Final-round fatigue at the 2021 WM Phoenix Open sparked Scottie Scheffler to get over the hump and become a worldbeater

As the two-time defending champion of the WM Phoenix Open, Scottie Scheffler has a chance to do something only one golfer has done before in the long and illustrious history of this tournament: three-peat.

Arnold Palmer did it from 1961-63 when the event was played at Phoenix Country Club. Since the tournament moved to TPC Scottsdale in 1987, only Hideki Matsuyama (2016-17) had won back-to-back Phoenix Opens before Scheffler’s current run.

But it was Scheffler’s failure to earn his first PGA Tour title at the 2021 WM Phoenix Open, a year before his winning ways began, that may have been the turning point in his career. That’s when Scheffler realized he needed to take his fitness to the next level.

Scheffler played in the final group in 2021 and closed in 1-under 70 but got passed by Brooks Koepka’s 65 and settled for a T-7 finish.

“We found out he didn’t have the cardiovascular endurance,” said Troy Van Biezen, a chiropractor whose stable of players won 12 majors and more than 100 tournaments while under his care. “He had some fatigue on the back nine. I worked with Tiger when he won the 2019 Masters and he told me I want to be as physically, emotionally and mentally strong when I tee off on Thursday as when I’m going down the back nine on Sunday. That always stuck in my head.”

2021 WM Phoenix Open
2021 WM Phoenix Open

Scottie Scheffler plays his tee shot on the 10th hole during the second round of the 2021 WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. (Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic)

So, after falling short at TPC Scottsdale, Van Biezen sat down with Scheffler and constructed a new exercise regime built around stability, mobility and flexibility but that also included everything from nutrition to hydration and recovery, taxing the body with sled pushes and finishing sessions with burners or hits.

“I told him, ‘I’m going to beat the crap out of you,’ ” Van Biezen recalled. “We’re going to do a lot of high intensity aerobic work, build up your aerobic capacity and your endurance.’ Let’s make sure we control the controllables.”

Scheffler made endurance training a point of emphasis that off-season so he’d never feel gassed again. Not only did he return to the Valley of the Sun and notched his maiden Tour title in a playoff over then-reigning FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay in 2022, but he went on to have a remarkable year, winning the Masters among five victories and being named PGA Tour Player of the Year.

He reached No. 1 in the world and followed up his breakthrough season by holding off Jon Rahm and Nick Taylor to defend his WM title, adding the Players Championship a month later and producing one of the most consistent seasons in memory – in 23 starts, Scheffler recorded 13 top-fives and 17 top-10s, both high marks for any player in a single season on Tour since 2005 – to repeat as 2022-23 PGA Tour Player of the Year. In doing so, Scheffler became the first player since Tiger Woods to win the Jack Nicklaus Award in back-to-back seasons since he captured the award three straight years from 2005-07.

Golf at the highest level has become a power game played by a collection of the most physically fit athletes to play the game. Van Biezen spent 21 years on the PGA Tour, providing consistent chiropractic care while witnessing the evolution in how pro golfers care for their bodies. (He recently took a full-time post with the NHL’s Dallas Stars as director of sports performance and science, but still works with Scheffler, Jordan Spieth and other Dallas-based clients when they are in town but no longer is available to them on the road for 200 days a year.)

“Back in the day, after a round, the guys were having a smoke and a beer. Now it’s a protein shake, recovery bike ride or a flush on the table, cryotherapy, Normatec (leg compression) boots. They’re athletes now, so you’ve got to treat them that way,” Van Biezen said.

Initially, Scheffler didn’t take the off-course training seriously. That is until he injured his back during his senior year at University of Texas. Van Biezen received a phone call from Texas men’s golf coach John Fields after Scheffler was forced to pull out of a tournament due to injury. Van Biezen, who began training Scheffler at age 14, explained in not so simple terms that if he wanted to be the best golfer in the world someday, he needed to take better care of his body. Scheffler finally bought in and the synergy between Randy Smith, Scheffler’s longtime swing instructor, and Van Biezen has been a key ingredient to his success.

2022 WM Phoenix Open
2022 WM Phoenix Open

Scottie Scheffler and his caddie celebrate a birdie on the 17th hole during the third round of the 2022 WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. (Photo: Patrick Breen/The Arizona Republic)

“They love working together and it’s been pretty easy for me just to kind of follow their ideas,” Scheffler said. “Randy’s always been the swing guy and a lot of the imbalances I had in my body were causing my swing to become a certain way, so when Randy wanted to change my swing a little bit and make little changes, it’s pretty easy for us just to go to Troy and say hey, ‘My right hips been a little bit tight, it’s hard for me to get in my right side,’ and that’s something that we can work on in the gym very easily.”

Van Biezen tries to reverse engineer movement patterns in the gym to train Scheffler’s nervous system to move properly so he can go on the golf course and execute more consistently. For Scheffler that’s included an emphasis on loading into his trail hip and building the core strength needed to stay in Smith’s preferred positions for maximum efficiency.

Van Biezen considers Scheffler to be the equivalent of a Formula 1 race car and he’s the pit crew chief.

“I’m the guy looking under the hood seeing how the engine is running,” Van Biezen said. “My goal with Scottie is injury prevention, make sure he’s mobile and pliable but still get him strong, fast and powerful. It’s been a methodical process intended to avoid the body breaking down and includes a lot of soft tissue work. I can always generate a really big engine to generate a lot of power but you’ve got to make sure that the chassis can handle the torque that the engine can provide.”

Regular golfers can benefit from Scheffler’s workout programs via Golf Forever, an app-based exercise and pain relief program with a proprietary trainer, which he began using the week before winning at TPC Scottsdale for this first time in 2022. Several tour pros have followed suit as well as more than 40 college golf programs. The trainer is sold at more than 400 retail stores, allowing any golfer to follow virtually the same workout routine as the two-time defending WM Phoenix Open champion. To hear Van Biezen tell it, the 27-year-old Scheffler hasn’t tapped his potential yet.

“He plays the game because he loves it. He wants to get better and he’s a huge competitor,” Van Biezen said. “I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Scottie yet, for sure.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek