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6 things I learned from tour pros at the 2024 Players Championship

March 18, 2024

On the ground, the 2024 Players Championship felt different. Not like a major championship. Not yet, anyway. But markedly different than any event this season that preceded it.

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After a quick offseason and a bit of joyriding around the West Coast, the vibe was almost like The Players Championship snuck up on everyone. It was the dawn of the meat of the season, with the Masters is just a few weeks away. Were players' games where they wanted it to be? Where it was supposed to be? For the first time this season, players were a little more panicky about their golf swing when the answer to that question was: Not quite.

This is something the rest of us can no doubt relate to.

It was a quick in-and-out for me—Monday-through-Wednesday, but still enough to glean a few tips from the top of the sport that the rest of us can use

1. Two feels is better than one

Rory McIlroy is dealing with a similar golf swing issue that Xander Schauffle is working through. To my eye, Rory’s arms track a little more outside than they have in the past, which lands his shoulders in a flatter position at the top of the backswing—both issues Xander is working on correcting.

It’s not a perfect comparison. Xander’s club tracks laid off-to-overly-steep, while Rory’s tends to get more across the line-to-overly-shallow. Either way, the challenge is that Rory loves how this slightly different set of movements feel off the tee, and he’s hitting his driver astonishingly well as a result: He’s currently first in SG: Off-the-Tee by more than a third of a shot. But this same “amazing” feeling off the tee is causing some serious headaches into greens, where Rory ranks 152nd on tour.

"When I try to recreate that feeling with the irons, the club just sorts of drops behind me. It starts left and goes further left," he says. "I have a swing thought for my woods and I need a different swing thought for my irons."

Amateur golfers don’t really think about swing thoughts like this. They go looking for a one-size-fits-all feel for their entire game. But that’s not really how they work.

With your woods, the goal is to hit up on the ball with maximum speed.

With your iron shots, it’s the opposite: Hit down on the ball to create maximum compression.

Two different golf swings, with two different goals, requiring two different swing thoughts. Don’t be spooked by the idea. It’s normal, and frankly, good.

2. Get weird to find the right feel

So, how do you find those feels?

To make matters more complicated, those two feels may change day by day. How do you find them?

“You have to get creative,” says Carl Yuan, who made his first Players Championship start this week.

Yuan really dials-up this idea on the range, and has become a bit of a viral sensation because of it. He’ll do all sorts of things that look bizarre: He’ll hit balls on one leg. He’ll stand with his back facing the target. He’ll swing with an Arnold Palmer follow through on steroids. He’ll try shanking one, then topping one. It’s madness, but with a method behind it. And maybe one the rest of us should experiment.

“It’s about creating body awareness,” Yuan says. “I’m a very creative person, and if I can be very aware about how my body is moving and still know how to hit a ball, I’ll be able to find new feels that I can use that day.”

3. The science of ‘slapping it around’

We’re used to Scottie Scheffler putting on ball-striking clinics, but a lingering neck injury forced a different kind of clinic this week.

Yes, Scheffler led the field in SG: Tee-to-Green, but for the first time in his career, he did it by leading the field in driving accuracy. It’s only the third time that’s been done by a Players Championship winner. Webb Simpson and Fred Funk were the other two, and both finished in the bottom two in Driving Distance. Scheffler finished 14th in that category.

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“You were flying on one wing, and you still put together a round,” McGinley said to Scheffler afterwards. “Your course management was the reason why.”

McGinley was right. Without as much distance as was usually at his disposal, Scheffler admitted afterwards he was “slapping it around,” though in doing so, he revealed the blueprint for getting it around without your best stuff:

  • Have a go-to shot shape off the tee—for Scottie, it’s something with a left-to-right curve.
  • Get it in play off the tee, always
  • Club up, and swing soft
  • Chase the fat part of the green

It’s not revolutionary stuff. It’s actually quite boring. But it’s important, and on the days when you don’t have your best stuff, moving the ball forward unspectacularly becomes essential.

4. Shift, rotate, rise

Scottie Scheffler’s feet do all sorts of crazy things on the downswing because he’s essentially jumping and sliding sideways through the ball. That’s only possible because he’s pushing himself into the ground, and then pushing his entire body back off it. Scottie Scheffler is so strong that he can literally push himself off the ground, really no different than the way you would squat down, and then jump off the ground. Except he’s doing it while swinging a golf club.

Wyndham Clark is also really good at using the ground. This clip of Wyndham had Kevin Kisner geeking out in the booth.

“Look at the way he’s torquing that ground with his feet,” he said “He’s ripping it out of the ground.”

I like this clip because it highlights what Wyndham’s knees are doing: His left knee moves slightly inside his left foot, then moves outside his left foot towards his toe, then begins pulling back.

The ground is the only real leverage point golfers have when they swing a golf club. Watch the way any pros use it, and you’ll spot the same sequence: They screw themselves into the ground on the backswing, then they shift towards the target, turn their body, and then rise off it. The more golfers can replicate that, the better off they’ll be.

5. Try different line methods

Nothing gets me going like debating whether golfers should use the line on the golf ball. Part of me wonders if it’s a method that shouldn’t be allowed, but golf’s governing bodies have deemed it legal, so here we are.

What was interesting about the 2024 Players Championship is that all those in contention had different approaches when it came to using the line.

Starting last week, Scottie Scheffler stopped using the line on the golf ball but has one line on his putter.

Wyndham Clark uses the line on his golf ball, and perpendicular lines on his putter.

Xander Schauffele uses the line on his golf ball, and angular, linier putter.

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Brian Harman has three big white lines on his putter, which he pays more attention to than the ball. A similar approach to Sami Valimaki, who I spoke with about this earlier in the week.

“I use the line on short, straight putts, but not on breaking putts,” he said.

The point? That there are lots of different combinations to combine the alignment marking on your putter, and the line on your ball. Experiment with each, and get creative. Everyone’s preferred approach is a little different, but the goal is the same for each:

What helps you aim the best?

What makes you feel the most comfortable?

6. Don't lose the hole on the tee

It speaks to the irrational nature of golf that I did an entire video at the start of the week breaking down, in detail, why you should basically never try to be the hero. And then, when Wyndham Clark pulled an iron on the 72nd hole of the tournament, needing a birdie to force a playoff, I had a knee-jerk negative reaction to it.

Let’s say Clark pulls his driver. Sure, he hit his ball into the water, say, 30 percent of the time. But who cares. Isn’t being a better spot the other 70 percent of the time, in a birdie-or-bust situation, worth it?

Well, not really. Clark’s iron put him just over 160 yards away—“I had a pitching wedge," he said afterwards. Let’s say he hit driver and gets closer to 130 yards. The distance between average PGA Tour proximity is only five feet closer from 125 to 150 yards compared to 150 to 175.

Clark’s path to more must-make birdies wasn’t taking that five extra feet, 70 percent of the time. It was giving himself a look—and by that I mean, either a chip or a putt at birdie—95 percent of the time. It was the right call, and Clark knows it.

“I feel like if I hit driver, I wasn't guaranteed birdie, and I thought I could lose the tournament by hitting driver,” he said. “I'm a huge guy of just always giving myself a chance.”

Giving yourself a chance. Staying alive, right up until the final moment. That’s what Wyndham did. That’s what Scottie did. That’s what this week was about. And, that’s what good golf is about.