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Scheffler at U.S. Open, looking to solve putting problems


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Scottie Scheffler took one long, smooth stroke, then looked down the line and watched the ball roll toward the hole on the practice green.

He was using his wedge.

That was a drill. The state of his game on the greens — more of an emergency.

The player listed No. 1 in the latest world golf ranking is sitting at No. 148 in the PGA Tour in putting this year. With the U.S. Open starting Thursday, Scheffler finds himself experimenting with different putters and also trying to give himself a little more credit for putts he hits well that just don't go in.

There have been a lot of them lately.

“If I hit a really good 6-iron, sometimes it’s going to go to 2 feet and sometimes it’s going to go to 15 feet, and it's like, ‘well, ... it doesn’t make a huge difference,'" said Scheffler, who is trying to become the only No. 1 to win the U.S. Open other than Tiger Woods, who last accomplished that in 2008. “But if I have a 6-footer and I hit a really good putt and one time it goes in and one time it doesn't, everyone is like ‘Oh, why did he miss that putt?’”

But missing those putts comes at a price. Analytics, to say nothing of leaderboards, spell it out.

Scheffler leads the PGA Tour in scoring average and strokes gained on approach shots. Numbers from one analytics guru showed that through May, he was the only player to gain 15 or more strokes from tee to green this year; he's done it four times.

He leads the tour in hitting greens in regulation, a stat that, by itself, can hamper putting statistics because players normally get closer when they're scrambling and chipping from mere feet away than flying wedges in from 100 yards.

Still, he is 90 notches worse on the putting list than he was last year, and Scheffler isn't hiding from reality. In an interview in late May, when he tied for third at the Charles Schwab Challenge, he said his struggles started at the Masters, where he was trying to defend his title but never got comfortable on the greens. He finished 10th.

It kept on going like that, to the point where he said “I felt like I was putting toward a moving cup.” At the Memorial earlier this month, he missed a playoff by a single shot despite gaining an unheard-of 20 shots against the field from tee to green. He lost 8.5 strokes putting.

“Obviously, had an off week there, or I probably would've won that one,” he said in his pre-Open interview Tuesday.

Golf's equipment junkies have been watching his practice sessions intently. Scheffler has been testing a putter not that different from what he regularly uses. It's just wider and has some different weighting options.

“Sometimes you've just got to bring another putter around there to make the original one scared,” Scheffler said.

He was only half joking.

Throughout history, players have been known to change putters on a whim, sometimes with great results. When Jack Nicklaus first saw the prototype of the putter he would use to win the 1986 Masters, he asked the designer if it was a joke. Sergio Garcia, who often struggles on the greens, made his 12-foot winner in a playoff at Augusta National in 2017 with a flat stick he'd been using for less than a month.

Scheffler, who has two wins, a runner-up and 12 top-10 finishes this season despite his trouble on the greens, concedes he would never be so cavalier in switching out a driver or an iron.

“Putting is just so different than the rest of the game, so when it comes to putters, it’s all personal,” Scheffler said.

Still, he is searching and testing and not really showing his cards.

“You guys can find out Thursday," he said.


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