Despite all the sturm und drang over the “sanctity of par,” the “half-stroke penalty of the rough” and the pressing desire of course setup types to “get every club in the bag dirty” as if they were fiendishly conducting some kind of torture experiment disguised as a morality play, the U.S. Open really is the most hopeful of majors.

I say this not because, back in 2022, it was the first major in about a decade of trying that I correctly predicted the winner, ending a 0-for-37 run that should at least have had me relegated to the steno pool of golf journalists. No, the U.S. Open resonates with possibility obviously because of its egalitarian nature with those 10,000 entrants believing they might pull off a Tin Cup-like feat. But more than that, I think there is something to its place on the calendar. That first half of June, post Memorial Day but pre-Fourth of July, finds us thinking that a summer of forever lies in front of us. Vacation, and all it implies lingers on the horizon like the entry drive into the best new golf course you’ve never played or the faraway sounds of an ice cream truck getting closer.

The aura of the timing of a U.S. Open imbues everything with a new range of prospect and portent where we believe our best golf might still be possible, where our dad really is the smartest man we will ever know, or at another younger part of our lives, where there still is a kind of romance surrounding self-discovery and hopefulness and the chill-bumps of what will one day be the nostalgia that lets us sleep well at night no matter the trials of the day.

Or maybe I’ve watched “Summer of ’42” just one too many times. But then who hasn’t?

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Moving on. The mission come major championship time is to incorrectly pick a winner, and there is none better at it than me. I am the same kind of gift to bad procrastination as, well, Leonard (“Mr. Spock”) Nimoy was to pop music. Or what High Key is to chocolate chip cookies (if I wanted only one net carb from my cookies, I’d prefer eating the box). Or what William Henry Harrison was to the U.S. Presidency (a misplaced stroke of good fortune that led simply to, well, White House doctors prescribing double doses of opium). Note: “Double doses of opium” is what my editors have long assumed is my actual method for selecting a major championship winner.

As it turns out, unlike the former President, I do have a process that is rooted in logic, and surprisingly not in camphor, laudanum and septic shock. (Pro tip: When you live downstream from sewage, best not to double fist the branch water, if you know what I mean.)

Indeed, when you’re talking about a U.S. Open at a scorched earth Pinehurst No. 2 and you’re looking for a likely candidate for victory, you need someone who hits more greens than a vegan at a Joshua Tree farmer’s market, scrambles like an industrial-sized EggCheff (trust me, it pays for itself) and putts fast greens with the casually indifferent grace of Max Verstappen whirring through a Chipotle drive-thru. I know Formula 1 at about the same level as I know the benefits of the Putter Boy Pedicure, but Scottie Scheffler is Mad Max in golf slacks. Or he would be if he does what he’s been doing for another three years in a row. Thankfully, it’s not quite a given that Scheffler will win another major, although it’s close, especially since the gendarmes in Moore County, N.C., understand hospitality with a more evolved sense of purpose than Buford T. Pusser and friends with the Louisville PD.

I would like to think, though, that I might find a way for Scheffler to not fully execute the inevitable. (Note: “fully execute the inevitable” was how my freshman calculus professor explained to me after my first week the extreme likelihood that I would not pass his class. Made that first Parents Weekend extra special, as I recall …) While local police were the likely 15th club that prevented Scheffler winning last month’s PGA Championship, are there really any legitimate hurdles that could be scattered in Mr. Inevitable’s way this time?

What makes all of Scheffler’s incredible-ness so matter-of-fact, of course, is the statistical certainty of all of him. I just looked and he’s in the top five in 47 different statistical categories. The only person who’s doing better is Beyoncé. And she can’t putt, either.

Scottie Scheffler

Logan Whitton

As good as Scheffler is, though, golf of course rarely lends itself to complete dominance. Tiger Woods has lost 277 times out of his 359 career starts, and at the height of his powers (1999-2003 and 2005-2009) he won only 33 and 41 percent of the time. Meaning? He lost much more than he won. Right now, Scheffler, of course, loses about as often as I remember to turn my blinker off.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Scheffler and his dominance. His Marshall Dillon style and Andy Taylor demeanor are what this entirely mixed-up world needs, in heavy doses. He may be as hip as Steve Douglas or Ward Cleaver or Richie Cunningham, but I like a guy who knows Job No. 1 is husband, father, friend. The rest is just bacon and ice cream. He doesn’t have to have a YouTube channel, and when he throws a fist pump upper cut, it’s to win a tournament, not to tie one, or worse, drive a green left-handed, with his dog and a GoPro Hero12 at the ready. Scheffler’s a lunch-pail guy, working in his field, sharing his WonderBread PB&J with you without asking and probably still thinks GoPro is just what he did in 2018. Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold.

But he’s not going to win everything, every time. In my statistical calculation (and I realize I’m saying that like it’s a thing, which it clearly is not), the winner at Pinehurst No. 2 should be someone who’s really good at those three above skill sets. And while you would think Scheffler is the best by far, he in fact isn’t. If you look at the rankings for Strokes Gained Approach, Around the Green and Putting, Scheffler is as it turns out not universally in first place. Or at least not the way I looked at it.

Because the winner of the U.S. Open over the last decade has ranked no worse than 32nd in the Official World Golf Ranking, I eliminated everyone who was worse than that. That included Gordon Sargent, who when he grows up (in another year or two) very well might be Scottie Scheffler 2.0. But he won’t win this week, not yet.

No, what really might be exciting for golf (and for Scheffler), what might make him even more amazing, is a flat-out legitimate rival, someone who’s ready to elevate his game now that he’s shown he can stand tall on the biggest stage. Xander Schauffele is slightly behind Scheffler in Strokes Gained Approach and Around the Green, but he’s significantly better with the putter. That may be the difference at Pinehurst No. 2 where the greens already seem to be dialed up to a Spinal Tap 11. With hardly a drop of rain in sight for the week and players already de-greening putts in practice rounds, maybe someone with the steadier hand of recently fulfilled expectations is just the answer the season of Scheffler has been waiting for. The U.S. Open may be the most hopeful of majors, but Pinehurst No. 2 will require a certainty, a Resolute Desk full of confidence and wisdom.


Sean M. Haffey

Schauffele, as they say, has joined the chat. Scheffeler, and all of golf, will be the better for it.


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