Adam Scott opens up on how COVID-19 has forced a rethink of his entire career. Namely, how he’ll approach the search for that elusive second Major championship win.
The call comes in from Switzerland, but the voice on the other end couldn’t be more Australian. It’s Adam Scott – 2013 Masters champion and globetrotting golf star – and he’s about to prove the old saying, You can take the man out of Australia, but you can’t take Australia out of the man.
Scott’s calling from Crans-Montana, a town high in the Swiss Alps known to golfers as home to the European Masters. Since 2019, Switzerland has been where Scott and Swedish wife Marie have balanced family duties with Scott’s career and quest for Major championship win No.2.
Scott has lived mostly overseas for 23 years now, including previous stints in London, New York and the Bahamas. But he’s never lost his sharp, dry Queensland wit. Your correspondent asks if Scott’s career would feel complete if he were to win the Open Championship at St Andrews in July. Only six golfers in history have a Masters green jacket and an Open win at the Home of Golf. Scott politely rejects that notion; it would only make him hungrier for a third Major, then a fourth, and so on.
“Fair enough,” I offer. “Plus, The Open’s in July. You could always win another Masters, or the PGA, or the US Open before then, so let’s not rule those out.”
It was impossible not to laugh when Scott responded, “There you go. Watch out, St Andrews… I could be coming in hot!”
More play, less practice
Coincidentally, coming in hot is exactly what Scott has struggled with since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He found it difficult to parachute into the US and play elite golf considering travel restrictions clashed horribly with a support team that includes a physical trainer who lives in Hawaii and a golf coach who lives in England. But with most of the pandemic hopefully in the rear view, and restrictions eased, Scott has devised a playing schedule for 2022 aimed at getting him back to being a regular contender on the PGA Tour and the (formerly named) European Tour as well.
Instead of spending December and January resting in Australia, like he normally would, Scott has remained in Switzerland. Soon, he will head to Dubai to undergo a preseason bootcamp under swing coach and brother-in-law Brad Malone. Then, he’ll tee it up in the Middle East swing of the European Tour, which has been rebranded the DP World Tour. Scott will play the Abu Dhabi HSBC event and the Dubai Desert Classic, with the latter joining the former as events on the tour’s elite Rolex Series. From there, he’ll head across to the US and start his PGA Tour season at the Tiger Woods-hosted Genesis Invitational at Los Angeles’ Riviera Country Club, which Scott won in 2005 and 2020.
‘That learning curve is much faster now than when I was in my 20s. A lot of young guys are not intimidated’
“There are some changes I’ve made for this year,” Scott tells Australian Golf Digest. “With Switzerland as the base, I needed to look at my schedule and how I travel. I’ll start in LA like I used to do from Australia. Only now, I will have practised and played tournaments on the European Tour, rather than being off at home in Australia and then kind of grinding through the West Coast [Swing on the PGA Tour in January].
“Plus, that’s a much shorter trip for me and the family, from Switzerland to the Middle East.”
Scott will remain in the US from February to April – choosing to play more tournaments and undertake less hardcore practice – in the lead-up to the Masters at Augusta National. That includes adding the World Golf Championships–Dell Technologies Match Play to his schedule, an event Scott typically skipped before Augusta.
“I’ve got a slightly different approach this year; a bit more playing and a little less grafting at home,” he says. “I have a home life and a responsibility to my family, but I also have to try to play really good golf. This way, I’ll be able to switch off a bit more when I’m at home because, even though I’m generally calm about things, I’m obsessed with golf like most of us are and switching the mind off golf is not easy.”
‘Lefty’ sets the right example
In 1998, Scott packed his bags and left Queensland for college golf at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He turned pro two years later, and on the advice of his then swing coach Butch Harmon, started his career on the European Tour. In 2003, he notched his first PGA Tour win at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
But almost 20 years later, Scott knows the game has changed dramatically. Players like Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff were ready to win PGA Tour events (and Majors for Morikawa) straight out of college. That trend is likely to continue.
