It’s Tuesday morning at Albany and the PGA TOUR is on island time.
The driving range is empty. The course is full of amateurs, not pros, prepping for their Wednesday pro-am. Media is out in droves, awaiting the arrival of Tiger Woods for his 10 a.m. press conference. Besides that, it’s hard to tell that a TOUR event will commence in 48 hours.
For the last eight years, the Woods-hosted Hero World Challenge has served as part getaway, part golf tournament for 20 of the world’s best players in the Caribbean. Situated just about a month from The Sentry, it’s a time to test and refine, not grind.
“This is a vacation week,” Matt Fitzpatrick said.
Well, unless you are Scottie Scheffler.
The world No. 1 is tucked away in the far-right corner of the practice putting green, about 100 yards from the media center where Woods is about to hold court. He arrived before Woods began his presser and was there when it was over — putting to the same hole from the same distance. Scheffler labored over 10-foot putts for about two hours, with caddie Ted Scott and newly hired putting coach Phil Kenyon monitoring nearby.
In a season that broke statistical ball-striking records, Scheffler’s putter routinely held him back from turning an elite year into a generational one. He won twice, carded 17 top-10s (the most since Vijay Singh’s 18 in 2005) and hasn’t missed a cut in 16 months. Yet, it somehow felt like he underachieved.
This week was a reminder of what Scheffler can do when his full arsenal is working. And a warning sign that 2024 could be even better, if the putting success is sustainable.
“I’m very proud with how I played today,” said Scheffler, who shot a final-round 68 to win the Hero World Challenge by three shots at 20-under 268. He ranked sixth in Strokes Gained: Putting for the week. He didn’t have any three-putts.
It’s a marked improvement from his averages. He ranked 161st in SG: Putting this season. On multiple occasions, Scheffler’s putting cost him chances to win. At the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday, Scheffler had the second-best ball striking performance of anyone in the last 20 years on the PGA TOUR, gaining 20.7 strokes over the field from tee to green. Yet he finished one shot behind winner Viktor Hovland. Why? He lost 8.5 shots to the field putting.
He finished third at the Charles Schwab Challenge despite ranking 71st of 72 players in putting. A similar story played out at the AT&T Byron Nelson, the Masters and the Genesis Scottish Open.
In his last start of the season at the TOUR Championship, Scheffler entered the week No. 1 in the FedExCup and at 10-under in the Starting Strokes format. He lost to Hovland again, this time by 16 shots. Scheffer ranked last in the field in putting.
Those scars don’t go away easily. But there’s reason to believe his performance at Albany is more than just a one-week anomaly – that it is sustainable.
Ahead of the Ryder Cup, Scheffler began working with Kenyon. In a field of 20 at the Hero World Challenge, five were pupils of Kenyon.
Kenyon saw Scheffler was often getting too handsy with his putting stroke, causing him to heel and pull putts. It was an issue that popped up in college with Scheffler’s full swing, but something he never worried about on the greens.
The two worked on striking the right balance of athleticism. Don’t be too robotic, but make sure you have sound mechanics. Focus on your setup, but don’t try to be perfect. Kenyon preaches a malleable approach in his coaching. It’s one of the things that has led high-profile players like Justin Rose, Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homa to bring him on.
“Phil is brilliant. He’s definitely the most knowledgeable person I’ve ever talked to about putting,” Homa said. “I’ve talked to people who say when they’ve worked with Phil it hasn’t been technical at all; others have said it was too technical. So he has a lot of range and once you as a player explain what you like, I feel like he has all of those capabilities to do any of it.”
Scott, Scheffler’s caddie, noticed immediate improvement. After the problem was diagnosed, it was just on Scheffler to drill it until it became automatic. Scheffler spent hours on the putting green at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club working through the mechanics and setup. It was the only event he played between the TOUR Championship and the Hero World Challenge. And while he spent much of that time trying to think as little about golf as possible, it gave him needed time to perfect his craft. Kenyon visited him again out in Dallas to iron out the kinks.
“He just kind of got off the rails a bit, needed some guidance,” Scott said.
“I’m much more clear in what I need to be working on,” Scheffler added.
He and Kenyon met multiple times this week at Albany. While the Ryder Cup was their first event together, this was their first in a stroke-play format, which makes up almost all the golf Scheffler plays. He also switched from his Scotty Cameron blade to a blade from Logan Olson, a relatively unknown bespoke putter manufacturer.
So far, so good. He finished sixth in putting despite not making much of anything on Sunday. But he didn’t need to do anything special in the final round. He held a three-shot lead overnight. After he made birdies on 6 and 7 to get to 18-under, it was just about keeping it on the rails coming in. He two-putted all but two holes (one-putt birdies on the drivable par-4 seventh and 14th). He didn’t hit a par putt longer than 3 feet in his bogey-free round.
It’s the type of in-control domination Scheffler has been known for since skyrocketing in 2022. After trading places at world No. 1 with Jon Rahm, Scheffler has firmly grasped the top spot. He has held the top spot for 62 weeks over the last 22 months. All seven of his worldwide wins have come in that timeframe.
And when he’s on, the game looks easy – sometimes dull. There was no drama with whether he would drive it well or hit his irons close. He had the best statistical ball-striking season since 2000 by anyone not named Tiger Woods. The only question was whether he would convert the putts.
“I don’t see (the putting) being a problem going forward,” Scott said.
This season, Scheffler gained strokes on the field putting in just nine of his 24 starts. He won three of those events (including this week) and finished no worse than 12th. He will tee it up at The Sentry as the likely favorite in a month. Between now and then, Scheffler has even more time to refine, which he says was key to this latest improvement.
“I’ve always been a guy that works really, really hard and sometimes I think I can work almost too hard,” Scheffler said. “So when I’m struggling with something like my putting was last year, it’s almost like I focused on it too much at times. When the offseason came about, I did a good job of putting my clubs away and thinking about other stuff. The grind of a season can wear you down almost more than anything. I think that happened to me a bit last year.”
If the putting becomes boring, too – the outcome predetermined like how the rest of Scheffler’s game often feels – it’s a worrisome proposition for the rest of the PGA TOUR.
“I don’t think anyone’s surprised he figured it out, probably just a little bit scared because you don’t really want him to putt too good,” Homa said. “So that will be a bummer for a while.”
Source : PGA Tour