The rise and fall and rise of Adam Scott

By Rex HoggardApril 7, 2014, 3:00 pm

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.

There was a brief stop at UNLV before turning pro in 2000 and enjoying almost immediate success, with victories on the European Tour (2001) and PGA Tour (2003) in his rookie year on both circuits.

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.”

Adam Scott

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.

Getty Images

Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

Getty Images

Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

Getty Images

Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

Getty Images

Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”