Scottie Scheffler cannot be stopped, winning the Travelers Championship for his sixth win of the year

June 24, 2024

CROMWELL, Conn. — It’s tempting to say what transpired was dramatic, and certainly the confluence of starpower and friendship and their refusal to let each other break away facilitated an ending whose issue required extra holes to be settled. That the coda was punctuated by a protest group storming the last hole of regulation made for a memorable scene. But dominance is rarely dramatic. It is labor and a struggle, in this week’s case through rain and delays and humidity, work that isn’t glamorous but necessary to make the important moments matter. When things are going well for Scottie Scheffler—which, as of late, seems to be always—his performance is so authoritative and complete that it is mistaken as plodding. It’s extremely hard to make this game look easy, to consistently hit the shot that’s required, and just as importantly, to keep mistakes at bay. Scheffler’s a bit like a jaguar in that sense. He could defeat his prey by power and speed but often there is no blitzkrieg. Scheffler simply lets the hunted dream of an escape they know does not exist, wearing themselves down in the process … and then he takes care of business.

Scheffler sidestepped a bizarre fan demonstration and haymaker from friend and protege Tom Kim to capture the Travelers Championship for his sixth win of the season.

“It was a great finish,” Scheffler said Sunday off a bogey-free 65. “This golf course produces a lot of those, you know, the exciting stuff coming down the stretch. So it was nice to be out there competing. It’s great competing against one of my good buddies in Tom Kim, but it’s also very difficult at the same time. I want what’s best for him, and so sometimes it can be hard, I think, for both of us, you know, battling against each other out there. But it was a lot of fun and I’m proud to be sitting here.”

Historically, the Travelers has carved a niche for itself in being the antithesis of the U.S. Open, a hospitable place for players inside the ropes and out to detox after getting bullied by the national championship the week before. The Hartford stop is no longer the little engine that could, in its second year of signature status, yet that friendly nature and ambiance remains, and what is presented here will never be confused as a USGA setup. The scoreboard was lit up in red numbers: Cam Young shot a 59 on Saturday and Sepp Straka turned in a 61 Sunday, with seven 62s carded on the week. Conversely, there’s something taxing in keeping a foot on the pedal for all 72 holes, knowing a gettable track does not lead to much scoring variance at the top. The smallest of missteps can translate to a deficit that’s unable to be overcome, not necessarily in the amount of strokes to make up but number of players between yourself and a trophy.

“Yeah, I feel like sometimes in these tournaments, you really have to be on for all four days,” Scheffler said. “You have an off day, all of a sudden it’s much harder to catch up. I feel like sometimes at the harder golf courses, you can kind of fake it around a little bit for a day or two and kind of hang around and hang, but sometimes these golf courses when they’re a little bit softer and not, you know, as demanding, there’s always a lot of birdies, just because the fields out here are so deep, and once you get behind, it can be harder to catch up.”

Look no further than Sunday’s back nine, where at one juncture six players were tied for the lead. With storms the past three days softening an already-vulnerable course, the tournament seemingly promising a final side of fireworks. But, for the most part, those pyrotechnics never occurred. Tony Finau grabbed the lead at the 15th but proceeded to dunk his tee shot into a pond on the 16th, sinking his chances. Young, who followed Saturday’s 59 with a front-side 30, bogeyed the 10th and doubled the 12th. Patrick Cantlay missed birdie putts inside 7 feet at No. 12 and the drivable 15th then bogeyed the 16th. Akshay Bhatia held his own against Scheffler and Kim in the final pairing but could not add any more birdies after the 10th. Tom Hoge and Sungjae Im made nice runs toward the end, but they were too far behind when their charges began.

The only two who didn’t falter were Scheffler and Kim. Scheffler has taken Kim under his wing, the two often playing practice rounds together in Dallas, and throughout their Sunday pairing Kim and Scheffler could be seen trading barbs. It wasn’t perfect golf; both had multiple birdie attempts that fell well short on the back, but there were no bogeys over their final nine holes, with Scheffler leading Kim by one going up the 18th. Kim answered by nearly jarring his approach, yet Scheffler still had a chance to close the door with a birdie putt just off the green.

