By Tim Liotta
Has Scottie Scheffler solved his one weakness going into 2024?
Wins aside, Scottie Scheffler's 2023 season was one of the best professional golf seasons ever.
Sure, Jon Rahm won four times, including his second major championship, and Viktor Hovland won three times, including the Tour Championship, but Scheffler achieved a level of consistency that makes his 2023 win total of three seem paltry.
Scheffler's ball striking statistics in 2023 were astounding. His Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green average of 2.62 per round is the second-best mark ever recorded in the 20 years the PGA Tour has compiled the statistic.
Only Tiger Woods has had a season gaining more per round, a 2.98 average in 2006. That year, Tiger won eight times in 15 starts.
Scheffler also became the first player in the Strokes Gained era to finish a season leading the TOUR in both SG: Off-the-Tee and SG: Approach. Not to mention his adjusted scoring average of 68.63, the seventh-lowest in TOUR history and best by anyone not named Tiger.
Woods owns the top-six spots on the all-time list (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2009).
True, Scottie did win the WM Phoenix Open, perhaps the PGA Tour's most popular event, in February, and the Tour's biggest event, the Players Championship, in March, but then strung together 14 performances in which he turned in nine top-5 finishes, along with a T6, T10 and T11.
All this while ranking 162nd on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting. From eight-to-12 feet, he ranked 185th.
"I was very proud of my consistency, I think that was the thing I was definitely the most proud of," Scheffler said prior to playing in the Hero Challenge in November. "I was near the top of most of the events that I played in. And I'm sure if you looked at like a winning percentage against the other guys out here in terms of like if you look at an individual win loss, it was very good and I'm very proud of that consistency, but like I said, I definitely want to win more."
Prior to his 2023 drought - if you can call it that - Scheffler did not have trouble winning golf tournaments. His victory in the Players Championship in March was Scheffler’s sixth on the PGA TOUR, and it came just 392 days after he picked up his first TOUR title at the 2022 WM Phoenix Open. Only three players in the previous 60 years had shorter gaps between wins one and six - Woods (273 days), Nicklaus (322) and David Duval (332).
Wins aside, Scheffler's major championship record so far looks awfully similar to not only Woods, but Jack Nicklaus.
In the 14 major championship beginning with the time Scheffler first contended at a major - a second-place finish at the 2020 PGA Championship - Scottie has finished in the top-25 thirteen times, with two seconds, one third, five top-fives, and nine top-10s. He has won one major - the 2022 Masters Tournament.
In the 14 major championships beginning with his 1997 Masters victory - his first major as a professional - Tiger Woods finished in the top-25 thirteen times, with one third, five top-fives, and nine top 10s. Tiger won four major championships during that span.
In the 14 major championships beginning with the first time he contended - a second-place finish in the 1960 U.S. Open - Jack Nicklaus finished in the top-25 twelve times, with three seconds, two thirds, nine top-5s, and ten top-10s. Jack won three majors during that span.
So, intent on winning more moving forward, the day after the Tour Championship in August, Scheffler put in a call to putting coach Phil Kenyon, and the two have been working together since prior to the Ryder Cup.
"So I would say the stuff that we put in place when I saw him before the Ryder Cup is the same stuff we're working on now," Scheffler said. "I saw him two full days in Dallas before Ryder Cup and since then he's come to Dallas one for time for two days to work, and he's here this week. A lot of it's been done over video."
When Scheffler played in his first PGA Tour event two months later - the Hero Challenge - a solid putting performance - not a single three-putt - catapaulted him to a three-shot victory. He summed up his new putting approach after the second round.
"I feel as if I'm much more clear in what I need to be working on and a lot of that has to do with how I'm set up over the ball," Scheffler said. "When I'm set up in the right position, then I feel like my mechanics are really good.
"That's what I'm focused on. I'm not focused on setting up perfectly. I have my feels that I'm trying to get to in the setup and then not trying to be perfect, just trying to hit good putts."
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"Putting's one of those things, I think what Phil has helped me the most with is just getting a clear mind," Scheffler said. "Right now I feel like my mechanics are in a good place to where I can use my athletic ability instead of using it more as a crutch, kind of overusing my athletic ability. It's kind of hard to explain, but I felt like I was using too much, like too much hands and stuff like that in my stroke.
"That's something I also battled with my swing when I was in college. I found myself in certain mechanical positions in my swing that I was having to use my hands so much that they became more of a hindrance, if that makes sense. My swing in college I would get really far underneath and I would feel the club back there, feel it open and I would use my hands and I fought a hook all of college from swinging underneath and using my hand to flip it over.
"My putting was something where I got out of position in my backstroke and I was having to use my hands too much. That's where I got a little bit of the heel strike that I fought a little bit this year and some pulled putts. So now I feel like Phil has helped me get into place where my mechanics are good enough where I can kind of turn off and use my athletic ability to kind of help ... Now I feel like I'm in a place with my putting where I can use my feel, my instincts to kind of turn off and just go there and try and hit putts and be OK with the result whether it goes in or doesn't."
If Scheffler cruising to a three-shot victory at the Hero Challenge in November after taking six weeks off is a sign of things to come, look out.