I wish I had saved some of the tweets, emails and texts – even a few sent by those in the golf industry – following last year’s Open Championship final round. With a lead late in the day, Adam Scott famously and forlornly bogeyed the last four holes to lose by one stroke in his search for a first major championship title.
In the minutes and hours that followed, many observers put thumbs to phone and expressed a singular idea based on how the tournament unfolded.
Adam Scott can’t win the big one.
Those who received a response found a corrected version of their original correspondence.
No. Adam Scott didn’t win the big one.
Not to sound like one of those I-told-you-so kind of guys, but, well … I told you so.
As we recently witnessed during the Masters Tournament, there’s a big difference between a player who can’t win a major and one who just hasn’t done so yet. Whether it’s a byproduct of today’s need-it-now Information Age or quicker trigger fingers (and thumbs) from those who choose to criticize through social media, failing to win a major has become golf’s version of the scarlet letter. Those who have committed the sin of never earning hardware wear the regret like a scorned Hester Prynne.
In maybe the greatest irony, players who have achieved the most in their careers without winning a major are subject to the most damning attacks. Which is to say, Brendon De Jonge doesn’t receive near the amount of impugnment as a former world No. 1 such as Luke Donald.
Speaking of Donald, it doesn’t even need to be a major week for him to get blasted for never winning one. When I tweeted early Sunday afternoon that it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the game’s premier wedge players was making a final-round rally on a tight course with small, fast greens, almost instantly fans reacted by contesting that he only makes such rallies on non-major weeks.
It’s a notion which follows him around like a stray, unwanted dog – but at least the likes of Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Hunter Mahan, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler can feel his pain. And it’s not as if Donald has completely flamed out in the majors before; this is a player who’s finished 12th or better at all four majors in his career and owns a couple of serious title contentions.
You’d think we – and by “we,” I mean you – would have learned by now. After all, the last 18 majors have featured 17 different champions. What was once the hallowed ground of only the game’s biggest superstars now more closely resembles the turnstile at your local subway station. Everyone lines up in single-file formation and waits their turn.
What often gets lost among such scorching blame is the fact that close calls and heartbreaking experiences can steel a player for future success. Not everyone can be Webb Simpson or Keegan Bradley, recent major champs whose first foray into title contention translated into a first title.
The journey to a major is more frequently seen as a convoluted labyrinth. Just ask Scott, who freely admitted after winning the green jacket that it may not have happened without first losing the claret jug last year.
“Everything I said after the Open is how I felt – and I meant it,” he said. “It did give me more belief that I could win a major. It proved to me, in fact, that I could. And the PGA [where he finished T-11 in 2012], I was more motivated at the PGA than, I would say, the Open just a few weeks before. It was to myself now; you know you can do it. There's not a better time.”
If the words sound familiar, that’s because they echo those of Phil Mickelson, back when the 2004 Masters became his first major triumph after 46 previous tries led to varying degrees of bad luck.
“I think having, in the past 10 years, come so close so many times,” he said then, “to have had putts made on me in the last holes to lose by a shot, to have had good last rounds fall short, to have bad last rounds and fall short, to have it be such a difficult journey to win my first major, makes it that much more special, sweeter – and it just feels awesome.”
It’s a feeling that Scott knows all too well. And it’s one that players like Donald, Westwood, Garcia, Poulter, Mahan, Rose, Stricker, Kuchar, Johnson and Fowler – all currently at differing stages in their careers – are hoping to soon realize.
None of them have won a major yet. But that doesn’t mean they can’t. Some will, some won’t. Criticizing each one simply because it hasn’t yet happened not only qualifies as a lack of foresight, it’s a lack of hindsight, as well.
As more and more first-timers pass through that turnstile and remove that scarlet letter from their chests, here’s hoping more and more observers will continue to backtrack from maintaining these players “can’t” win the big one. After all, the guilty-until-proven-innocent theory hasn’t been working too well as of late.