Adam Scott returns home this month as a wanted man in world golf. With LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman openly expressing interest in the 42-year-old Queenslander, and more Major-championship glory still firmly in his sight, Scott has found himself a seat away from the war room. Ahead of his return in this month’s Australian PGA Championship, Scott took time out to address the current state of the game, and what it all means for him – and Australia – moving forward.
[Feature image: Courtesy of Rolex]
The year 2022 will go down as one of the most, if not the most, pivotal year in the history of professional golf. The divide caused by the emergence of LIV Golf as a rival to golf’s establishment, the PGA Tour, has caused emotions to run as high as they ever have in the sport.
Top players like Rory McIlroy and Billy Horschel have issued rallying cries in support of the PGA Tour. McIlroy’s most passionate comments included saying he “hates what [LIV Golf] is doing to the game of golf” and that “golf is ripping itself apart”, while Horschel has said “the [LIV] guys who have publicly stated they want to play less… are the hypocrites”.
But one star golfer who has managed to remove emotion from his decision-making and public comments when asked about LIV Golf is Australia’s Adam Scott. The only real emotion Scott has shown this year was when he was nurturing the next generation of International stars at the most recent Presidents Cup.
A particular moment stood out on the Saturday afternoon at Quail Hollow, where Scott was paired with fellow Australian Cameron Davis for the four-ball match against Horschel and Sam Burns. Scott had rattled off five birdies in a six-hole stretch to keep he and Davis above water, before Davis took charge with a late eagle and an 18th-hole birdie to win the match, 1 up. As 27-year-old Davis fist-pumped furiously, Scott began to get glassy-eyed. He couldn’t help but get choked up knowing Davis is likely to take his experiences performing under pressure at the Presidents Cup into 2023 on the PGA Tour, just like Scott’s career took off in 2004 after his Cup debut in 2003 in South Africa playing with his idol, Ernie Els.
“Maybe some of these players have looked up to me,” a modest Scott told Australian Golf Digest at the time. “They’re so young, they’ve probably watched me play a lot of golf. I wanted them to feel comfortable around me and I let them know they [made the International team] on their own merits. From my side of things, when I was the young guy [in 2003], I didn’t have a strong memory of the elder guys standing up and talking and I don’t know whether that was wrong or right, whether they should or shouldn’t have, but I felt like that’s what I wanted to hear. So, I’ve done that the past few years.”
That scene in Charlotte was a rare moment when the usually steely Scott showed his emotions. He has remained steadfastly objective for the remainder of the year, despite other players trading “pot shots” on social media and in person. For example, McIlroy took a swipe at LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman after McIlroy won the Canadian Open in June for his 21st PGA Tour victory, remarking that it was “one more than someone else” after his win. McIlroy was referring to Norman’s 20 PGA Tour wins.
Horschel has had run-ins with LIV Golf recruits, such as Talor Gooch and Ian Poulter. Horschel called out LIV golfers who had not supported the European Tour in the past but had begun playing some of its tournaments – such as the Scottish Open and BMW PGA Championship – as a means to circumvent LIV Golf’s lack of Official World Golf Ranking points. Gooch took to Twitter to point out Horschel had played only six “pure DP World Tour events” from a total of 64, given the overwhelming majority Horschel had played were Major championships and World Golf Championship events. Horschel was also seen passionately discussing his comments with LIV Golf recruit and DP World Tour stalwart Poulter at the BMW PGA at Wentworth.
Speaking recently from his home in Switzerland, the world No.31 said he hoped the tensions eased soon. “I’ve probably remained less emotional than most around me to the whole thing,” Scott said. “There have been some feelings hurt and some friendships strained maybe… but I’m not trying to play a peacemaker. Because I am a little less emotive about it, I can be a voice of reason. Hopefully we can get beyond everyone having shots at each other… and the closer we get to the waters settling.”
The bigger picture
Scott has long spoken about the merits of a circuit that is more global than the American-based PGA Tour. It has seen him acknowledge selected parts of LIV Golf’s schedule that are “appealing”. Those comments fuelled speculation Scott would join LIV Golf before its inaugural event in June. Yet Scott is still a fully fledged PGA Tour pro.
On social media and in various reports, the popular Aussie was mentioned alongside Lee Westwood and Poulter as veteran PGA Tour players who were going across to the rival circuit. It was driven by the fact that in February, Scott said the schedule LIV was proposing was “appealing” to most golfers. Next year, LIV Golf will stage 14 of its 54-hole tournaments around the world before an offseason that will run from October 2023 to February 2024.
“I don’t see LIV as pure evil for the game of golf,” Scott said. “I completely understand anyone [joining LIV]. They have been offered an opportunity and it suits them, more power to them. I really want it to work out for them.”
Scott acknowledged Norman’s start-up league had been controversial in its inaugural season, in which it has poached fellow Australian and reigning Open Championship winner Cameron Smith from the PGA Tour, alongside other star recruits including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Joaquin Niemann and Patrick Reed. But Scott believes a shake-up could ultimately benefit professional golf.
“I’m not surprised that Greg is involved in this,” Scott said. “He has been pushing and almost achieving this in the past. It’s something he truly believes in, and I don’t begrudge him for going for it, at all. Sure, it’s rocked the waters of golf, which has never really happened in this way before. But I am still optimistic people’s intent is still good and therefore I think we’ll come to a better place ultimately going forward.”
