It is the middle of April in 2013 and Adam Scott is walking through New York City. Scott and future wife Marie are looking at apartments to rent in the Big Apple. He has also just won the Masters.
But the Adelaide-born Queenslander isn’t protesting an already planned few days of searching for new digs. In fact, it allows his feet to touch the ground. It’s been a whirlwind 48 hours.
The previous Sunday, his life changed forever when he drained a 13-foot birdie putt on Augusta National’s 10th green, defeating Argentine Angel Cabrera on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff. The first Australian to don the Masters green jacket takes a break from apartment hunting and shoots a glance at his phone. There are more than a thousand messages of congratulations – e-mails and texts.
“I didn’t know I had given my number out to that many people,” Scott jokes while recounting the story.
The Shark Reacts
Now 37, Scott casts his mind back to the 2013 Masters and offers a remarkable account of the aftermath to his breakthrough Major championship win.
“Five years, wow,” Scott recalls as he walks with Australian Golf Digest at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. “The days after are such a blur to me, now. It’s mad if I think back to what I was up to.”
From Prime Ministers to professional surfers, the world wanted to congratulate Scott. They knew how much it meant to him, and to his homeland.
“I didn’t respond to any message until the Friday after because it was just … I was trying to digest it all,” Scott recalls. “It was actually fun to reflect on it that way; to experience it, then kind of get away from it for four days, and then revisit.”
But there was one number that stood out. Scott fielded a phone call from his idol, Greg Norman, on the Tuesday.
“That was a special moment for me, because he’s played such a huge role in my golfing life,” Scott says.
As a child, Scott had watched on TV as the Shark wore Australia’s three biggest collapses at Augusta National: the 72nd-hole bogey in 1986, the Larry Mize chip-in a year later and the surrender to Nick Faldo in 1996.
“It was nice to just share a moment with him and he was so pleased I got there,” Scott says of the phone call with Norman. “It was more personal; I spoke to Kiki (Kirsten Norman) as well; I think I was on loudspeaker. Greg described how emotional he was while watching and it was quite touching.”
Norman was particularly moved that Scott had the sense of occasion to mention his name at the green jacket presentation inside Augusta’s Butler Cabin.
“Whomever was going to win, whatever Australian it was going to be was always going to have a bit of Greg playing with them,” Scott says.
“He touched every golfer in Australia; he impacted all of us and Greg and I have been close for a long time.”
Scott pauses on Riviera’s eighth hole, shakes his head with disbelief as if to pinch himself, and adds: “That’s a fairly odd thing for me to think about; considering he was such a hero as a kid … it was nice to speak to him.”
From Switzerland, with love
While Scott looked at “30-plus” apartments in New York, messages of congratulations continued to pour in. One has since become a piece of golf history – a Major championship-winning letter of congratulations from Arnold Palmer, who died in September 2016.
“I got so many responses and written letters from the great golfers,” Scott says. “Arnold, Jack, Gary Player, Ben Crenshaw … this is amazing stuff. And I’m leaving a lot of people out because there are just too many to mention. All these golfers I’d watched as a kid were suddenly congratulating me.”
But it wasn’t just the great golfers who were thrilled for Scott. He received a letter from 20-time tennis grand slam winner Roger Federer.
“That was a neat deal,” Scott says. “I’m a big fan of tennis and I’ve spent my whole career following his [above]; we’re almost the same age. I’ve admired everything he has done – the way he plays tennis and how he carries himself. To get a paragraph basically saying, ‘Congratulations, Adam. Very happy for you,’ was a novelty for me because I hadn’t really had too much interaction with the guy
Across Australia, people stopped in their tracks to watch Scott vanquish 77 years’ worth of demons that had haunted Australian golfers at the hallowed turf of Augusta. Norman, combined with the rise of globally televised sport, created a Masters Monday ritual for Australian golf fans: set the alarm clock for the wee hours, switch on the telly and hope there’s a result before work, or school.
“I remember the times when Greg was in contention in any Major, or when Kieran Perkins won the 1,500m finals (at the 1996 Olympics) – Australia stopped,” Scott says. “When Greg was in contention in the final round at the Masters and I was watching on TV during those Monday mornings in Australia, my world stopped.
