Maybe it's because he's a bit older than some of the young studs on the PGA Tour, or maybe it's because his brand might be to not have a brand at all, but as he makes his first start of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, it seems curious Scottie Scheffler is not more talked about in the world of professional golf.
Scheffler is not young by young player standards, but he is great even by great player standards. Data Golf has him ranked as the No. 8 player on the planet, just behind Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy. Over the last three months, he has a better strokes-gained number than McIlroy, Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed and Viktor Hovland. He is also the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, and far and away the favorite this week at the Sanderson Farms Championship after missing the U.S. Open at Winged Foot because of a positive COVID-19 test.
While it's not as sexy to tab a 24-year old as the next big thing, Scheffler still has some growing and learning to do on the PGA Tour, just as all rookies do. His career trajectory is not set in stone. The career comps are eye-opening, though, if you're into that kind of thing. Here's how Data Golf sees his career going forward. The upper and lower limits are astonishing. When you can either be Andrew Buckle or Lee Westwood, there is a lot going on.
There's a path forward for Scheffler that includes him as a top 10 player in the world for much of the next decade both from the data and from actually watching him play. It might not be the most likely path, but Scheffler's best skills are the skills most necessary to succeed on the PGA Tour. He finished 10th on the PGA Tour last year in strokes gained off the tee and from tee to green. You're going to make a lot of money if that's the neighborhood you're hanging out in.
The projected future chart above with names like Casey and Schauffele on it takes into account all the rounds Scheffler played as a 23-year-old. What it does not take into account is the fact that over the last three months -- all since turning 24 -- Scheffler has gone from averaging about 0.5 strokes per round better than the field to about 1.8 strokes gained per round, which is a Westwood-ian number. His career path will look a lot different this time next year if he keeps that up.
We may be seeing a simple short-term heater, or we may be seeing "the leap" unfold in front of us. His recent three-month (and six-month) improvement has caused his true strokes gained numbers to go from the equivalent of an above-average pro to closer to a top-five player in the world (see below).
The PGA Tour Rookie of the Year award is significant, too. That list includes some names over the past 30 years, including the following.
- Xander Schauffele (2017)
- Daniel Berger (2015)
- Jordan Spieth (2013)
- Rickie Fowler (2010)
- Tiger Woods (1996)
- Ernie Els (1994)
- Vijay Singh (1993)
It remains to be seen which direction Scheffler's career will go in, but hopefully we don't undervalue the possibilities here. "The leap" so often happens at the highest level of pro sports from Year 1 to Year 2, and Scheffler is in that sweet spot. Scheffler has been, by most measures, the best player in the world under age 25 over the last three months and over the last six months. Whether that continues -- with so many stars and superstars around him -- will tell us a lot about whether Scheffler is indeed an above-average player or whether he's going to eventually be a top-five player in the world.