The Hamilton Spectator

He’s playing so well his putting looks bad

- DOUG FERGUSON

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLA. Scottie Scheffler figures the best way to block out the noise — and there is endless chatter about his putting — is to channel his focus onto other matters.

Sports is always a good diversion. That hasn’t been working out very well of late, either.

Scheffler had just tied for 10th at the Genesis Invitation­al with his worst putting performanc­e of the young season — not a big surprise for someone who historical­ly struggles on the poa greens of Riviera — when he noticed a message on his phone.

“I get a notificati­on from ESPN after the tournament, and it was like, ‘Matsuyama wins, Scheffler struggles with putter.’ I thought I was going to get a notificati­on about a basketball game or something like that. I was like, ‘What is this?’ ” Scheffler said, laughing.

A reminder he doesn’t need. So be it.

Scheffler is coming up on the oneyear anniversar­y of his last official PGA Tour win, The Players Championsh­ip, where he became only the third winner at TPC Sawgrass with all four rounds in the 60s. He had five straight birdies in the middle of his round and won by five.

That doesn’t seem like a long time ago for a couple of reasons. Scheffler had his first real off-season in longer than he can remember. He went without competitio­n for two months, and then returned to win the Hero World Challenge against a 20-man field in the Bahamas. He seems to be in the mix just about every week.

A year ago, he went from January until the middle of July without finishing worse than a tie for 12th. He won twice last year and has been No. 1 in the world for the past 10 months. And it’s fair to wonder how much better his year could have been, how much distance he could have put between himself and Rory McIlroy at the top of the ranking.

What stands out the most is the Memorial, where Scheffler gained 20.69 strokes against the field from tee to green, only to lose 8.5 shots to the field in putting. He missed a playoff by one shot at Muirfield Village.

The questions get tiring, at times annoying, though Scheffler understand­s that. He gets annoyed, too, particular­ly when he finds himself thinking too much about putting.

“I’ve done a good job of tuning it out at times, and I’ve done a bad job of tuning it out. I’m in a season now again where I think I’m doing a good job,” he said.

It’s not about tuning out the questions. It’s about quieting his mind.

“For instance, at times last year it would be a lot of what I would think about,” Scheffler said. “I don’t like not being good at something. Whenever I do something, I usually will just try and figure out how to do it better. So having some struggles with the putter, it’s all I would think about.”

He was playing so well that it made the putting stand out even more. It’s one thing to struggle with one aspect of the game. It’s another to be the No. 1 player in the world and to be so good from tee to green that it makes the putter look even worse.

Jordan Spieth is among those who believe having a steady diet of 15foot birdie putts on seemingly every hole can damage confidence with the flat stick.

“Putting is very, very mental,” Spieth said. “My best ball-striking year was 2017. I felt like I putted just as well as the previous couple of years and I ranked like 35th to 50th range, versus first or second. I don’t think it was any different. You look at that and say, ‘I have to change something’ or ‘I’m not as good of a putter.’ So maybe there’s a little bit of that.”

Scheffler spent Monday at the TPC Sawgrass going over memories from his win last year as the 50th edition of The Players approaches. He was having breakfast in the clubhouse when the television got his attention.

More sports, this time basketball. “The Warriors are not having their best season, and the highlight is the ‘Not So Splash Brothers.’ All they’re showing is Steph Curry missing shots,” he said. “The guy is the best shooter that ever was. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘That guy has shot a lot of baskets in his life, a lot in the NBA.’ That could go for hours if they want to show all his missed shots.

“It’s just the interestin­g story.” Scheffler can relate. There are more misses than makes at the moment.

He said his putting stroke was an issue at one point last year, and he feels it is much better now. He sees a difference, even if all anyone else sees are missed birdie chances. A lot of them.

“That (make) percentage of 15 feet is so low,” Spieth said. “It starts to feel like you have to make more than half of them. And you just don’t. It probably feels worse than it is. But then, also, you’re asked about it, and it’s talked about. It happens over the course of six months, 12 months, 18 months, and it’s hard to rebound.”

Scheffler is intelligen­t enough to have earned a degree from the McCombs School of Business at Texas in four years without summer school while playing elite amateur golf. There also is a simplicity to him. He doesn’t dwell on the past or look too far into the future.

But this has caused a time of reflection.

“I feel like I’m learning a lot right now, which is good,” he said. “If I get asked constantly about putting, sometimes it feels like I’m not playing well. But I’m playing pretty darn good. I haven’t won in the last year, but it doesn’t feel like that.”

 ?? CHRISTIAN PETERSEN GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO ?? Scottie Scheffler of the United States reacts to his missed putt on the 12th green during the final round of the WM Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Feb. 11.
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO Scottie Scheffler of the United States reacts to his missed putt on the 12th green during the final round of the WM Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Feb. 11.

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