“That learning curve is much faster now than when I was in my 20s,” Scott says. “A lot of young guys are not intimidated.”
Scott says he has now redefined what he considers to be important as an elite golfer. He’s not trying to win every event like he used to. He looks at Phil Mickelson for inspiration on this front. ‘Lefty’ is exactly 10 years older than Scott, and the American megastar has managed to navigate being a father to three children – and years of getting beaten down by Tiger Woods – to win six Majors. For the sixth, Mickelson shocked the sporting world by winning last year’s PGA Championship at the age of 50.
“I think he’s done a remarkable job over the past 10 years,” Scott says. “He’s won big tournaments. He’s still relevant. He’s a current Major champion.
“Your expectations have to change a little bit [as you age]; you’re not necessarily going out to perform at the highest level every single tournament. You are really looking to peak perform [at the Majors and big PGA Tour events like the Players Championship].
“Some of this philosophy I think could have served me well when I was younger, too,” he laughs. “But I give Phil a ton of credit for the work he’s put into his body over the past decade or so. Physical nutrition, the mental side… he’s put a lot in and he’s still getting a lot out. Seeing Phil move and swing the club like that, at 51, for me is inspiring.
“I’ve been fortunate; I’ve really had no setbacks or injuries. I’d like to keep it in that spot because I’d love to be playing all the big events for as long as I possibly can.”
Scott can certainly play at Augusta National for as long as he wants, given past champions receive a lifetime Masters exemption until their scores are awkwardly high. He laughs when asked if he will play until the club has no choice but to send him a letter suggesting he call time on the tournament.
“I’d like that,” he says through laughter. “I was with [1992 Masters winner] Fred Couples the other week and he’s 62. He still moves it great and he still wants it. I don’t think that ever goes away when you’ve been a competitor like Fred or Phil or myself. I mean, we saw Tom Watson nearly win the  Open Championship at 59 years of age.
“If there’s ever a tournament anyone can win at an older age, it’s The Open.”
One advantage Scott has over Couples or Mickelson is a golf swing that’s more on plane and not as long and languid as both legends possess. Mickelson has not had any serious injuries, but Couples has struggled with a bad back for years. Regardless, Scott’s technique and balance are so sound his swing places very little stress on the body.
A revelation golf fans probably don’t know about Scott is he does not like to watch his own swing on video. And he certainly doesn’t like to overthink technique. It seems incredible the owner of one of the most flawless actions in the history of golf wouldn’t want to watch it every day. Not Scott. He puts his trust in those around him, namely coach Malone, to ensure it looks great and functions properly.
Malone’s refreshing approach to elite golf coaching is to avoid trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Malone’s changes are minimal; once he wanted Scott’s right foot to remain grounded longer after impact and it worked wonders for months.
Instead, Scott looks at the data for reassurance that what he’s working on is taking his game forward. It is, and it’s why he’s excited for 2022. Take driving distance, for example. Let’s compare last season with 2011, as it’s a nice, round 10 seasons ago. Scott’s average driving distance in 2011 was 299.7 yards, good enough for 24th on the PGA Tour. In 2021, it was 306 yards (29th). Adding seven yards and remaining in the 20s on the PGA Tour distance ranking is impressive given he’s obviously 10 years older.
Scott’s clubhead speed is well up and that’s down to a diligent training regime that focuses on flexibility, not just explosive strength. Straighten up that driver, Scott believes, and he’ll be in with a chance on Sunday in at least a couple of the Majors in 2022.
“The driver is really the heart of my game and when I’m swinging the driver well it pumps confidence through the rest of the bag,” he says. “I started swinging the driver well from last year’s British Open onwards, when I was finally able to meet my Titleist rep in the UK and he gave me the perfect driver head, shaft and ball combination. The confidence came back. A month later, I’m in a playoff at Greensboro (in North Carolina, site of the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship).”
Scott lost the Wyndham when he missed a four-foot putt for birdie that would have won a six-man playoff on the first extra hole. He had made all 53 previous putts from inside six feet that week, but not that one. “That was disappointing, but there were good signs,” he says.
