LOS ANGELES — Scottie Scheffler doesn’t really want to talk about his putting.
He is too polite to dismiss the subject entirely, too wholesomely Texan to actually get mad if you keep bringing it up. Inquire about it and Scheffler will tilt his head to the side, offer up a fairly-benign description of what he’s working on, then chuckle the way he does when he’s trying to be friendly, but also convey he’d love to switch topics.
The message is clear: The putting is (mostly) normal. Time to move on. Find a new slant.
The journalist in me, especially this season, wishes Scheffler would lower his shields occasionally, and let us peek into his mind. He is a genius with 13 of the clubs in his bag, and if he wanted, he could teach a masterclass in how to attack a golf course. Scheffler is having a historically-great season everywhere but on greens this year, statistically right there in strokes gained (+3.00) with Tiger Woods at the peak of his powers (+3.22 in 2006). But the golfer in me understands his reluctance to reveal much, particularly when it comes to an intimate topic like his demonic putting stroke.
A golf swing is an athletic endeavor, a marriage of speed and technique. Putting, on the other hand, is an art, and art is nothing if not an expression of vulnerability. Anyone who has ever stood over a nervy 5-footer, delicately brushed it toward the hole, then watched with intensifying rage as it slid by (yet again!) knows exactly how exposed and raw you can feel with a putter in your hand. The more it happens, the more you flirt with madness. To talk about it is to breathe additional life into it, so he’s reluctant to talk about it.
The putting, however, has been a problem.
You can look at stats and come to that conclusion (he’s 148th on the PGA Tour in SG: putting), or you can watch Scheffler grind on the putting green for hours at a time (something he did prior to the start of the U.S. Open). Eventually, you’ll arrive at the same place. It has been like watching a superhero dodge debris from a crumbling building, only to see him trip over a curb on his way to shake hands with the mayor.
Scheffler has been so good in other areas of the game, if he can just get back to average putting, he’s going to be hard to beat this week at LACC. His first-round 67 on Thursday — where he gained 1.52 strokes on the greens, his best performance in a month — felt like a strong first step toward that goal. It came courtesy of a new putter, a Scotty Cameron model that is slightly bigger and has a longer aiming line.
“Sometimes you have to bring another putter around to make the original one scared,” Scheffler said early in the week.
He took some weight out of it, fiddled with it for a few days, then took a leap of faith with it. He mostly stuck to his same routine — confirming the read with his caddie Ted Scott, taking two practice swings while he looks at the hole and trying to stay zen over the ball — and seemed relieved that something finally worked.
“Putting is such a weird thing,” Scheffler said. “Sometimes when you're on the green, sometimes when you feel good, you feel like you're never going to miss. And then sometimes when you feel terrible, you feel like you're never going to make. Putting is just so different than the rest of the game, so when it comes to putters, it's all personal.”
His first real test with the new putter came on the fourth hole when a sloppy approach and indifferent chip left him with a five-footer for par. His putt caught the left edge of the hole and curled around the back, dripping in. It felt like the first time in weeks a lipped putt had found the bottom of the cup instead of spinning away. For the next few hours, he looked like a jump shooter on a heater. He rolled in birdies on 9, 12, 15, and 16.
“I feel like I rolled it well today and I saw some putts go in, which was nice,” Scheffler said. “I haven’t felt like I’ve been rolling it bad. Sometimes you just need to put something else down on the ground to look at.”
Golf, though, cannot resist humbling you, especially when you think you have it figured out. The better your swing, the more torment the golfing gods seem to send your way. Adam Scott has, in the eyes of most, the textbook swing of the modern era, and yet putting has tormented him for the majority of his career. Ben Hogan’s swing has been studied and copied by thousands of golfers for half a century, yet by the end of his career, putting gave him so much anxiety, he theorized that it should be eliminated from golf.
We’re nowhere close to that with Scheffler, who is almost certainly just in the midst of a slump. He might already be leaving it behind. It would be wise not to overthink it, or tinker too much. But when he came to the 18th green at LACC on Thursday afternoon, the demons reappeared to inflict unexpected cruelty.
Scheffler, who had climbed to 4-under after a slow start, left a lag putt from below the hole three feet short. It was a putt that seemed fine, nothing to stress over in his clean-up for par. But when he missed it, you could hear the crowd groan. You could see a flicker of doubt return to Scheffler’s face.
He chuckled after he made the comebacker for bogey, then walked toward the scoring tent.
It was important to laugh it off, lest it linger the way these things sometimes do.
Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up.