and Scottie wanted to shoot some line drives directly at them. “He would yell at us when he hit it,” Scott said. “He wanted to beat the girls.”
The track manager kicked Schefflers off more than once, at least until Scott persuaded the man to measure his son’s play. “Then he didn’t bother us anymore,” Scott said. The father learned to move away from the flag with his flashlight as his son took aim.
What a special New Jersey / New York trip it has been. Born in Ridgewood, NJ, Scottie was 4 when he first started demanding that his dad take him to the old 9W driving range. A Navy veteran and pro named George Kopac drove the course and could not believe the power and precision of the young Scottie’s turn. On angry winter days, Kopac left a Super Jumbo-sized bucket to the boy behind the shed, making sure one rubber T-shirt and a lawn were cleared of snow.
The routine was simple: Scottie knocked balls for hours in an otherwise enclosed area, and Kopac family members picked them up after the snow melted. So of course, a month after George’s death at the age of 88, all the Kopacs were glued to their television on Sunday in Rockland.
“I wish my dad was here to see what a wonderful man Scottie has become,” Kathy Kopac wrote to The Post. “Many tears of happiness for Scottie were shed today. I know my father is up there saying, ‘I knew he would make it.’ ”
Scottie managed it because his father, Scott, was a dedicated stay-at-home dad, while his mother worked tirelessly as the director of a law firm in Manhattan and then as the COO of the law firm in Dallas. Scott, as the son of a car salesman, grew up as a public course kid in a town (Englewood Cliffs, NJ) defined by its standard of living on private course. “We were the blind kids,” Scott said. He was a tough-handed basketball player at the legendary St. Cecilia High School, once home to a hoop and football coach named Vince Lombardi. He raised a child hard enough to win the golf Super Bowl.
“He’s just a nice young kid, born in New Jersey and raised in Texas, and he has a bit of both, which is wonderful,” Scott said of his boy. “I think he belongs to the world now. He’s public now, which’s a little scary. But he wants to represent himself well.”
Don’t worry, Scottie Scheffler already has.