Some astute judges doubted he would ever be successful as a tour professional. But since turning to Asia and addressing his health and fiery temper, Scott Hend is winning as frequently as Jason Day and Adam Scott.
In the final year of his PGA traineeship in 1997, Scott Hend felt something was missing from his game. With his sights set on becoming a tour professional, he applied for a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport’s golf program in Melbourne.
The AIS reply was brutal. It rejected Hend’s application (upon condemnation from the PGA), citing mental instability would get in the way of his golf.
The 43-year-old still bristles with the insinuation. “There is no top-class athlete in the world that would be classed as mentally stable. You’ve got to be insane to do this for a living.”
In spite of the AIS rejection, Hend has become one of the most successful Australian golfers since the turn of the century (see the two accompanying tables). He has won 13 tournaments since 2000 to be the third most prolific male behind Adam Scott (27) and Brendan Jones (15).
But it’s been in the past five years when Hend has really left a mark. He’s won eight times since 2012 – a haul just two shy of world No.1 Jason Day (10) and the equal of Scott (8). All eight of those victories have come in Asia, including two events sanctioned by the European Tour.
Hend dominated the Asian Tour in 2016, winning twice and earning more than $1 million to be crowned the Order of Merit champion. He had the lowest stroke average (69.29) and received the Players’ Player of the Year from his peers. Hend ended 2016 at a career-high No.59 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Always renowned as a long hitter, Hend is building a reputation as a closer. “Once he gets a sniff he stays right there. A lot of the time he gets the job done just because he is a really good competitor and he knuckles down,” says Marcus Fraser, who teamed with Hend to represent Australia at the Rio Olympics.
Hend has endured ups and downs over 20 years as a professional on the world’s major tours. Now having conquered Asia, the 43-year-old is poised to challenge the world’s best.
Adds Fraser: “I think he’s a top-30 player in the world. Comfortably. He’s definitely got every attribute. He’s got more game than a lot of the guys in the top 50. He’s got a world-class game, there’s no question.”
All The Right Moves
Hend is unique as an Australian living in America, playing on the Asian and European tours. He resides at Ponte Vedra Beach in northern Florida with his wife, Leanne, and their 10-year-old twins. He commutes from tournament to tournament, continent to continent, playing a staggering 37 weeks of the year in 2016.
“I don’t play for the money and I don’t play for the ranking. I just love playing golf tournaments,” Hend says of his heavy workload. “It’s probably been a little bit of a detriment to my career. But if I wasn’t like that, maybe I wouldn’t be doing this anymore. It’s sort of a double-edged sword.”
Hend appears infrequently in Australia despite the busy schedule, returning home to play every couple of years. Hence it was his surprise inclusion to represent Australia at the 2016 Olympics that brought him to the attention of the greater sporting public. Even though he finished tied 39th in Rio, it gave Hend an opportunity to grab the media spotlight in the absence of Day, Scott and Marc Leishman.
Northern Florida has afforded Hend a sort of anonymity since 2004. “We set up shop over there when I got a US Tour card. Got a Green Card in the US. We like the lifestyle. Obviously, we like the tax breaks you get compared to Australia. And it is a little bit easier to get to places from the US than it is coming out of Australia.”
Being camped in the one location for 13 years is unusual for Hend whose father Robert was in the air force for 23 years. Scott grew up at RAAF bases across Australia – Townsville, Darwin, Katherine, Wagga Wagga, Williamstown and Laverton – and regards himself as fortunate to have encountered so many different towns
He was exposed to a variety of sports: Aussie rules, badminton, baseball, cricket, rugby league, soccer and volleyball. But it wasn’t until the family settled in Brisbane when Scott was 18 that he joined Nudgee Golf Club and began to take the game more seriously.
Hend’s long hitting made him a talking point on the Australian circuit once he made his way onto the tour in 1998. These days it’s still commonplace in Asia for players to stop what they’re doing and watch him stripe balls with a driver on the practice range.
But it’s an under-rated short game that tends to go unnoticed. “Great touch and imagination around the greens. He’s just got unbelievable hands,” Fraser says. “He can see all the different shots he needs to hit. The majority of the time he pulls them off. He’s just a really talented hand-eye co-ordination guy.”
Hend is also unique in that he hasn’t had a coach since working with Brisbane-based instructor Chris Chaplin in 2004/’05. He understands his own swing, having learnt how to be self-reliant during three years in the PGA of Australia trainee system.
Away from the course, Hend is a self-confessed “big petrol head”. In his garage is a 1968 SS Chevelle and he recently bought a restored 1969 Chevrolet Camaro at auction for more than $US40,000. (Alas, it wasn’t fully restored because the engine blew up two miles down the road.)
Hend even named his son Aston and daughter McLaren after fast cars. This year he was planning to take them to see the Monster Trucks in Jacksonville, which he had been promising to do for the past five years. He’ll also take his son to watch the Daytona 500.
“He’s just a good bloke,” says Paul Gow who used to play practice rounds with Hend on the US PGA Tour. “He was a really good guy to play with and a good guy to hang out with.
“One thing I did know, he was pretty happy with himself. But that’s what you’ve actually got to be. You’ve got to have a bit of an ego.”
Struggling In America
Hend had won four times at home and once in Canada by the time he graduated to play the US PGA Tour in 2004. But he struggled in two seasons there despite some early promise.
After missing his first five cuts, Hend finished outright third in the 2004 BellSouth Classic, two strokes adrift of the winner Zach Johnson. Hend made 24 birdies and an eagle that week, but surrendered 13 bogeys and a double-bogey.
Leaking too many shots, at too many tournaments, would define Hend’s shot at the big time. He registered just one more top-10 result (a tie for sixth at the 2005 Colonial) and lost his card after the second season.
Hend did hold the distinction of leading the tour in driving distance in 2005. He averaged 318.9 yards off the tee, which was almost three yards longer than Tiger Woods (316.1 yards) in second place.
However, Hend ranked 202nd in driving accuracy after hitting 45.36 percent of fairways. Even though Woods ranked 191st in driving accuracy (54.58%), he still topped the moneylist with $US10.62 million. Hend was 170th with $US356,247.
With so much power at his disposal, Hend didn’t know how to take advantage of his biggest asset, says Gow, now a golf analyst with Fox Sports. “But someone like Rod Pampling figured out how to harness that. Rod was one of the longest players around for a long, long time and he got to the US Tour and [realised he] needed to hit more fairways, not hit it longer.”
In 2006, Hend floundered back on the Web.com Tour, making six cuts from 19 events to finish 151st on the moneylist with $US17,950. With nowhere to play, Hend turned his attention to Asia.
“I had lost my playing rights everywhere as I was injured in 2006. I figured somewhere to play is better than nowhere and I could try and make something out of a card in Asia.”
From Journeyman To Asian Specialist
It took time to address what was holding him back but Hend eventually started to win. However his first victory – the Pertamina Indonesia President Invitational in 2008 – proved to be a false dawn.
It took another four years to win again at the ISPS Handa Singapore Classic. By 2012 however, Hend was struggling with his health. Following the Singapore victory, he underwent a thyroidectomy in Bangkok. His left thyroid gland was 15 times the size of a normal person’s thyroid while the right one was 10 times as large.
The oversized glands restricted everything he did and it’s remarkable he was able to play golf at all. He used to get extremely sweaty hands and would go through five gloves in a round. It felt like his body was running at 1,000 degrees all the time.
It got to a point where Hend used to try to work out in the gym, but one of the thyroid glands would press up against the artery in his neck. (The relatively simple procedure to remove both glands took surgeons nearly five hours due to their size and because they were wrapped around his collarbone.)
