How Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm have separated themselves from the pack
5 Min Read
Written by Justin Ray, @JustinRayGolf
When Scottie Scheffler defeated Jon Rahm in Sunday singles at the 2021 Ryder Cup, few then believed we were getting the opening chapter of a new rivalry at the top of the game.
Less than two years later, when Scheffler helped Rahm into his green jacket the duo had become the clear top two players in men’s golf, distancing themselves from even the best among their peers.
There’s a small mountain of empirical evidence to back up that claim, from the official earnings leaderboard to the strokes gained metric of your choosing. The co-favorites to win the PGA Championship this week, Rahm and Scheffler have grown into the two most fearsome forces teeing it up at Oak Hill.
Top Two This Season
Let’s start with a quick summation of just a few of the statistics these two are ranked first and second in this season.
In new-age, performance-based ball-striking metrics? Scheffler leads the TOUR in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, while Rahm is second.
Do you prefer more traditional stats? Scheffler ranks first in greens in regulation, with Rahm right behind.
It’s all about the results, though, right? Rahm has the top spot in scoring average (68.63), Scheffler is right behind (69.09). In official earnings, the FedExCup standings and the Official World Golf Ranking, it’s the same story – Rahm first, Scheffler very close in second.
|PGA Tour Ranks This Season|
|Greens in regulation||2nd||1st|
|Par 4 scoring||2nd||1st|
|Front 9 scoring||1st||2nd|
|Back 9 scoring||1st||2nd|
Statistical leaders in major championships
It’s not just the 2022-23 regular season that has Rahm and Scheffler occupying the top two spots on the board statistically. Looking into recent numbers at the major championships, the last two Masters winners pepper the top two places on almost every list you can come up with.
Since the beginning of 2020, Scheffler is a combined 48-under in major championships, best of any player. Rahm is second in that span, at 39-under. Since 2019, Rahm has the best scoring average in the majors, at 70.23. Scheffler is right behind him by about a one-thousandth of a stroke. Rahm leads all qualified players in bogey avoidance at major championships since 2020 (3.00 per round), while Scheffler is a close second (3.03). Rahm has made 176 birdies-or-better in the majors since the 2020 PGA Championship began, most of any player. Scheffler ranks second in that span, with 173.
|Fewest Bogeys or Worse Per Round - In Majors Since 2020|
|*Minimum 30 rounds played in span|
Where Rahm has gotten even better
Back in 2017-18, Rahm ranked second on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and 147th in Strokes Gained: Putting. Rahm is still an elite driver of the ball – he’s 19th this season in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee – but his putting has improved so much that he’s gaining more strokes per round on the greens (+0.74) than with his most acclaimed weapon (+0.57).
Rahm is currently ranked 7th this season in Strokes Gained: Putting, a far cry from where he was in his earliest days as a professional. His gradual improvement on the greens has been the final piece in unlocking a career-best season to date: over the last three seasons, in the statistic that measures the amount of feet made of putts per round, Rahm has gone from 76th in 2021, to 39th last season, to 5th in 2023.
|Jon Rahm - PGA TOUR Putting Ranks Last 3 Seasons|
|Strokes Gained: Putting||42nd||28th||7th|
|Average distance of putts made||76th||39th||5th|
|Putts per G.I.R.||25th||121st||2nd|
In his win at The Masters, Rahm gained nearly two full strokes per round on the greens. In his previous TOUR start at the Mexico Open at Vidanta, Rahm ranked second in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting, picking up more than two strokes per round on the field with the shortest club in his bag. From 2018 through 2022, Rahm gained strokes on the field putting in 63 percent of his measured PGA TOUR starts. That number is up to 73 percent in 2022-23.
Scheffler’s biggest improvement
From 2021 to 2022 seasons, the quantum leap made by Scheffler in his game was with his approach play. Scottie went from an above-average iron player (83rd in Strokes Gained: Approach in the 2020-21 season) to an incredible one (4th in 2021-22), vaulting from the mid-40s on TOUR in greens in regulation percentage to the number one spot in his breakthrough campaign.
Scheffler has made a similar jump in 2023, but with his performance off the tee. In his first three full seasons on TOUR, Scheffler was no slouch with his driver, ranking in the top-40 in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee in each season. But this year? Scottie leads the TOUR in the statistic, picking up nearly an entire stroke per round with his tee shots on par fours and fives.
It hasn’t been a Matt Fitzpatrick-like gain in length that has resulted in this change: Scheffler has comparable averages and rankings in average driving distance and average carry yardage of tee shots in 2023 compared to last year. Rather, Scheffler is far more accurate off the tee now, almost completely eliminating the miss to the right side. In 2022, Scheffler ranked 46th in right rough avoidance, a metric that measures how often players miss the fairway to that side of a hole. This season, he’s ranked second in that statistic.
|Scottie Scheffler Off the Tee - Ranks Last 2 Seasons|
|Fairways hit Pct||100th||22nd|
|Right rough tendency||46th||2nd|
This improvement, coupled with what he continues to do with his iron play, has generated some gaudy ball-striking numbers for the world No. 2. The gap between Scheffler’s Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green average this season (2.31) and the man in second on the list, Rahm (1.88) is larger than the distance between Rahm and No. 7, Xander Schauffele (1.51). At THE PLAYERS, Scheffler became the first winner in tournament history to lead the field in both driving distance and greens in regulation.
The world’s two best players are still finding ways to better themselves, a frightening proposition for the rest of the sport’s competitors.