How Scottie Scheffler’s not-so-secret weapon got him out of a putting rut

Scottie Scheffler of The United States putts under the watchful eye of his putting coach Phil Kenyon of England
Kenyon has been working with Scheffler since the middle of last year - Getty Images/David Cannon

To Tiger Woods, the 106th US PGA Championship is simple enough. “If he putts decent, he wins. If he putts great, he blows away the field. If he has a bad putting week, he contends. The ball-striking is that good.”

“He” is Scottie Scheffler, that supreme being who for a few months has been operating in a different realm, with four wins and a second in his last five tournaments, highlighted by Masters glory last month.

Of course, it is not so straightforward as Woods makes out, not least because Scheffler has indicated that he will take at least a little time away when his wife gives birth to their first child – and at the time of writing Meredith was already overdue.

It is eminently conceivable that Scheffler, a religious man who is led by the faith that he will follow whichever path is laid out, could skip Valhalla. But if he does tee it up on Thursday and if the emergency bleeper stays silent for the ensuing four days, many will concur with Woods’s stark assessment.

The Wanamaker Trophy – and a third major title – will be the Texan’s to lose on the greens. So no pressure on Scheffler’s putting coach, then.

Step forward Phil Kenyon, the 50-year-old from Southport, home of Red Rum, who has been working with the thoroughbred for nine months and has trained the 27-year-old to look almost unstoppable in the final furlong.

The pair have forged quite the relationship since Scheffler, in a putting rut, sought him out late last summer. This bond was evidenced by Scheffler’s reaction when spotting Kenyon by the recorder’s hut, minutes after emphatically securing his second green jacket.

Scheffler, not an individual prone to exuberant acts, strode over and gave Kenyon a hug, before the 6ft 4in champion lifted his instructor – at least half-a-foot shorter – high off the turf. “No that has never happened to me before,” Kenyon said with a giggle when talking to Telegraph Sport last week. “It was a special moment, for me, very cool. I was chuffed for him. Scottie is a genuinely decent bloke.”

‘Putting is a game within a game’

In his champion’s press conference, Scheffler was effusive about Kenyon’s contribution, commending the Lancastrian’s own lack of “ego” and explaining how they quickly connected. “I watched the way Phil coached his players and loved it,” he said. “We hit the ground running.”

It was a process, however, as the mediocrity on the greens continued to let down his mastery off it. But then they introduced the mallet putter in March and although Rory McIlroy had advised his rival to make the switch just a few weeks before, Kenyon revealed that the timing was merely a coincidence and that “plenty of work had been put in” before Scheffler showed up at Bay Hill and proceeded to give the rest a glimpse of the next few months of dead-eyed superiority.

Scheffler had a propensity to mishit putts with the blades; a common weakness even at the elite end of the sport. The mallet is much more forgiving, which, as Kenyon puts it, “allowed Scottie to free himself up in the mind”. From being 162nd in the PGA Tour’s putting standings, he was suddenly raised into the upper quadrants. “I was not shocked at all by the improvements, because of the ability that Scottie has,” Kenyon said.

As Kenyon alluded, it was not just a technical fix “to ensure the face is more square through impact”. It never is with putting, the most maddening part of the game. “There’s a lot of psychology involved,” he said. Putting is a game within a game, isn’t it?” Kenyon said.

“If a pro hits what he considers to be a good drive then 99 times out of a 100 he will be on the fairway. But he can hit what he thinks is a good putt and the ball will regularly not go in. At times it’s quite difficult for the player to sort of really assess why that is happening.

“My job is to help them evaluate that and put a perspective on it. If it’s not a technical issue, make sure that they do not tinker along those lines. It’s not always about giving them lessons, changing the technique, every week on tour.”

‘Putting is 35 per cent of the game’

Scheffler has clearly learned how to accept and to separate the quality of the putt from the result of the putt. Like those such as Darren Clarke, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Matt Fitzpatrick and Justin Rose, Scheffler has bought into the Kenyon concept.

Some have come and gone – McIlroy left Kenyon despite seeing a stunning transformation in his time with the coach in 2016 – but that is the territory. In 20 years on Tour, Kenyon has taken the lows and the criticisms from fans who think they know more. “Inevitable,” Kenyon says.

“I’d be interested to know the stats of how many shots are shown on TV, but obviously it’s a shot that finishes every hole, finishes every tournament. Ultimately, for the average PGA Tour winner, putting makes up 35 per cent of the game. So although it’s just one club, it is an immensely important club that is heavily scrutinised as a consequence. People are going to have an opinion, aren’t they?”

Kenyon tries to not let it puncture his calm and affable demeanour. But now and again the temptation is too much for his mischievous sense of humour not to respond. In the days after Scheffler’s Augusta masterclass, Kenyon went on to X to repost a message sent from a user just before Bay Hill. “Phil Kenyon is destroying Scottie,” it read. Words were not required for Kenyon: just a “waving hand” emoji.

The US media loved it and declared “Phil Kenyon keeps receipts”. Indeed, he must be knee deep in them, both metaphorically and physically as his star has risen with his bank balance.

‘Six of my players have won majors’

For so long, Kenyon’s domain was solely the then European Tour. Of the 12-strong Ryder Cup team in 2016, nine were his clients. Thomas Bjorn – the fiery Dane who Kenyon says fired and rehired him more than any other – described him as “our secret weapon” at Paris in 2018.

However, the cat was out of the blue-and-gold golf bag and soon, as he travelled more across the pond with Fitzpatrick, Molinari, Rose and Co, the Americans came calling. First Gary Woodland, then Keegan Bradley, Max Homa, now Scheffler. Kenyon has gone international, with not only state-of-the-art academies – featuring hydraulic greens, virtual reality headsets and more cameras and computers than VAR central – in Formby and London, but also in Sea Island, Georgia. Thousands of amateurs have taken lessons from Kenyon and his assistants, as a revolution in putting coaching has taken place.

“There weren’t many putting coaches when I first came out on Tour in the early Noughties,” Kenyon said. “But now, probably due to technology and the money on offer and the development in stats that show what a huge aspect putting is, almost all of the top players have a putting guy. And it’s not just elite amateurs, but regular club players who have cottoned on to the importance. Just in my time, the change has been astonishing.”

Kenyon has gone from being a struggling pro on tour to a man in demand. Naturally modest, he acknowledges there have been multiple requests for his patronage during this Scheffler streak and after Augusta where he had three of the top five. However, he seems more than happy with his lot, with eight players due to play in Louisville, Kentucky in the only major not already on his mantlepiece.

“Yeah, six of my players have won majors [Scheffler’s Masters preceded by Clarke (2011 Open), Stenson (2016, Open), Molinari (2018 Open) Woodland (2019 US Open) and Fitzpatrick (2022 US Open)] and each time any of my players wins anything it’s brilliant to think that in somehow I might have helped,” he said.

“These are pinch-me moments. As a kid I wanted to just be able to play in big tournaments, but then I saw how good certain players were. So later on in life, to have the opportunity to work with the best and be involved at this level behind the scenes… well, as a golf fan, it’s a great opportunity. There’s no better job.”

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