The Greatest Play-Caller in Golf

Scottie Scheffler is dominating golf thanks to planning as much as execution


In sports, true greatness occurs at the intersection of execution and strategy. Strong execution without an intelligent game plan does not suffice. Similarly, a brilliant game plan will yield underwhelming results without proper execution.

While evaluating the best offenses in sports, we should never underestimate the importance of play-calling. When an NFL team fails to convert on 4th and short, most discourse tends to focus on the result. Often, though, it is at least equally important to consider what led to the result: the play call. Success is not simply a result of throwing a tight spiral or swinging a golf club beautifully. The play call matters.

Scottie Scheffler is, unequivocally, the greatest play-caller in golf.

Yes, Scottie Scheffler swings the club as well as just about anybody on the planet. So far in 2024, he is gaining 2.8 strokes on the field from tee to green, a full shot better than the second-ranked player on the PGA Tour. His ball-striking statistics are truly mind-boggling. The key is understanding that Scottie’s ball-striking numbers aren’t just better than everyone else’s because he swings the golf club better than his competitors. His numbers are better because he also dials up and commits to the best calls on the play sheet. He can hit all of the shots all the way through the bag. But Scottie has the discipline to adhere to one of the fundamental tenets of golf: scoring is more about minimizing mistakes than maximizing moments of heroism.

Scottie doesn’t try to hit unnecessary sweeping draws with the driver, a risky proposition with modern technology. He doesn’t attack tucked pins with long irons. Instead Scottie chooses shot types that minimize what can go wrong, and he hits those shots on lines intended to take trouble out of play. Despite being the player most capable of hitting shots to perfection, Scottie hits shots with the potential of imperfection in mind.

Take a look at the shot trails from Scheffler’s four rounds on the 16th hole at this year’s Players Championship:

Visualizing Scottie Scheffler's methodical approach to managing misses. (PGA Tour)

Notice anything in common? Two takeaways: he hits all four approach shots at the front-left edge of the green, well away from the water lining the right side, and he makes birdie all four days. Did Scottie waver in his strategy and get overly aggressive during a fierce fight in contention on Sunday? Of course not. It isn’t in Scottie’s DNA to deviate from intelligent play-calling, no matter the circumstances. Scottie has the composure and discipline to dispel temptation and to execute the proper game plan, even in the heat of battle. Oh, and by the way, that philosophy propelled Scottie to consecutive wins at the Players for the first time in the history of the tournament. 

Need more evidence that this mentality has worked out well for Scheffler? The first year in which Scottie played all four major championships was 2021. He’s played all twelve majors since the 2021 Masters. Over that time period, nobody has finished in the top 10 in major championships more often than Scottie.

Most Top 10s in Major Championships (since 2021)
Scottie Scheffler 8
Rory McIlroy 8
Jon Rahm 7
Collin Morikawa 6
Brooks Koepka 5
Cameron Smith 5
Will Zalatoris 5

Long and straight off the tee, precise distance control, and a magical short game is a recipe for success at the most exacting golf courses. On demanding, championship-caliber setups, Scheffler distances himself from his peers. At the Memorial Tournament last June, Scottie gained 20.7 strokes on the field from tee to green, nearly ten strokes better than his closest competitor and one of the highest totals in the ShotLink era. He finished one shot off the lead due to an awful putting week, a recurring Achilles’ heel for the world No. 1.

Both this week and going forward, you will likely see a plethora of astounding Scottie Scheffler ball-striking statistics. As those graphics flash before your eyes, bear in mind what leads to those numbers: great play-calling. A quarterback sneak on 4th and inches isn’t the sexiest call on the sheet, nor is hitting a stock 6-iron into the middle of the putting surface 22 feet from the hole. However unsexy, they’re frequently the most effective calls in those moments. That’s especially true when you execute better than anyone else in the world. 

Whether or not Scottie will claim his second green jacket this week remains uncertain. Golf is an uncertain game. One thing I’m certain of, though, is that Scottie Scheffler will remain focused on controlling what he can control. After all, winning a major championship isn’t about perfection. It’s about discipline, commitment, and managing mistakes. 

In a sport often dominated by egomaniacs and delusion, there is poetry in watching the player most willing to acknowledge his own imperfections take the world by storm.

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