TRUCKEE, Calif. – Perhaps all Scottie Scheffler needs to break through and win a major junior championship is a little inspiration from a friend.
If his cancer-stricken friend in Houston, James Ragan, has a say, that moment will come at this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur at Martis Camp Club. Scheffler, 17, of Dallas, moved into the semifinals on Friday with a 3-and-2 win over P.J. Samiere, of Kailua, Hawaii. Earlier on Friday, Scheffler completed his suspended third-round match with Justin Suh by winning in 19 holes.
Ragan, now 20, was diagnosed seven years ago with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and has been undergoing treatments ever since. Scheffler befriended Ragan on the Texas Legends Tour five years ago and constantly stays in touch through phone calls, texts and emails.
Ragan founded a charity, Triumph Over Kids Cancer (www.triumphoverkidscancer.org), in 2007 that Scheffler actively supports by urging people to donate.
“It likely won’t save James’ life, but it will save many other kids,” said Scheffler, who was hoping his friend was watching the live coverage of the championship on Golf Channel. “He has a chance. Not a great chance, but he’s a fighter.”
Scheffler has shown that he’s willing to grind out matches, even when pushed against the ropes.
While he qualified third out of stroke play at 5-under-par 139, his road to the final four has not been an easy one. Scheffler defeated Spencer Painton, 7 and 5, in the first round, then gutted out a 1-up win over Maverick McNealy in the Round of 32 on Thursday morning before being pushed to extra holes by Suh, who birdied the 18th hole after knocking his approach from the rough to 4 feet.
But Scheffler has competed in enough U.S. Juniors – this is his fourth and final appearance – to know that getting to the championship requires focus, patience, endurance and sometimes luck.
He certainly is hoping to get some good fortune this week after a slew of runner-up finishes in the past eight months. Scheffler lost to Adam Wood in the championship match of the Polo Junior Golf Classic last November at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. A month later, he tied for second at the Jones Cup Junior at Sea Island (Ga.) Golf Club. This year, he tied for second at the HP Boys Championship in February at The Woodlands outside of Houston and was the runner-up at the Thunderbird International Junior in May at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Now he’s within reach of the biggest title in junior golf.
It took Scheffler a few holes to get going against Samiere, but when he made a clutch birdie putt to halve the eighth hole and maintain his 1-up lead, he felt things might go his way. At the par-4 ninth, he went 2 up when he converted a 25-foot birdie. Samiere and Scheffler traded winning holes on 10 and 11, respectively, before Scheffler seized control with a winning par on No. 13.
Showing his experience at the drivable par-4 16th, Scheffler, dormie-3 at the time, decided to lay up with an iron. His prudence paid off as his wedge approach stopped 4 feet from the hole and he converted the birdie to seal the match.
“In this tournament, I think I know what [the USGA] is going to do [with the setup],” said Scheffler, who is No. 34 in the current World Amateur Golf Ranking, the highest of any of the competitors left. “I have an idea of what I need to do when I go to each match.”
Scheffler drew friend and future University of Texas teammate Doug Ghim, of Arlington Heights, Ill., in the semifinals. Ghim eliminated No. 2 seed Cameron Young, 4 and 3.
“That will be fun,” said Scheffler of his semifinal opponent. “I know him real well. We play in the same tournaments, so I see Doug all the time.”
Scheffler needs two more victories to hoist the trophy and join the likes of fellow Texans Matthew Rosenfeld, Cory Whitsett, Hunter Mahan and Jordan Spieth as a Junior Amateur champion.
You can bet Ragan will be monitoring the coverage on Saturday if his friend is playing in the championship match. Scheffler definitely will be thinking of Ragan and Warren Aune, a former PGA Tour player and close family friend who died of cancer at 58 in May.
“I would definitely be thinking about them,” said Scheffler. “If I keep giving myself chances, I’ll win one.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.