DORAL, Fla. – “If you starve a guy of playing a little bit, he’ll be desperate to compete.”
Those are not the words of Confucius. They did not come from one of the gaggle of mental coaches strolling the practice range week-to-week on the PGA Tour.
If you did a double take when you looked at the leaderboard Thursday you weren’t alone. Scott’s name hasn’t appeared in such places in a while, because, well, he hasn’t played much.
The studly 66 was just Scott’s sixth competitive round this year.
Six rounds. That fact prompted many media types to jokingly say they have played much more free golf this year than Scott. Truth is, some have played more free golf this week.
In a day and age when players jet around the world for millions of dollars – much of it guaranteed just for showing up – it’s refreshing to see Scott take a much more subdued approach, one that comes from experiences good and bad.
Scott’s first decade on Tour was spent playing anywhere and everywhere. Now, in his early 30s, he’s learned to play when he wants, not when others think he should.
“When you’re 21 it’s pretty easy to fly around the world nonstop and just go play and do everything you want to do but it’s different when you’re 31,” Scott said. “There’s this balance between playing and practice and being able to come out.”
Scott learned to competitively “starve” himself last year for the first time, which he believes helped his performance in the Masters (T-2) and the PGA Championship (seventh), which came a week after his victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
This season’s fasting of tournament golf began while he recovered from a tonsillectomy, which he underwent in mid-December.
After a month at home in Queensland, Australia, with a sore throat, Scott began hitting balls again in January to prepare for the Northern Trust Open, his first Tour start. That week at Riviera produced a 17th-place tie – which pleased him – then he produced his typical first-round exit at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, a loss on the 18th hole to England’s Robert Rock.
The opening round here at Doral produced an eagle, a bogey and five birdies. When he arrived here earlier this week he had no idea if he’d play again before the Masters. But, heeding his own advice, he feels so comfortable with this swing that he’ll likely play the Transitions Championship next week at Innisbrook.
“I’m just trying to keep myself fresh and have myself ready for the biggest events of the year,” said Scott, ranked No. 11 in the world. “That certainly starts here, I believe, until the end of September.”
Scott kept hammering home the word “fresh.” While other top players feel they need to mold their games into shape while battling tournament conditions, Scott couldn’t care less. That was the old approach, one that nearly burned him out and made him turn sour toward a game he was supposed to star in for a long time.
To assure there’s no rust, Scott has made peace with preparation. He knows that it’s easy to stray while on large breaks, but he’s learned to love the process, something that has sent many professional athletes into early retirement.
“When you play a slightly reduced schedule from other people, you have to be hard enough to be disciplined when you work at home,” Scott said. “That’s something I kind of adopted last year. I found just as much satisfaction in the process and the practice as I get out of any result.”
“So I do enjoy going home and spending hours on the range and the chipping green and the putting green. I feel that’s the balance that I need to perform the best.”
The next three days here in south Florida will be a barometer for where he stands and what he needs to work on heading toward that little tournament in Augusta, Ga., in three weeks.
How well he plays there will depend on how hungry he is.