KOORALBYN, Australia – Off a winding country road deep within the Queensland hinterlands is the Kooralbyn International School, a weathered and slightly dated sports specific institution with a sneaky good resume.
This isn’t where Adam Scott learned to play golf. Nor did he dig his competitive fire or resolve from the dusty hillside. But Kooralbyn was where the Australian first put to paper the loftiest of expectations that would take nearly two decades to reach.
Scrawled in black and white in his no nonsense singular simplicity is everything one needs to know about Scott – “I would like to be a world-class player,” Scott wrote in December 1996.
Coming from your normal, off-the-shelf 16-year-old, such a boastful benchmark could be dismissed as youthful indifference or perhaps false bravado, but from the moment Phil Scott, Adam’s father, put a club in his son’s hands there was never a question of talent.
“Every kid says I want to be the world’s No. 1 or I want to win a major, so you take it with a grain of salt. You would have never imagined it would get to where it is now,” said Peter Claughton, the head golf coach at Kooralbyn when Scott attended the remote school.
Leave it to Scott to take the long view, even as a teenager.
For the Record: Phil Scott - Adam's Masters win (click for more clips)
The dashing champion who became the first Australian to slip his arms into the Masters’ green jacket last spring hasn’t changed much in his years since he attended Kooralbyn, soft-spoken, insightful and honest with clarity of thought that still transcends his years.
In broad terms, “a world-class player” went well beyond winning major championships – although bringing the coveted green jacket home certainly leaves little room for debate – or being ranked No. 1 in the world, a goal that is now mathematically within his grasp with Tiger Woods on the extended DL. No, for Scott achieving “world-class” status required the delicate convergence of his prodigious talent with a healthy dose of mental toughness.
The latter would take years to hone and would test every ounce of his resolve, while the former came as naturally as a 300-yard drive.
When Phil Scott, a club professional who tried his hand as a touring professional in his early years, moved the family from Adelaide in South Australia to Queensland the moment dovetailed with his son’s growing interest in the game.
Phil Scott had been hired to be the general manager at Twin Waters Golf Club just north of Brisbane and young Adam’s passion and play blossomed with the relocation.
Even at such an early age, Scott had few peers recalled John Jennings, a member at Twin Waters who vividly remembered his first encounter with the skinny kid with the sonic swing.
“I turned up at the tee at the appointed time which was noon and there were two elderly ladies, probably in their early 60s, and a little boy and it was his 12th birthday. That little boy was Adam Scott,” said Jennings, who remembered Scott shooting 84 (12 over) and dropping his handicap to 12 that day.
For Scott, however, high noon still loomed well down the road.
Scott’s time at Kooralbyn – where years later Jason Day would also hone his world-class game – was short, but from an early age there were whispers. Scott, along with fellow phenom Aaron Baddeley, were the proverbial pointy end of the spear in Australia’s golf awakening and inevitably the conversation would always turn to Augusta National, the site of so much collective angst.
For a proud sporting nation, Augusta National was cursed grounds and Greg Norman, a three-time bridesmaid at the Masters, was their hero whose heart had been broken and the pain shared by an entire country.
“I’m working with Aaron and know how good of shape he was in, and he and Adam are at a junior event and Aaron calls and says, ‘I won my age division but finished second overall,’” said Dale Lynch, the golf coach at the Victorian Institute of Sport at the time. “Aaron shot 6 under so I ask what (Scott) shot and he said 16 under. My first introduction to Adam was this kid shooting these scores and beating a kid I’m working with that was really good. It was scary.”
Before Scott could end Australia’s long Masters winter, however, he would have to endure his share of heartbreak.
Scott would add five more Tour titles before his 30th birthday but something was missing. Prior to 2011, he had just four top-10 finishes in 39 major starts, and only one (a tie for ninth at the 2002 Masters) where it most mattered.
“There wasn’t a lot of great experience there for me. There was a lot of average golf and when you’re playing average in a major they really show you how average you’re playing,” Scott said. “There were a couple of really bad scores and some embarrassing moments.”
But if greatness is born from adversity then Scott entered the final leg of his climb to world-class status in 2009, when he posted just a single finish inside the top 10 and concluded the season outside the top 100 in Tour earnings for the first time in his career.
Two summers later, on a warm and sunny English afternoon, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place for the would-be major champion as putt after putt refused to drop. Four strokes clear with four holes to play at the 2012 Open Championship, Scott limped home with four closing bogeys and lost by a stroke.
Most athletes struggle to pinpoint the instance when the winning epiphany arrives, but for Scott it was the precise moment when Ernie Els hoisted the claret jug over his head on Royal Lytham’s 18th green.
“We’ll all be able to look back and think that (the 2012 Open) made him,” Phil Scott said. “It made him realize that he woke up the next morning and there was still oxygen and he still saw the ceiling and you might as well get on with it.”
Less than a year later Scott would play his last six holes at Augusta National in 3 under to tie Angel Cabrera and clinch his slice of Australian history with a 12-footer for birdie at the second extra hole.
At the time, the normally subdued Scott allowed himself a rare moment of retrospection.
“It’s amazing that it’s my destiny to be the first Aussie to win, just incredible,” he smiled.
Of course it would be Adam Scott, their Scotty, to end the Aussie duck, a cricket analogy that summed up 79 years of frustration at Augusta National. Born from wild expectations, forged through adversity and delivered at the perfect moment to end one of sports’ most confounding droughts.
“I don’t think it’ll get any better than that moment,” said Phil Scott, who was waiting for his son behind the 10th green following the playoff on that gloomy Masters Sunday. “He could win 10 green jackets and whatever championships, to me that will always be the moment.”
It was the moment Scott finally lived up to the potential of being the world-class player the 16-year-old envisioned nearly two decades ago at Kooralbyn.