In Jason Day and Adam Scott, Australia has been delivered the makings of a golden age in golf.
I’ve often spoken in this column about professional golf’s almost clinically perfect interpretation of Darwinian theory – the strong survive. The weak are weeded out, and cast aside. And then the process repeats itself, just as in nature, with those with a foot on the ladder constantly needing to prove themselves to sustain their existence.
As in nature, those that have secured a place in the pack need to keep their eyes open for what and who is coming after them. You have to know where you fit, and what it is going to take to stay there. But there are times when you know you’ve seen the next leader of the pack, and that the harsh reality is that there is nothing you can do about it.
Such was the case when I first laid eyes on Adam Scott and Jason Day. On these two occasions seven years apart, both golfers were 16 years of age.
Scott, on the range at Hope Island Golf Club on the Gold Coast, and Day at Emerald Lakes Golf Club a little farther down the road, about to tee off as an invite in the QLD PGA Championship.
Of course, I’d already heard about both of them. The golfing grapevine readily passes news of prodigious talent. It also has a tendency to exaggerate, making mountains out of molehills. Eye witness evidence is crucial when making an assessment. In both instances, however, embellishment wasn’t necessary. Scott, at 16, flighted the ball better than 90 per cent of the pros on the Australian tour. The sound of ball on club, the subsequent trajectory, the fluidity of movement – all indicated someone with skills that transcended his years on the planet. There’s no way of measuring talent, but there is a sixth sense about such things that inhabits you after a few years in the pay-for-play ranks.
Fast forward to Emerald Lakes, and the sight of another teenager whipping drivers to the very back of the range. Plenty of guys practising that day stepped away from their pile of balls to take a quiet peek at this kid Jason Day.
Like me, they knew what they were seeing. Rare ability combined with the quiet confidence of someone who, as a man amongst boys, had taken all before him at the junior level. Infused with ambition, ready and more than capable of taking his place at the head of the pack when his time came.
Today, both Scott and Day are Major champions. Hardly surprising, but as we know from our shared national experience of Greg Norman, talent alone doesn’t mean the floodgates will open and deposit green jackets and Auld Mugs in the trophy cabinet as a matter of course. Two key issues – physical health and putting nerve – will decide whether more Majors are in their futures. Both would get an A-plus ranking on the former, and have paid close attention to maximising the benefits that accrue from golf-specific weight training. They’re amongst the longest, straightest drivers of the golf ball, and have bodies that are standing up to the rigour of constant travel and the impositions of the golf swing on back, knee and shoulder joints.
Putting is a different kettle of fish. Day was impervious to pressure at Whistling Straits, looking solid and decisive in addressing everything under 10 feet. The ability to stand over life-changing putts and execute an even, free-flowing stroke is something that he takes for granted. In an arsenal of impressive weaponry, this is perhaps his greatest asset.
Scott, however, is in a world of pain with the putter. With his beloved anchored putting outlawed next year, Scotty has had mixed results using a short putter and a new grip and the biggest test will be to overcome a sense of insecurity on the greens. Such doubts plagued many of golf’s greatest swingers – notably Hogan and Snead – and finding a way to banish them from the mind remains a significant challenge for the 2013 Masters champion. Should he rise above this limitation, more Majors surely await given his almost peerless ballstriking. In Jason Day and Adam Scott, Australian golf has been delivered the makings of a golden age, outstanding individuals and leaders, on and off the course.
– Grant Dodd