Scott has been in regular conversations with Smith and fellow Australian Marc Leishman, both before and after their switch. Smith and Leishman now headline the all-Australian team on LIV Golf, Punch GC, with Wade Ormsby and Matt Jones. Smith won his first LIV title in just his second start, at the LIV Golf Invitational Chicago where the 29-year-old secured a $US4 million winner’s prize. He has five years’ worth of security in playing the four Majors courtesy of winning the 150th Open at St Andrews. But Leishman will have a tougher time in qualifying for the four big events given his world ranking has already slid outside the top 50 who are invited to the Masters and become eligible for the Open Championship, as well as the top 60 in the world exempt for the US Open.
“As far as Cam and Leish recruiting me, they’ve got plenty of cash now so they’re more than welcome to make me an offer,” Scott joked about rumours Leishman and Smith could lure him to LIV. “I spoke with Cam a fair bit throughout this year. The three of us are fairly close and we’ve all shared our thoughts on it. They may or may not be taking a little bit of a risk. It’s unknown. I’m happy for both of them. They have been given an opportunity that really suits them and they are going for it.”
One Major hurdle remains
Scott had an easy explanation for why he’s still on the PGA Tour when asked recently. It comes down to the Majors, of which Scott has won one – the 2013 Masters. But at 42 years of age, he wants more and can’t risk being shut out from them due to a potential slide down the world ranking.
“Why am I still on the PGA Tour? Because it suits me best to be on the PGA Tour; it’s as simple as that, really,” Scott said in the build-up to the Presidents Cup. “There’s one thing I think I haven’t grasped, it is giving up my entire professional life of trying to achieve [Major wins] and just leaving it behind. I’m obviously not ready to do that. I may never be [ready]… to be clear. I just think that seems to be a hurdle that – well, it hasn’t really presented itself to me anyway.”
Scott made that decision to allow himself to focus 2023 on his dream of becoming a multiple Major winner.
“Like most players, feelings up to a certain point almost changed weekly about LIV – new information came out, ‘This is happening, that is happening,’” Scott said at Wentworth in September. “It crossed a line at some point where I felt like I’m going to waste a season playing [in 2023] and trying to work out what I should be doing and understanding it all. I had to drop it and concentrate on finishing out the season that I started in America.
“I have no Major qualification guarantees for the years ahead other than the Masters. I think I’m very
level-headed about the whole thing; I don’t have a problem, really, with what LIV Golf is doing, but at this current moment it doesn’t fit Adam Scott right now. I’ve focused on the Majors, really, for 20 years.”
One change Scott said he would like to see come out of the divide in professional golf is more opportunities to play golf in Australia. He said he would lobby “pretty hard” with PGA Tour executives to bring more tournaments besides the Presidents Cup Down Under. The PGA Tour’s biennial teams event has been held in Australia just twice in the past 11 years.
“The international player agenda on the PGA Tour is quite important, because we’ve seen a lot of international players leave the tour to go and play LIV,” he said. “It seems like over the past 10 to 15 years Australia has been easily overlooked. Currently, with… I’ll call it a ‘shake-up’, every tour seems to be making moves weekly, or monthly. How Australia fits in to that I don’t know. When the dust settles a little bit on this we’ll have a clearer idea of where that leaves Australia.”
Home sweet home
What Australia will be left with, at least in the short term, is a festival of tournament golf given the Australian Open will make a triumphant return after having two editions cancelled due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Our Open (December 1-4) will follow another staging of the Australian PGA Championship at the delightful Royal Queensland the week prior. Both flagship events will welcome a series of big Australian names in their fields.
The Australian Open will see the men’s and women’s events held concurrently on the Melbourne Sandbelt across Victoria Golf Club and Kingston Heath, with Scott, Smith, Leishman, two-time winner Jones, Geoff Ogilvy, Lucas Herbert, Cam Davis and Kiwi Ryan Fox headlining the men’s draw. On the women’s side, World Golf Hall of Famer Karrie Webb and Major winners Hannah Green and Ashleigh Buhai are just a few of the stars confirmed.
The 2022 summer of golf will be Scott’s first competitive appearances in Australia since 2019, and his first time at home since returning to Australia for several months at the beginning of the 2020 during the early stages of the pandemic.
Scott will chase a second Australian Open title to go with his triumph at New South Wales Golf Club in 2009 and a third PGA, having won in 2013 and 2019.
“As a player, it’s always an honour to come back and play before your home crowds. For me, that’s especially so in Queensland. I also love playing on the magnificent courses of the Melbourne Sandbelt, so I can’t wait to get back down there for both events and, hopefully, get a win or two.”
Did you know?
Scott led the PGA Tour for the 2021-2022 season in consecutive holes without a three-putt. He went 221 holes without three-jacking. It was not even a close contest – Davis Riley was second at 187 holes.
“My putting has really become the strength of my game in the past few years. It used to be my driving, and driving it well would be the heartbeat of my game and hitting fairways would flow throw and free up everything else. But now I have this comfort not just in putting but also in the short game. It’s fair to say my putting is probably the best it’s ever been.”