TRUCKEE, Calif. –– Scottie Scheffler said in February that if he kept giving himself chances to win, it would eventually happen.
He no longer has to worry about when that time will come.
Scheffler defeated Davis Riley, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole final of the 66th U.S. Junior Amateur Saturday, closing out the match with par after Riley called a penalty on himself at the par-4 16th hole at Martis Camp Club.
“I’d always come in the top 10, but I’d never win,” said Scheffler, who prior to Saturday had four runner-up finishes in his last six national tournaments, including at the Polo Golf Junior Classic last November when he lost to Adam Wood in the match-play final.
“During the tournaments, I don’t really think about (all the close calls). If I came in second, then I would think about it.”
Instead of dwelling on another runner-up finish Saturday afternoon, Scheffler found himself giving a victory speech on the 18th green, posing for photos with the winner’s trophy and receiving congratulations from the few hundred people who watched him notch his first major junior victory.
“I played pretty well down the stretch,” Scheffler said. “In the morning round, I gave away a lot of shots and I struggled with the putting a little bit early. Then I started to figure it out.”
Scheffler trailed for most of the match before Riley three-putted for bogey from just off the green at the par-4 13th hole. Scheffler lipped out a par putt at the par-4 ninth during the afternoon portion to go 2 down with nine holes to play. Four holes later, at No. 13, it was Riley catching the edge on his par save.
The hole would be the first of four that Scheffler would win to close out the match.
He took his first lead on the 32nd hole, the par-3 14th, by making a birdie putt from up against the collar. Before his tee shot, Scheffler said he was thinking about his friend James Ragan, who is battling pediatric bone cancer.
Ragan, who was given three months to a year to live last summer, texted Scheffler a few times throughout the week, wishing him good luck and telling him to keep up the good play.
“He really came into my mind on (No.) 14,” Scheffler said. “That shot I hit, I got really lucky. That wedge shouldn’t have been able to stay on the green.
“I don’t know how it flew that far and I don’t know how it stopped.”
No. 14 had been kind to Scheffler before. He stuck his tee shot to about 2 feet to close out his semifinal victory over Doug Ghim on Friday. Then he made a 30-footer for birdie on the hole Saturday morning.
“That hole has been pretty good to me,” Scheffler said.
Scheffler bombed his drive down the middle of the fairway at the par-5 15th hole and then hit his second shot on the green to set up a two-putt par. Riley also found the green in two, but three-putted again, this time leaving his 9-footer for par just short.
On the final hole of the match, Scheffler took the conservative route, hitting iron at the short par-4 16th. It was something he did in the morning to par the hole. Riley was also in the same spot he was in earlier off the tee, opting for driver and hitting it into the fairway left of the green.
After Scheffler’s approach just stayed on the fringe – another couples inches and it would have rolled down into the fairway left of the green – Riley’s approach sailed a little long and onto the right fringe.
Then came the penalty. Riley’s ball came to rest near a sprinkler head. He didn’t take relief, instead choosing to putt the ball about 30 feet to the cup. But as he addressed his ball, it moved.
Riley immediately called the penalty on himself before putting to about 8 feet short of the hole. He was conceded the bogey and Scheffler knocked his birdie try close to earn the hole and the match.
“I addressed it and it rolled a little bit, so I got a stroke penalty,” Riley said. “It is what it is. I thought it was a pretty decent lie, so I just stuck with it.”
Said Scheffler: “He called a penalty on himself. It takes a lot of heart to do that.”
Early on, it looked as if Riley, who had played consistent all week, would be the one coming away with the biggest victory of his career.
Scheffler’s double bogey on the par-4 opening hole gave Riley an initial 1-up lead. Riley then went 3 up after Scheffler’s bogey at the par-4 sixth hole. And despite Scheffler coming back with wins at Nos. 6-7, Riley never relinquished his lead during the opening 18 holes.
At the final hole before the lunch break, the par-4 18th, Riley found the left fairway bunker. But after Scheffler stuck his approach to a few feet, Riley put it to 9 feet out of the sand and made the birdie putt to keep his 1-up lead heading into the second half of the match.
“I figured out that I’m a really strong, tough competitor and really consistent,” Riley said. “Hopefully next year it will go my way.”
Scheffler’s putter never really got going on Saturday, as he missed several putts that ran just by the hole. He didn’t need to use the flat stick at the par-4 fifth hole in the afternoon, though, as he chipped in for birdie to square the match for the first time.
Even when he went 2 down four holes later when his putter failed him at No. 9, Scheffler didn’t get rattled. He did admit that he was nervous during the opening hole, and that it was hard getting used to all the cameras and people.
“I don’t think my hands have been shaking so much in all my life,” Scheffler said.
But he quickly got over it. After all, he’s been in the hunt in big tournaments many times.
“I stayed pretty level-headed today,” Scheffler said.
Scheffler is normally the type of player who tends to rush a little on the course. His caddie, 73-year-old David Harmon, helped calm things down.
“He’s probably the best caddie I ever had because he was probably the worst caddie, honestly, because he got to the ball, put the bag down and I got the club out, and when we got on the green, he grabbed the pin,” Scheffler said of Harmon, who looped all 13 rounds – practice rounds included – for Scheffler this week despite suffering from severe blisters on his feet.
“I mean, we talked, but he wasn’t telling me how to play shots. It was good. We did (talk) whenever I did something stupid or got kind of greedy. Sometimes I start playing a little too quick when I’m nervous, but I couldn’t with him. I’d get to the ball, I’d get my yardage and prepare for the shot. (Then) he would show up, I would grab the club and shoot.”
Scheffler, who lives in Dallas, is now the fifth different player from Texas to win the U.S. Junior since Hunter Mahan won in 1999. Matthew Rosenfeld (2000), Cory Whitsett (2007) and Jordan Spieth (2009, 2011) are the other three.
Scheffler couldn’t really explain why Texans have had so much success at this event – “I think you learn how to hit a bunch of shots (in Texas),” he guessed. He also didn’t know where he’d hang his gold medal – “I hope I don’t lose it,” he quipped.
He was certain about one thing, though. His victory Saturday was the biggest victory of his career, and it couldn’t have come on a better stage.
“It’s a good way to get my first (big) win,” said Scheffler, who has two state titles playing for his high school, Highland Park, and has also won a few Texas Legends Junior Tour events.
“It’s a good spot.”
That it was. And now Scheffler has earned his spot in USGA history.