That attempt had to wait after five individuals emerged from the crowd waving gas canisters, leaving smoke residue on the green and trampling the putting surface. Police officers eventually chased down and hauled off the protesters, but the ensuing chaos led to a delay as tour and course officials repaired the green and wondered what the hell had just happened.

“I mean, I was scared for my life. I didn’t even really know what was happening,” Bhatia explained. “All of a sudden, four, five people come out running on the green. Yeah, I mean, it was kind of weird. But thankfully the cops were there and kept us safe, because that’s, you know, that’s just weird stuff.”

Added Scheffler: “It was definitely a bit weird. I saw one person out of the corner of my eye, and then I saw about five police officers sprinting around. From my point of view, they got it taken care of pretty dang fast, and so we were very grateful for that. It seemed to go by really quickly to us. But when something like that happens, you don’t really know what’s happening, so it can kind of rattle you a little bit, just because there’s people running around the green and there’s police officers running around the green and you don’t know if they’re peaceful, you don’t know what they’re doing, you have no idea what’s going on, so it can be a bit stressful.

Five minutes later play resumed. Scheffler could not convert his try. Kim did, sending the Travelers to sudden death. Because of the damage done around the hole, officials had to recut a new pin position on the 18th green. It proved not to matter; Kim’s approach on the first hole of overtime buried in the greenside bunker, while Scheffler hit his second to 15 feet. Kim’s sand save was not to be. An overcautious lag from Scheffler deflated whatever excitement remained.

“I fought hard,” Kim said. “That last hole in the playoff where in regulation I had the same kind of shot where I just needed to smash a wedge when the wind was up and the difference between regulation and the playoff was as soon as I hit it the wind died and a slight mishit and unfortunately plugged ball and when that happens you can’t do anything about it.”

Kim shouldn’t feel bad, for what Scheffler is doing has no present analog, that rare talent who is judged not against his peers but to the past. Look no further than Scheffler becoming the first player in more than 60 years to win six times before July, the mark last accomplished by Arnold Palmer in 1962. And it’s not just that he’s winning, but where.

There’s not much of a throughline between Bay Hill, Sawgrass, Augusta National, Harbour Town, Muirfield Village and River Highlands, only that each venue boasted the tour’s deepest and best fields. He’s done it playing hurt and coming from behind. He’s defended a title that had never been defended before. He’s played with a big lead and held off of narrow advantage. He’s gone low and had to protect par. He’s won with a pregnant wife at home and as a newborn dad. The only things that have stopped him have been an overzealous cop and newly planted wiregrass.

He is not infallible. There was a genuine question last year if his generational talent could be kept from its potential because of the putter. But golf is not a game of perfect, and against that backdrop Scheffler’s game is as consistent and measured and total as the sport has seen in decades. Two-and-a-half years ago there were questions when, or if, Scheffler would break through to tour stardom. He’s now perched atop the game’s summit, listening to his name echo off the valley below, and there are no signs he’s coming down anytime soon.

Scheffler continues to downplay his display, saying he has no appetite to sit back and reflect on what he’s done. The season’s compact schedule does not lend to much musing. “In terms of playing through the season, I try not to look too far into the past or look too far into the future,” Scheffler said. There’s also the unspoken acknowledgement that the worst thing you can do during a heater is talk about it, to think about what could be next and what it all means. There will be plenty of time for that down the road. Now … Scheffler has a claret jug to win in a few weeks.

Of course, greatness does not need to be speaken by the victor, and is often found in the words of the disposed. A testimony Kim was happy to provide.

“I was really close, really, really close,” Kim said. “Unfortunately, when you’re going against Scottie, who I know very, very well, I knew that today I had to play really good golf and I felt like I did. It got tough out there with the wind, but I fought hard.”

Give credit to Kim. He has shown in very little time he is a fledging global superstar, and in a moment where many would have withered he responded with gumption on the 18th. Yet after his round Kim was paralyzed in stoic acceptance. He had given his best, and it wasn’t good enough. Kim knew what the rest of golf has discovered. Drama is fun, but ultimately, it genuflects to dominance.