What Does It Take to Make the Next Golf Superstar?

The challenges of covering Scottie Scheffler

Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler smiles in a plaid tartan jacket with the trophy following his victory during the continuation of the final round of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

Every sport has an abunance of talented players — but a far lower percentage of them can become superstars, the sort of celebrity athlete whose name resonates with people who don’t follow a given sport. Players like Shohei Ohtani and Kylian Mbappé have ascended into that pantheon; plenty of their peers have not. But there’s another part to that equation as well: besides talent, what else does it take for an athlete to reach that rarefied place?

When it comes to golf and golfers, a recent conference call with ESPN’s analysts in the lead-up to the PGA Championship offered some clarity in that very department. One of the subjects was Scottie Scheffler — the 27-year-old golfer currently ranked number one in the world. Scott Van Pelt’s comments on the challenges of covering Scheffler offered some insight into the makings of a sports star.

“[H]e’s a totally different human. There’s this sort of Zen, this calm. He’s very unimpressed by himself, and he’s just outwardly not a guy that’s — he’s not screaming ‘look at me’ with the personality that he brings,” Van Pelt said. “It’s almost the opposite. He’s content to not let you watch or pay attention at all until Sunday when he slips on a jacket or gets another trophy.”

Van Pelt then clarified that he didn’t mean that as a critique of Scheffler — and that he admired him for “[understanding] exactly who he is.” He pivoted from there to discussing the nature of athletic stardom — especially from a coverage perspective. “[W]e’re always looking for that person that we can say reminds us of this person,” he said.

“No one is going to remind us of Tiger, but the genius of Scottie and the excellence of Scottie, he wins another one, man, he goes to Valhalla and wins, what would we be willing to say when they go to Pinehurst?” he added. “You can say anything you want, and none of it would seem like hyperbole.”

Ratings Show Scottie Scheffler’s Golf Stardom Is Far From Confirmed
Ratings for his second Masters win in three years were down 20% from last year

There’s also an element of caution in trying to anoint a new icon in a given sport. The last few decades have abounded with cautionary tales; more broadly, there’s also the potential for fans and viewers to push back if they feel like they’re being manipulated. Van Pelt’s comments also bring up another challenge for broadcasters as well: what if a clearly talented athlete’s approach to their sport isn’t the most TV-friendly? It’s an issue that comes up whenever there’s a changing of the guard in a given sport.

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