LA QUINTA, Calif. — Heading into last year’s American Express event, Scottie Scheffler was a pretty darned good player. He was 14th in the world, was a year removed from being named the PGA Rookie of the Year and seemed ready to take off.
Three months later, he was a four-time winner, Masters champion and the No. 1-ranked player. That counts as taking off.
This year, Scheffler enters The American Express as the reigning PGA Player of the Year. Quite a difference 365 days makes on this tour.
“Yeah, I feel like I’ve improved a lot since this point last year. I feel like I’ve added new things to my game, and I’m continuing to improve at certain aspects that I’ve been working on. I’ve seen some results now, which is exciting,” Scheffler said during a pre-tournament news conference Wednesday, a day before he tees off at La Quinta Country Club to begin his 2023 American Express.
Instead of learning how to win, now he’s just honing his game. Most of the mental hurdles have been cleared.
“It’s just fine-tuning stuff, so I guess you could say it’s physical,” Scheffler said. “Just trying to become more consistent I would say is probably the biggest thing.”
Scheffler spent most of 2022 at No. 1, but he currently sits at No. 2 behind Rory McIlroy. If Scheffler were to win this week, he would regain his spot atop the rankings.
Is that something that he pays attention to or is motivated by?
“No, I’m focused on trying to put myself in position to win the tournament. I have no idea what a finish or win would do for me in the world ranking,” he said. “I haven’t checked in a while, but I know I’m still No. 2 and No. 1 is better than No. 2. I don’t focus too much on that stuff. For me, it’s always best to stay present and continue to work on the things that I’ve been working on for many, many years.”
He will be playing in his fourth American Express with his best finish being a third-place effort in 2020. He finished tied for 25th last year at this event, before taking off on his torrid spring.
Scheffler said he and his coach Randy Smith aren’t big stat guys. In other words, he didn’t spend his time off crunching the high-end analytics that some player-coach pairings have brought into their offseason workouts. Scheffler doesn’t ignore them, but he feels like his own intuition usually falls in line with the advanced metrics, so he focuses on that.
“Most of the time the stuff that he sees and the stuff that I feel tends to align with statistics. So when we come back from events and kind of reflecting on a full season there’s certain stuff that we already kind of know that we’re going to work on,” Scheffler said. “Some years Randy will look in the stats. Other years I’ll look into the stats. We’re not super organized with it. But we always have kind of an understanding of where we’re at. We’re definitely not looking at fairway statistics and which side I miss more often. If I miss more left or if I miss more right, stuff like that. It’s just little things here and there.”
Scheffler said Wednesday that he feels like he’s in good form now though he has only played in two tournaments since Nov. 13. Scheffler finished second in the Hero Challenge in early December and tied for seventh in the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago.
“Yeah, I feel like I’ve been playing solid recently,” he said. “Hitting it really nice and making some putts. So hopefully this week I’ll hit it a little bit better and make a few more putts and be there toward the end and hopefully get a win. But my game feels like it’s in a good spot, trending in a right direction and starting to see some results which is fun.”
That wasn’t the last time Scheffler used the word “fun.” He was asked if he took some time to reflect on his 2022, which included not just the four wins and his first major but also four second-place finishes and being part of a victorious Presidents Cup team.
“I know I was having fun,” he said with a laugh and a distant gaze where he allowed himself to think back one last time on that glorious 2022, and then he snapped back to his favorite place, the present. “I reflected a little bit, but I don’t focus too much on the past or the future, just try to stay in the present and keep working at it.”