Assumptions, distractions or “mentality monsters” – athletes deal with pressure in their own unique way.
Calmness in the face of adversity had been Scottie Scheffler’s calling card over the first three days of the Masters.
An errant shot didn’t seem to bother him, almost losing his ball on the 54th hole was like water off a duck’s back; even battling with his jacket around the Augusta National course during the third round seemed manageable, despite how awkward it looked in the blustery wind.
But with 18 holes standing between him and his first major victory and a famous green jacket, the pressure of being the Masters leader began to weigh.
Even with a three-shot advantage going into the final day, a supper snafu on the Saturday evening unsettled Scheffer.
“We (Scheffler and his wife, Meredith) went and got some food. I spilled my dinner in the car on the way home, and that was extraordinarily frustrating,” a smiling Scheffler told the media.
“You can see Meredith is still laughing at me. She thought it was the funniest thing ever; I didn’t think it was so funny at the time.”
Although he describes that evening as “fine,” the morning after was “a totally different story.”
“I cried like a baby this morning. I was so stressed out,” the 25-year-old explained. “I didn’t know what to do.
“I was sitting there telling Meredith: ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this. I’m not ready, I don’t feel like I’m ready for this kind of stuff,’ and I just felt overwhelmed. She told me: ‘Who are you to say that you are not ready?’ Gosh, it was a long morning.”
It has been a transformative few months for the American.
In February, Scheffler didn’t have a PGA Tour victory to his name. Now, he is a Masters champion and world No. 1.
He came into April’s Masters as one of the favorites after a stretch of three wins in five tournament starts had catapulted him from PGA Tour journeyman to superstar.
Scheffler channeled that form at Augusta National, managing to remain calm under significant pressure.
While others crumbled around him, Scheffler maintained an even keel, despite his “stomach hurting for two days straight,” such was the growing pressure and sense of expectation.
Scheffler remembers that when he played at college and featured at a few US Opens, he used to “have indigestion like the week and a half leading up to them” and used to take pills to try and settle his stomach.
Asked afterwards why he felt so nervous before playing, Scheffler explained the prestige of the tournament played apart.
“I dreamed of having a chance to play in this golf tournament. I teared up the first time I got my invitation in the mail,” he said. “We were fortunate enough to play here in college, and I love this place.
“I love this golf course. If you’re going to choose a golf tournament to win, this would be the tournament I would want to win. You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get.
“And so having a chance, I think I had a five-shot lead on Friday and then a three-shot lead going into Sunday, I don’t know if you get better opportunities than that. You don’t want to waste them.
“The human condition is to make things bigger than they really are. And years from now, I would say people may not remember me as a champion, and that’s fine. But in the moment, you think it’s a lot bigger deal than it really is.”
But as has often been the case for Scheffler, he found “peace” out on the course.
“I think the hardest stuff is off the golf course. When I’m out there and once we get into the round, pretty much after parring the first hole I was settled in. I felt good.”
Battling tough weather conditions during the opening three rounds, Scheffler was able to build a sizeable lead and held a three-shot advantage over Australian Cameron Smith heading into Sunday.
After a few nervous opening holes, in which Smith narrowed the lead to just one, Scheffler reasserted his dominance, starting with a delightful chip-in on the third hole for a birdie.
While others faltered and slipped away, Scheffler never looked fazed and slowly tightened his grip on his debut major.
“It was definitely nice to build up a lead. Nothing is safe out there on the back nine on this golf course.
“I’ve heard all the things that everybody says, it doesn’t start till the back nine on Sunday, anything can happen, don’t hit in the water on 12, all the stuff. I just blocked most of that out and tried to execute and hit good golf shots.”
It was only on the 18th green of the Sunday, with his lead unassailable and the green jacket being fitted for his measurements, that Scheffler felt able to relax.
“I didn’t break my concentration until we got onto the green on 18. Once we got on to the green, I was like: ‘All right, I’m going to enjoy this.’”
Left with just a short par putt to etch his name into the history book, Scheffler missed by the smallest of margins, leaving himself another short putt to wrap it up.
Then to the surprise of everyone watching – and Scheffler himself – his putt hit the rim of the cup before veering away.
“Hard to believe what you’ve just seen,” Sky Sports commentator Ewen Murray said in bewilderment.
Scheffler was finally able to roll home that winning putt, with the crowd erupting in celebration as the latest Masters champion was crowned.
Scheffler shared emotional moments with wife Meredith and father Scott as he made his way off the green, shortly before trying on his latest item of clothing – the green jacket given to the winner of the Masters.
“The reason why I play golf is I’m trying to glorify God and all that He’s done in my life. So for me, my identity isn’t a golf score,” added Scheffler.
“Like Meredith told me this morning: ‘If you win this golf tournament today, if you lose this golf tournament by 10 shots, if you never win another golf tournament again,’ she goes, ‘I’m still going to love you, you’re still going to be the same person, Jesus loves you and nothing changes.’
“All I’m trying to do is glorify God and that’s why I’m here … it’s not about a golf score.”