“Obviously, I’m not the icon Greg Norman is, but you add another 20 years of Australia not winning the Masters and it had become a thing in Australian sport. We had always had top players at Augusta but never won. I spent my whole career answering those questions – it was a token question to me, but it became a legitimate question.”
An Elite Fraternity
The drive up Augusta National’s Magnolia Lane takes on a new meaning when you own a green jacket.
“It’s amazing going back there as a champion,” Scott says. “Not only the way the golf club embraces you, but the way the patrons embrace you out on the course – you get welcomed to every green you walk onto. It really is quite special playing as a Masters champion.”
From a results standpoint, Augusta has a way of treating past winners differently to other competitors. Since his win, Scott hasn’t finished worse than 42nd, including a top-10 and a tie for 14th.
Fred Couples owns six top-10s and another eight top-25s since taking out the 1992 edition. Most famously, a 46-year-old Nicklaus bagged one last Masters triumph in the twilight of his Major-championship career.
“There really is that energy there for the past champions, if you believe in that kind of stuff,” Scott says. “Just the comfort level playing the Masters as a past champion increases; and I was already developing a comfort level in the years leading up to winning. Maybe some of the pressure comes off; maybe the confidence of knowing you’ve done it there helps.
“Good things always seem to happen to Masters winners.”
In Good Company
The champions locker room at Augusta National, up a staircase from the lobby, has a window with a view across Founders Circle and down Magnolia Lane. It’s filled with lockers held by Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan – some of the greatest to have ever touched a golf club.
“I was never going to get a bad locker, was I?” Scott says with an honest laugh. However, he was delighted when he saw he’d share a locker with Player. Not only because Player is a nine-time Major champion, but also because Australians and South Africans share an intangible bond in golf.
“To share a locker with Gary Player, one of the Big Three, is a wonderful thing,” Scott says. “I’ve spent some time with Gary over the years. He has been my captain three times at the Presidents Cup. Occasionally, when I bump into Gary in the locker room at the Masters, he jokes, ‘Where’s my jacket? This one doesn’t fit!’”
Like any procedure at Augusta National, a champion’s locker is assigned so quickly and discreetly you’d think it was always there.
“It was that night. Not long after you win and some of the official proceedings are wrapped up, you get taken up to the champions locker room,” Scott recalls. “Your stuff is moved out of the other locker and put up there, so my street shoes were up in the champions locker and they take you up there and show you.
“To share that room with the people who are up there … it’s indescribable. It’s an incredible fraternity of players. Sitting at the table at the champions dinner and looking down at the greatest players who have ever played the game, it’s really special to know you’ll be at that dinner forever.”
Hall Of Fame
The 2013 Masters didn’t just halt Australian golf circles. The whole nation tuned in.
Former US Open winner Graeme McDowell hilariously tweeted: “945am Monday morning east coast of Australia now … I fear for productivity right this second!!” while renowned golf commentator Jim Nantz joked he could hear the roar from Australia.
“Yeah, I kind of had an idea,” Scott says about the impact of his win. “Because I had been part of it all back in Australia as a kid – watching Norman and understanding what that was.
“I think I’ve seen a clip of a radio show where the guy is doing an interview, but he’s watching my win. He’s silently dancing in the chair and he’s not listening and says, ‘Sorry, what did you say? Adam just won the Masters.’ That was brilliant.”
Golfers will argue until they’re blue in the face where it ranks among Australia’s greatest sporting achievements. But one thing is certain – it’s in the same league as those ‘Where were you when it happened?’ moments.
Not unlike Australia’s 1983 America’s Cup victory, Cathy Freeman’s 400 metres win at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney or John Aloisi’s extra-time penalty in 2005 that sent the Socceroos through to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, their first Cup berth in 32 years.
But with 10-plus years left in his playing career, Scott isn’t stopping to smell the azaleas just yet.
“I’m still playing and still trying to achieve, so I don’t focus on it that way,” Scott admits. “But to hear it brought up, or to see an article with my achievement alongside those of Donald Bradman or Cathy Freeman – these kind of heroes – is pretty amazing.”
Scott brings himself back to earth with a dose of modesty.
“I can’t believe it was my destiny to win, when you had so many great Australian players lead the way and with Greg coming so close,” Scott says. “But it ended up being me. It was just … fate.”