Kevin C Cox
On Super Bowl Sunday in February, something unusual happened in sports. Not Patrick Mahomes winning another ring in Glendale, Arizona, and certainly not Scottie Scheffler defending his title down the road at TPC Scottsdale. Those outcomes were largely expected. But the way in which Scheffler won the Waste Management Open? Well, that seems pretty stunning looking back.
That week Scheffler finished with a +1.039 strokes gained/putting. It was a great week on the greens in the midst of a pretty terrible season of putting for the 27-year-old PGA Tour star and World No. 1. And one of golf’s big storylines for the remainder of 2023 would revolve around Scheffler’s string of fantastic finishes despite not putting anywhere near that level again.
It’s been a historic season for Scheffler as he heads into the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which begin next week. In 20 starts, he is averaging nearly $1 million per event, having shattered the PGA Tour single-season earnings record (which he set in 2022). In those 20 starts, Scheffler has finished outside the top 25 just once, hasn’t missed a cut and has 15 top-10 finishes, including an absurd 13 top-fives.
Yet he’s “only” won two times, at the aforementioned WM Open and at the Players Championship the following month. After grabbing six PGA Tour titles in a little over a year, Scheffler has now gone more than four months without a victory despite putting up ball-striking stats that haven’t been seen from anyone not named Tiger Woods (Scheffler leads the tour in strokes gained/off-the-tee, strokes gained/approach, and strokes gained/total). Despite his claims at the Open Championship that his putting struggles are mostly a media-generated “story”, that is not the case. Sorry, Scottie.
Scottie is, of course:
1st in SG: Off the Tee
9th in SG: Approach
154th in SG: Putting
It's been pretty much like this since April. It's time to try something different.
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) July 22, 2023
Scheffler currently ranks 142nd on tour for the season in strokes gained/putting at -.192, sandwiched between Callum Tarren and Erik van Rooyen (By comparison, he ranked 58th last season at +.202). That means Scheffler averages losing about two-tenths of a stroke on the greens to the field in an average round and about .8 of a stroke over a four-day tournament. That makes a huge difference week-to-week, especially because those hoisting trophies are usually putting well that week.
Like, well, when Scheffler won at TPC Scottsdale. He gained more than four strokes total on the greens that week, which is about five shots better than his average, and he won by two shots. So, yeah, huge difference. And it got us thinking, just how historic of a season would Scheffler be having if he putted like that more often?
Here’s what we found:
If Scheffler had just putted to the field average every week (or to his average last season), he would have doubled his number of wins for the season. Funny enough, the two added titles would have come in back-to-back events, the Charles Schwab Challenge and the Memorial, something Scheffler pointed out at the Open Championship.
“But I think I had back-to-back tournaments that I could have won where I putted poorly, and all of a sudden it became this thing where like I’ll watch highlights of my round, and even the announcers, any time you step over the putt it’s like, well, this is the part of the game he struggles with,” Scheffler told reporters at Royal Liverpool. “And it’s like, if you say it every time and you guys see me miss a 12-footer it’s like, oh, there it is. He’s struggling again.”
Maybe so, but again, the numbers back it up. In the two aforementioned events, Scheffler finished third or tied for third and one stroke out of a playoff. At Colonial, if he had been at 0.00 strokes gained/putting for the week instead of at -1.141, he would have won by three shots. At the Memorial, where Scheffler had his worst putting performance of the season (-2.129), it’s even crazier. An average putting week would have produced a SEVEN-shot victory.
But what if Scheffler putted like he did at TPC Scottsdale all the time? Obviously, that’s a huge ask. The PGA Tour leader in strokes gained/putting for the season is Maverick McNealy at +1.058, so very similar to Scheffler’s +1.039 in Phoenix. (By the way, Scheffler still only ranked 13th in that stat at TPC Scottsdale, well behind leader Kevin Tway at +2.288, and most weekly winners gain at least two strokes per round on the greens.)
Still, if Scheffler putted to his potential best every week, he would have claimed another three wins: the Arnold Palmer Invitational, AT&T Byron Nelson and Genesis Scottish Open. So that would put him at seven wins.
But wait, there’s more!
By our calculations, there are FIVE more tournaments where if his stroke gained/putting number for the event was +1.00, it would have gotten him into a playoff with the eventual champion. Those events would be the American Express, Travelers Championship and … drum roll, please … the first three majors of the year! That’s right, the Masters, PGA Championship and US Open. So if Scheffler putted well and won all five of those playoffs, he would be up to 12(!) wins. And that’s in 18 starts because strokes-gained stats aren’t available for Mayakoba and the WGC-Dell Match Play (where he lost in the semi-finals) is an entirely different beast.
Scottie Scheffler's major season.
Masters: 2nd tee to green | 50th putting
PGA: 1st tee to green | 34th putting
U.S. Open: 3rd tee to green | 37th putting
Open: 3rd tee to green | 74th putting
— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) July 23, 2023
In any event, with some great putting Scottie Scheffler could be winning two-thirds of his starts this season. And he could have been going for the first calendar Grand Slam at the Open Championship. Can you imagine?
Of course, Brian Harman dusted everyone at Hoylake so Scheffler can’t feel as bad about his poor putting that week. And again, Scheffler putting like Maverick McNealy on a consistent basis would be a very, very tall order. But it’s fun to think about.
Well, unless you’re Scottie Scheffler.