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13D AGO

Scottie Scheffler’s victory at the Memorial presented by Workday shows how far he’s come

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    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    DUBLIN, Ohio – Not long ago, Scottie Scheffler wasn’t winning. Well, wasn’t is harsh. He wasn’t winning enough – not for someone lapping the field from tee to green at a rate not seen since peak Tiger Woods. That type of prowess is historically accompanied by at least a half dozen victories, including a major championship or two, and proclamations of generational stardom.

    Instead, Scheffler’s 2023 was defined mainly by what he didn’t do. His two wins should’ve been six. His close calls in majors should’ve yielded at least one victory, and his tightly contested battle with Jon Rahm for Player of the Year should’ve been a runaway race.

    See, the world loves to poke holes in greatness and Scheffler had one rather glaring bugaboo that was rightly picked apart: his putting. As invincible as he looked with a driver, iron or wedge in his hands, the cloak dropped when Scheffler stepped on the green. Suddenly, he was human. All the drama shifted from the approach shot to the putt. The exceptional wedge to 5 feet was expected. Whether or not he made the birdie putt became the riveting question. With cameras tightly focused on Scheffler’s putter head, we watched balls veer offline and saw an exasperated Scheffler as the camera panned up. He insisted he was improving and that the fix was not far off, but the stats showed a man without answers.

    It came to a head at last year’s Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, where Scheffler strung together his magnum opus from tee to green, gaining 20.7 strokes on the field, the second-best ball striking performance of anyone in the previous 20 years on the PGA TOUR. Yet he stood on the 18th green down by one shot and watched as his 15-foot birdie to go to a playoff slid by the cup, a familiar sight. He lost more than eight strokes on the greens that week, the worst mark in the field. In a year full of putting disappointment, no shortcoming better encapsulated Scheffler’s season – historically great ball-striking and historically poor putting. As he walked off the green, Jack Nicklaus stopped him and said, “(You) didn't make the putt today, but one day (you’ll) make the putt.”

    So, as Scheffler poured in a slippery 5-foot par putt on the 18th to win this year’s Memorial by one over Collin Morikawa, it was a reminder of just how far Scheffler has come, with his putter and his place in the sport.


    Scottie Scheffler pars the last to hold on and win the Memorial


    Jack was right. This time, the putt went in.

    “It was pretty special thinking about that as I was walking over to shake (Jack’s) hand today,” said Scheffler after his final-round 74. “Yeah, it was a fun week.”

    Scheffler is displaying domination only a few men – Nicklaus included – have conjured. Everything that seemed possible a year ago, but fell just out of reach, has come true. Scheffler is the commanding force in men’s golf with no sign of slowing down, regardless of off-course circumstances that would have spurned lesser competitors.

    Scheffler’s win at Jack’s Place was his fifth of the season, the first to reach the milestone since Justin Thomas in the 2017 season. He is the first to win five times before the U.S. Open since Tom Watson in 1980, and Scheffler enters the year’s third major at Pinehurst No. 2 as the overwhelming favorite. With 3-1 betting odds, Scheffler holds the lowest odds entering a major championship since Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship.

    “It’s not luck and it’s not just a run,” said Tom Kim, close friends with Scheffler. “It’s a consistency that’s unbelievable. He gets better every day. He's Tiger-esque.”

    In a matter of three months, Scheffler has gone from one of the best in the world to the unrivaled pinnacle that everyone is chasing. He has won this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, THE PLAYERS Championship, the Masters, the RBC Heritage and the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday. Winning those five events in a career would deliver a lasting imprint on the sport. Scheffler accomplished it all in one season.

    He has done it amidst his fair share of distractions. Some were good, like the birth of his first child, Bennett. Others were worse. He’s dealt with increasing comparisons to titans of the sport, a la Woods and Nicklaus, a pressure that has crushed others through time. Then, there was the incident outside Valhalla Golf Club during the PGA Championship that led to Scheffler’s arrest. Scheffler still finished T8. Then he carded a runner-up at the Charles Schwab Challenge, both while the case was ongoing and as he dealt with the emotions of Grayson Murray’s passing.

    Scheffler was undeterred by any of it. His greatness persisted.

    “I don't know how he does it,” Scheffler’s caddie Ted Scott said. “With what happened at Louisville and then the tragedy with Grayson, that really affected him a lot. So yeah, it's been a whirlwind of emotions for the last month, but sometimes it's probably a safe place to go, you get in contention and you’re just focused on what you’re trying to do and can get away from the noise.”


    Scottie Scheffler battles tough course conditions to win the Memorial


    His mental toughness has kept Scheffler grounded, though that’s a characteristic the world No. 1 has carried much longer than a few months. The biggest on-course variable that shifted was the putter.

    When the struggles popped up last year, Scheffler initially avoided making significant changes. He kept at it with his normal blade putter, utilizing the same drills with Randy Smith that he used since childhood. He contended he was hitting good putts that weren’t falling, but as the struggles accumulated, it became hard to justify that small changes were all that was needed.

    “I tried to do my best to block out the noise, but it was tough coming in here every week and having to answer questions about my putting. It's like, listen guys, I'm doing the best I can, I promise,” Scheffler said with a laugh.

    Scheffler ranked 161st in Strokes Gained: Putting last season. His struggles were notable to his friends, too.

    “I saw a lot of frustration there,” Kim said. “Even in practice, you could just see him grinding on the putting. He's come a long way.”

    In September, Scheffler sought the help of putting coach Phil Kenyon, notable given Scheffler had never worked with anyone other than Smith. Kenyon worked with Scheffler on refining his technique and once that was solid and repeatable, they prioritized feeling athletic instead of being robotic. Scheffler won the Hero World Challenge in December, his first stroke-play event alongside Kenyon, but the woes weren’t corrected until February. That’s when Scheffler switched from his blade putter to a mallet. He won four of his next five starts, including THE PLAYERS and the Masters. He's 71st in SG: Putting this season – far from exceptional but plenty good to support his generational tee-to-green statistics.

    “I wouldn't trade those weeks that I had back or the year I had last year, just because I felt like I learned a lot about myself and what makes me tick and I think it made me a better player today,” said Scheffler. “A lot of the challenges in this game, I think, can only toughen me up.”


    Scottie Scheffler’s interview after winning the Memorial


    It was an experience to fall back on during the final round. Scheffler watched as several putts lipped out or just slid by, any of which would have made Sunday’s proceedings smoother. The lead began at four shots, but by the fifth hole, it was just one. Adam Hadwin made three early birdies, and Scheffler bogeyed the fourth. His lead bounced between one and two shots all day long as Hadwin fell down the board, Morikawa charged and Scheffler couldn’t get a putt to drop. But the pivotal swing came on the 16th when Scheffler jarred a 16-foot par putt, and Morikawa missed one of a similar length. That briefly gave Scheffler a two-shot lead. The lead dropped to one after Scheffler bogeyed 17 and Morikawa made par, but the cushion was enough. Both facing short par putts on the 18th, Scheffler stepped up first, knocked down the speedy 5-footer and fist-pumped for the crowd. Morikawa’s putt didn’t matter. It was over.

    “He just knocked that ball in like champions do,” Nicklaus said.

    A champion many times over.

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