Scottie Scheffler and a PGA Tour event lost with his putter

Olympia Fields, Ill. — All that was left was a few holes, a few putts, a hug with caddie Ted Scott, a kiss for wife Meredith, a wave to the crowd, a trophy presentation, a press conference, a few laughs, a speech to the Olympia Fields Country Club members, a long line of handshakes, and that would be it. Scottie Scheffler would have his seventh PGA Tour win in the books.

It was all just a matter of actually doing those things.

But then a 20-yard bump-and-run into the par-5 15th green stopped 13 feet short, leaving a birdie putt Scheffler would miss on a hole he was supposed to birdie. The 27-year-old, who all at once can seem impossibly gifted and impossibly vulnerable, slowed his walk. He said later of that chip shot: “It landed maybe a foot short of where I wanted to, and then the second bounce was the one that really got me. I thought I was going to one-hop it onto the green but it hit that poa annua and kind of stopped.”

Walking off the 15th green, Scheffler looked mystified, so much so that he hardly seemed to notice what was cooking ahead of him. Over on 17, Viktor Hovland, whose contention in this 2023 BMW Championship was thought to have been over long ago, rolled in a 9-footer for birdie  — his sixth on the back nine to that point.

But Scheffler would regroup, surely. The pin on the downhill par-3 16th sat tucked behind a front right bunker. Fearless, Scheffler went right at it, staring it down with hands held high.

Seeing it drop 6 feet from the stick, Scheffler stomped down on his divot, showing the kind of Texas heat we rarely see from him. It was understandable. Scheffler is golf’s best ball-striker in the world. Is he the best player? That can be debated. But ball-striking? No one else exists in his orbit, which has probably made it all the more frustrating for him to go 12 tournaments, dating back to The Players Championship in March, since winning.

This day could end that frustration.

Then Scheffler missed a 6-foot birdie. “Started it on line,” he’d say. “I just didn’t have the speed.”

Scottie Scheffler missed multiple birdie putts on the back nine Sunday. (Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

Scheffler doddered over to the 17th, watching his feet. It was difficult to tell whether he was angry or exasperated or both. The man’s disposition doesn’t confess feelings. He just goes about being Scottie Scheffler.

After a drive down the 17th fairway, Scheffler dialed in a number, still in position to win. He glanced over to his left as another cheer came from Hovland. With a birdie on 18, the 25-year-old capped a course-record 61 to reach 17-under for the tournament. He shot a 28 on the back nine and somehow now led by one stroke.

Scheffler needed a birdie-birdie finish. He would instead three-putt from 26 feet on the 17th and spare everyone the drama. After playing his first 67 holes of the tournament at 16-under-par, he played the final five at 1-over.

Thus, yet again, Scheffler did not win a tournament in which he was the best player by nearly all available measures. Standing in front of reporters late Sunday afternoon, Scheffler processed a feeling that’s bewilderingly familiar. He shrugged and said plainly, “I’m just a bit frustrated. I think that would be the way to describe it.”

Part of this is simply the nature of the game. Great play often isn’t great enough in golf. A shot dropped here, a shot dropped there, an opponent putting together a historic round. It’s hard to win. Everyone’s favorite stat is Jack Nicklaus’ 19 runner-up finishes in majors.

But Scheffler, among today’s players, has become a case all of his own. He’s been the best ball-striker on the planet since the start of 2022, back when he won four times in six starts, including a runaway win at the Masters, a week he was so dominant that not even a four-putt on the 18th was enough to sink him. Perhaps, though, more should’ve been made of that finish. Three of the four putts Scheffler missed were from less than five feet.

Since then, well-documented issues on the green have caged Scheffler in some bizarre debtor prison. In his 34 outings since that win at Augusta, Scheffler has posted 17 top 10s, including two wins and six runner-up finishes.

That would stand as an incredible stretch of play for anyone, but Scheffler isn’t anyone. He leads the PGA Tour this season in strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained approaching the green, strokes gained tee-to-green, strokes gained total, percentage of greens hit in regulation, scoring average, and season earnings.

But putting?

Scheffler is losing -.239 strokes on the green. If he was even an average putter, he could easily have three? four? five? more wins in the last 16 months?

Rather, he has frustration and sounds like a man with more questions than answers. After the win, Hovland spoke of trusting his reads and feeling like his speed was dialed in. He said of his putting, “I guess I just didn’t try to fight it. I just relied on my instincts and my intuition and worked out this time.”

And what did Scheffler have to say?

“I felt like I doubted myself a little bit on 16,” he said, “and then 17 it was weird because I had a lot of those right-to-lefters today, and it seemed like I was just hitting them barely through the break.”

At this point, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Scheffler wasted (so to speak) what might’ve been an iconic 2023 summer. His ball-striking numbers are that good — Tiger-good, or as close to it as we have seen. The average fan might not even realize how good Scheffler is because he’s not hoisting a trophy every other week. After next week’s Tour Championship, Scheffler’s season will be wrapped and it will be hard not to ask, what if?

And, perhaps more directly, what’s next? A different approach? Aim-point? A long putter? Putt left-handed?

Or perhaps he stays the course, see where it goes. The assumption is Scheffler will be fine and win again soon enough because if you hit the ball closer to the pin than everyone else week in and week out, victories come as a natural corollary.

And when they don’t? Well, the best player doesn’t always win.

He’s used to it.

(Top photo of Scottie Scheffler: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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