Discover why Scottie Scheffler and the Masters will instill a sense of optimism about the future of professional golf.

April 17, 2024

After a few days have passed, it is now confirmed that the feel-good Masters sensation was genuine in Augusta, Georgia. The primary reason for this validation being Scottie Scheffler’s commanding performance which successfully silenced even the most skeptical doubters and showcased his true talent.

It has been some time, and I have been concerned that professional golf was headed towards the same decline as other sports – boxing, track and field, bowling, even tennis – due to the rampant poaching of PGA Tour professionals by their Saudi-funded rival league LIV Golf. However, my worries were somewhat alleviated after attending this year’s Masters tournament where certain interactions and observations gave me hope despite CBS’ final-round ratings being down from last year in 2024.

The starting point was Fred Ridley – the Chairman of Augusta National. Despite whether he holds the title as golf’s most influential organizational leader, his yearly Wednesday media briefing has become essential. Recently, during this conference, he tackled stubborn matters with composure that concealed a sense of immediacy. As soon as he finished speaking, it appeared easier to chart out a path ahead.

Although Ridley’s opinions were predictable, their impact is only becoming greater. He wholeheartedly supported the USGA and R&A in scaling back distance, with a somber warning that if the PGA Tour didn’t follow suit it would be detrimental to golf at this time. He indirectly hinted that restricting ball flight hasn’t gone far enough by predicting an 8,000 yard course at Augusta National was probable in the near future. In essence, rollbacks must continue on a recurring basis.

He defended the Official World Golf Ranking against increasing criticism by stating that it is a valid basis for identifying the top players in the sport. Additionally, he supported OWGR’s significant choice of refusing to award ranking points to LIV events and described this emerging league as predominantly exclusive.

Standing beside a captivating portrait of Bobby Jones, Ridley spoke to the press from a podium. Recognized for his impeccable discernment in golf matters, Jones influenced Herbert Warren Wind’s writing when he stated that “Of all people I have come across in sports or outside it, Jones was closest to being what we call an eminent personality.” The painter Thomas Stephens captured Jones’ skeptical expression which appears to challenge individuals on upholding the game’s supreme principles – this is something that Ridley continues through his speech.

Augusta National member Tim Finchem, who previously held the position of PGA Tour commissioner before Jay Monahan, sat in a front-row seat during the press conference. As he turned 77 on Friday and was wearing his green jacket, Finchem understandably refrained from delving too deeply into the ongoing crisis but still provided insightful commentary nonetheless.

He mentioned Greg Norman’s efforts to launch an independent World Tour in 1994, which Finchem suppressed by warning PGA Tour members of possible suspension or more severe consequences. “While the scale may be bigger,” he explained, “the circumstances aren’t novel. Golf was not that different back then – or even a decade ago. And I don’t anticipate it changing significantly within ten years either; golf is just golf.”

Golf, unlike major team sports, is a leisurely sport that doesn’t have the same level of fast-paced action and intense civic loyalty. Even before Finchem’s reign as head of the PGA Tour for 21 years, golf had always been characterized by its slow pace and reserved demeanor which resulted in lower compensation compared to other athletes. Despite this setback over time though, through trial-and-error methods such as crafting rules around sponsorship deals with TV rights paired with charitable events led to valuable lessons learned across multiple instances making it worth undertaking even if at times messy or fragile processes ensued along the way ultimately creating an optimal set of best practices gained hands-on experience from growing pains encountered previously on tour.

The outcome has yielded a specialized athletic activity that traditionalists value for its demanding techniques, yet is dependent on the presence of specific luminaries and affluent enthusiasts. Over time, this sport offers competitors unparalleled professional longevity and benefits in terms of pensions as well as elevated visibility that appeal to major business allies. Leading up to 2022’s LIV tournament debut, criticisms from individuals within the PGA Tour were effectively suppressed by their appreciation towards two decades of burgeoning rewards fostered through astute management decisions and Tiger Woods’ exceptional prowess commanding interest beyond competition itself.

Monahan coined the term “irrational threat” to describe the aggressive financial takeover by a competing league in sports. This caused some players to leave and others to demand drastic change. Currently, sponsor funding for top tour events is declining while player control has increased. The board now faces the challenge of merging with this rival league, which will take time and effort instead of being quickly resolved like previously anticipated.

Finchem’s reminder that things will get better has been both disheartening and empowering. It highlights the fact that professional golf should move forward by relying on its own strengths.

After serving as honorary starters with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, Tom Watson succinctly expressed the significance of their pursuit for greatness alongside Tiger Woods: “We were all aware of what was at stake. As fellow players who have experienced the game ourselves, we are all essentially equals.”

In the present environment, achieving such a status appears to be more challenging. Given the influx of funds and diversions along with increasing prospects for leading an existence that is less centered on rivalry, or one that can even be considered milder in nature, it is natural to question whether upcoming athletes will perceive these compromises as worthwhile.

This brings us back to Scheffler. Observing his gameplay, demeanor, and thought process is akin to witnessing a golfer on the brink of achieving excellence. However, it’s valid to question whether he possesses the necessary desire for greatness amidst all that entails it. Could it be possible that this 27-year-old top-ranking player is simply too amiable or well-rounded?

Perhaps he possesses an extraordinary sense of equilibrium, being able to embody both the ordinary and exceptional simultaneously- a trait so scarce it is almost otherworldly. This was my inclination as I listened to him speak in his interview after winning, where he described how he embodies this duality within himself.

“I find professional golf to be a career that never quite satisfies,” he remarked, his words ringing slightly ominous. However, after some deep reflection, Scheffler continued with self-awareness: “I have an intense desire to win – it’s just who I am and always have been since childhood… And there’s nothing wrong with that; winning brings me joy while losing fills me with disappointment. When the pressure is on during those big moments on Sunday when I’m in the lead, my craving for victory only intensifies.”

Despite concerns about Scottie Scheffler being “too nice,” his relentless competitiveness hints at a promising future beyond just fleeting success.

It transpires that Scottie, who might appear unimpressive at first glance, bears a resemblance to Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods in terms of his insatiable drive for greatness. However, he may possess more stability to overcome it all. According to him: “I believe this is what every human heart goes through; wanting more always but we must resist such temptations and concentrate on the positive aspects.”

Scheffler’s resilience in the face of difficult defeats has demonstrated that his tenacity is a significant aspect of his excellence. Moreover, his triumph at the Masters exemplified how he can achieve greatness.

This helps ease the worries of those who have been concerned about the most important game.