AUGUSTA, Ga. — As his son marched toward green-jacket glory at the Masters, Scott Scheffler found himself thinking back to their days together on a New Jersey golf course that shares nothing in common with Augusta National other than the sport itself.
He found himself daydreaming about Orchard Hills, a nine-hole track on the campus of Bergen County Community College in Paramus. That was where this journey began for Scottie Scheffler. That was where his father would hold up a flashlight as his 5-year-old boy — with a swing that already was turning heads — smacked balls that often left bruises.
“He used to hit us with the golf balls,” Scott Scheffler said, smiling at the memory. He was a stay-at-home father with one older daughter swimming at the college pool and two younger ones attached at his hip, so he did what all dads do.
He did the best he could.
“The police would kick us off, and we’d come back on, then the police would kick us off again,” Scott Scheffler said. “Then one day, the guy (at the course) finally came out and I said, ‘Could you just watch for a minute?’ And he’s like, ‘Wow. He’s really good at this!’ Then they wouldn’t bother us any more.”
The Scheffler family moved from Montvale to Dallas when Scottie was just 6 years old, so history will lump him with all the great Masters champion from Texas. But let’s be clear on this: New Jersey has every right to claim him as one of its own, too, because his parents made sure that their Bergen County roots were never lost on the golf prodigy they were raising.
The 2022 Masters will be remembered for many things — the return of Tiger Woods from his awful car wreck, the magic of Rory McIlroy in a near-perfect final round, and most of all, the steely nerves of the No. 1 player in the world as he won his first major championship. It is also, however, the first time that a certain rock star from Asbury Park was named dropped at the champion’s press conference.
“My dad, he loved Bruce (Springsteen), so I like Bruce, too,” Scottie Scheffler said, who went on to say he listened to a lot of Texas country music, too. Hey, nobody’s perfect.
Scott Scheffler grew up in Englewood Cliffs and attended St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, which was where Vince Lombardi started his legendary coaching career. His wife, Diane, grew up in Park Ridge and was classmates in high school with the late James Gandolfini — she even called him Jimmy, in fact.
So in review: This family has Bruce, The Sopranos and a Lombardi connection that is more than just the Turnpike rest stop. What other Jersey credentials do we need?
“He’s born in New Jersey and raised in Texas, and he’s got a little bit of both in him,” Scott Scheffler said. “And that’s a good thing.”
It certainly was on Sunday afternoon. Scheffler admitted that he was a nervous wreck in the morning, convinced that despite his No. 1 world ranking and three victories in the last eight weeks, he wasn’t ready for the moment that awaited him as Masters leader. He said he “cried like a baby” until his wife, Meredith, reminded him that the outcome wouldn’t affect how much the people in his life loved him.
Those people — Meredith, mom and dad, two of his sisters — were with him every step. They were there when his three-shot lead over Cameron Smith quickly shrunk to one after the second hole. They were there when holed a ridiculous chip shot for birdie on third hole that his caddie, Ted Scott, called “massive.” They were there on the back nine when Scheffler played like a man who needed to make up four strokes, not one with a four-stroke lead.
He was in the fairway on the par-5 15th hole, in control of the tournament, when Scott handed him a 5 iron and told him to go for the green. The gallery couldn’t believe it as his shot sailed over the water hazard and settled just off the back of the putting surface.
“What did he just do? That’s nuts,” one young man said.
“He just won the Masters, that’s what!”
He walked up the 18th hole with a five-shot cushion and, much to the surprise of the thousands of onlookers crowded around the green, he actually needed it. He lost focus and missed a couple of short putts, with the gallery trying its best — “SCOTTIE! SCOTTIE! SCOTTIE!” — to help him regain his composure. He finally tapped in for double bogey, raising his arms to the sky in triumph.
Scott Scheffler was rubbing his wife’s shoulders behind the green. He took off his sunglasses to wipe away the tears once, then twice, then a third time. Two weeks earlier, after Scheffler won the WGC-Match Play, Scott told his son, “I’m more proud of who you are than your golf.” This time, both men seemed like they were at a loss for words when the embraced.
“Proud of you, buddy,” the father said. “Congratulations.”
The father hugged his son. A few minutes later, 2021 champion Hideki Matsuyama slipped the green jacket over Scott Scheffler’s shoulders. He choked up a bit as he thanked his family for all the sacrifices they made to make this moment possible, telling his parents and sisters that he was grateful that they could enjoy this triumph together.
He was too young to remember all those nights at that nine-hole track in Bergen County, smacking balls as his old man held up that flashlight. But make no mistake: The journey to this great Masters victory started in a place that’s just about as Jersey as it gets.
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Steve Politi may be reached at [email protected]