Stratham, N.H. – There are days when Scottie Scheffler makes the game of golf look uncomplicated, like on his 16th birthday last month when he shot 10-under 61 at Northwood Club to break the course record held by 1999 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Hunter Mahan. He followed it two days later with another eye-popping round at the Dallas Country Club, which was incorrectly reported by the DallasMorning News as a second 61, but Scheffler confirmed this week that it was actually a 63.
He was at it again in Wednesday’s first round of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at the treacherous Golf Club of New England, steam-rolling Brandon Bauman of Las Vegas 7 and 6 in the most lopsided match of the day. He also shot 60 earlier this year in a practice round with friends, even though he recorded three bogeys. Then again, 11 birdies and two eagles will quickly make up for those missteps. Suffice to say, this kid isn’t afraid to go low.
Of course, Scheffler is wise enough to know that golf is never painless, and the moment you think you’ve got it figured out, the game will prove you wrong. “Putting occasionally seems easy, but hitting the ball never does,” said Scheffler, who will be entering his junior year at Highland Park High School in Dallas in the fall.
Thursday provided further evidence that nothing is assured in this sport. Some big names have bowed out early at this championship. The biggest name, Beau Hossler, went home on Thursday morning after a 4-and-2 defeat to Andrej Bevins, of Elk Grove, Calif.
Andy Zhang, the 14-year-old who became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Open history last month, was ousted in the Round of 64. Local favorite Chelso Barrett, last-year’s runner-up, didn’t make it to match play.
And Scheffler became the latest victim, dropping his second-round match, 2 and 1, to Korea’s Tae Wan Lee.
“I was hitting the ball pretty good and just missed some putts. But I only made one bogey, so I was pretty solid. I was hitting as well as I did [Wednesday], except I was putting really well the day before,” he said.
It’s the second consecutive year Scheffler was ousted in the Round of 32. He went extra holes in 2011 at Gold Mountain Golf Club before losing to fellow Texan Connor Black, who was also eliminated from match play on Thursday.
“I definitely wanted to go further than the second round,” he said.
The defeat ended a whirlwind week for the Scheffler family. While Scottie was competing in New Hampshire, his 17-year-old sister, Callie, was 3,000 miles away playing in the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif.
Scottie’s mom, Diane, followed him this week, while his dad, Scott, was on the West Coast watching over Callie.
“It’s just been a fabulous week to have both in these [championships],” Diane said. “There’s been a lot of updating going back and forth.”
Callie failed to qualify for match play after scoring 10 on a hole in the second round when her tee shot became stuck in a tree.
“She played pretty solid the second day until that happened,” Scottie said of Callie, who is headed to Texas A&M this fall. “It was pretty exciting and fun to have us both playing at exactly the same time.”
Scheffler has been a golfing prodigy since age 5 when he shot 37 over nine holes. At 6, he carded a 33. The family was living in suburban New Jersey at the time, and his mother worked for a New York City law firm. But the Schefflers decided to move to Dallas in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, which is where they came into contact with well known teaching pro Randy Smith at Royal Oaks Country Club. After watching the then-diminutive Scheffler hit a few balls, Smith took him on as his student.
Scheffler has since experienced a growth spurt, sprouting to 6-foot, 1 and weighing 150 pounds. His tall, lanky frame is the blueprint for a golfer’s body, even though he maintains, “I have an ugly swing.” But, he quickly adds, “I can get it around O.K.”
He appeared ready to rout another opponent on Thursday morning when he took a 2-up lead after three holes. But Lee proved a tough customer. He squared the match after five holes, setting the stage for a see-saw affair where neither player could seize control.
Scheffler lofted a 7-iron from 162 yards to 3 feet on the 443-yard seventh hole for birdie and a 1-up advantage. On the par-3 eighth, his tee shot soared long, resulting in a bogey that squared the match once again.
“I need to work on my distance control,” Scheffler said afterward. “I hit my irons really well, right at the flag. But on eight I thought it was going to land on the front edge and it carried over the green.”
On 10, Lee and Scheffler had identical-length birdie putts from opposite sides of the hole. Lee went first and drained his; Scheffler missed, leaving him trailing in the match for the first time.
He went 2 down on the next hole to Lee’s birdie, but sliced the deficit in half on 12 with perhaps his gutsiest shot of the day. With Lee already safely on the green with a makeable birdie putt, Scheffler nearly hit the flagstick, stopping his approach 2 feet from the hole.
Back and forth they went. Lee birdied 13 to go 2 up, Scheffler got it back on 15 after a lucky break when his second shot on the par-5 hole hit the red hazard stake, stopping it from bouncing into the water. Lee wasn’t so fortunate. His third shot nestled between two rocks on the water’s edge in an unplayable lie.
But Scheffler’s putter faltered down the stretch and Lee’s kick-in birdie on 16 essentially sealed the win.
“I really didn’t play much differently than [Wednesday],” Scheffler said. “It wasn’t me, it was my opponent. He played really well.”
Rob Duca is a New England-based freelance writer who is contributing to USGA.org this week.