It was ironic because, overall, putting is the facet of the game where Scott seems to be drinking from the fountain of youth. His short game in general has improved, but certainly putting stands out. That bucks a trend endured by even the great golfers who tend to lose their putting in their 40s.
For the past three seasons, Scott’s putting rankings (in chronological order) have been 31st, 49th and 18th. That is outstanding on a tour full of the best (male) putters in the world. Except for 2014, when Scott had an outlier of a great year on the greens, he didn’t rank inside the top 100 on the PGA Tour for any season dating back to 2011. Since 2019, he has really turned it around.
The lazy misconception in golf – particularly on social media – is that Scott is a great ball-striker but a bad putter. That’s untrue, especially if you talk to his junior and amateur peers like Ewan Porter, Aaron Baddeley, Brett Rumford and David Gleeson. They all say Scott was a good putter growing up; he just lost confidence with the putter for a long time on the PGA Tour. But now, he has realised what works for him on the greens and he’s confident once again.
“The big thing is my putting is at such a high level,” Scott says. “I was in the top 20 in putting all year. I also feel my short game is at a much higher level than the past few years, too.
“My speed and my driving distance are up, so I’ve started hitting a few more greens because I’m hitting the driver on the golf course rather than losing a few wild drives out in the ‘boonies’. I’m optimistic about what’s ahead.”
This Major championship season will offer four great golf courses where Scott knows he has chances to win. St Andrews stands out – and we’ll get to that.
First up, there’s obviously the Masters in April and Scott always feels comfortable returning to Augusta having already won a green jacket. In May, the PGA Championship is returning to Southern Hills, the course in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Tiger Woods won the 2007 edition. Back then, the PGA was held in August – the peak of the American summer when temperatures and humidity swelter to disgusting levels. The PGA is now held in May; much cooler.
“I just remember the heat that year,” Scott recalls about 2007. “Now we will get conditions much more favourable, not only for playing conditions but for ‘comfortability’. A little earlier in the year and with less heat, it could be a little firmer and the course might be a little better. So I’m looking forward to that.”
In June, the US Open will go back to The Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts, for the first time since Curtis Strange won it in 1988. Brookline also held the 2013 US Amateur, which Matt Fitzpatrick won, but most famously the epic 1999 Ryder Cup. That was when Justin Leonard sealed an infamous comeback victory for the Americans over a bitter European side.
“I’m very excited to go to The Country Club because I really only know it from the Ryder Cup in ’99,” Scott says. “I have to do a little bit of homework; I think a [reconnaissance] trip there early in 2022 will be good to get comfortable with the course.”
But the only Major venue of the four Scott truly has circled on the calendar is the Old Course at St Andrews. He has an axe to grind with himself at the Old Course, and The Open in general. Scott’s collapse at the 2012 Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes has been well documented, but 2015 was also cruel. Scott went out in 31 on a sizzling front nine during the final round at St Andrews, taking a share of the lead with a birdie at the seventh. But when he arrived at the par-5 14th hole, Scott missed a one-footer for par and his claret jug dreams were dashed.
“The Open is the biggest one of the year, really,” he says. “As much as I love Augusta, The Open at St Andrews is as big as it gets. This is prime time for me to win an Open at St Andrews.
“In 2015, I did hold a share the lead on the back nine and I played terribly coming in, which is devastating. But generally, I think I have a thorn in my side with the Open Championship and some unfinished business. It’s the tournament I now most want to win. I’m counting down the days thinking that in the middle of 2022 we’re going to St Andrews to play The Open. I can’t wait. As we get a bit closer, I’m going to really put my head down and think about what I need to do to prepare best for that Open.”
Scott typically heads to the host country of The Open a couple weeks before the championship to really get a feel for the course and the conditions. With his new approach to the schedule, it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to play the Scottish Open the week before The Open, given the Scottish is now a PGA Tour co-sanctioned event.
Whatever the preparation for St Andrews looks like, Scott hopes that he will indeed be coming in hot.