It took a while for Hend to adjust to the medication afterwards. (He suffered head spins and felt physically ill on the golf course.) But once he adjusted, his performances improved dramatically.
Another trigger for Hend’s surge in form was the sudden diagnosis of his father with cancer. Robert Hend was staying with Scott in Malaysia during the CIMB Classic in late 2012 when he complained about chronic pain around his lower back. A chiropractor had told him it was a pinched sciatic nerve.
A worried Scott encouraged his father to get an MRI scan, which revealed that cancerous growths in his hips were pressing on the sciatic nerve. The stage 4 cancer was inoperable, forcing his father to undergo an aggressive form of chemotherapy.
“He was quite lucky to survive that. If he didn’t get the MRI, who knows, he might not be here right now,” Hend says. “It sort of motivated me to win a couple of those tournaments on behalf of him. We didn’t know how that was going to go and he’s managed to battle through.”
Hend won three times throughout 2013 in Chiangmai, Taiwan and Macau. Then he secured his first European Tour title at the 2014 Hong Kong Open. Hend won again at Macau in 2015 and followed up with a breakout year in 2016 when he was regularly in contention and had two victories.
The first came at the True Thailand Classic in Hua Hin where he captured his second European title by one shot. The second win also came in Thailand by a stroke at the Queen’s Cup in Ko Samui. But it was also a season of near misses.
“I should have won five times last year,” laments Hend who held a one-stroke lead after 54 holes on three occasions in Europe.
In England, Hend unravelled on Sunday in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He was punished for bad course management and shot 78 to tie for 15th when a round of 71 would have given him victory.
In the Swiss Alps, Hend fired a closing 66 at the Omega European Masters but was denied victory when Alex Noren caught him with a 65, then sunk a 30-foot birdie putt to win on the first playoff hole.
At the next week’s KLM Open in The Netherlands, Hend opened with 67-68-64 to again lead by one through three rounds. But he let another opportunity slip with a 73 on Sunday to drop into a tie for fourth.
While he may lament the close losses, Hend has discovered the key to consistently good golf comes with managing his temper. The AIS and PGA had a valid point all those years ago. Hend’s on-course volatility was hindering his golf, which was accentuated by the thyroid problems.
“I’ve always been a little bit fiery. And when you’ve got a little bit of a chemical imbalance in your body, it doesn’t help either,” he says.
The birth of the twins in 2006 was a turning point, says long-time caddie Tony Carolan, who has been on the bag for six of Hend’s victories. The responsibility of raising children matured him as a person.
Hend concedes: “I think as my kids have got a lot older, things seem to be a little bit easier to manage. I’ve just become a little bit more calmer on the golf course – a bit more patient, which was probably my downfall earlier.”
Renowned for being hotheaded, Hend confesses he used to be “a bit of a lunatic”. He explains: “On your second hole of the tournament you make a bogey and you’re chastising and fuming with yourself. It runs into the next three holes. Then after you sit back and think, I’ve just missed the cut by a shot this week. In that first round if I had have sat back and taken a few deep breaths and took it easy, I’d probably be running top 10.
“That’s when you wake up and go, Hang on, I’ve got a family to support now and the only person that’s really hurting is myself and the people that want to see me do well. So you’ve got to pull your head in.”
Hend had known of his self-destructive behaviour for a long time. The problem was trying to get out of the pattern and habits that had formed at an early age. Back when Hend grew up playing football, he was taught that anger was a good thing to get you motivated. Now he realises it’s not necessarily a good thing.
“The problem with anger is you get to a point where too much is not good. And not enough is not good enough. So it’s a very fine line you’re treading. I’ve just learnt how to channel that energy a bit better.”
Still Fire In The Belly
Hend has ambitions to play the US PGA Tour again. Last year he had an opportunity to go to Web.com Tour Finals and he still has conditional status there for 2017. But at this point in his career, he’s not prepared to spend a whole year on the Web.com Tour trying to get a PGA Tour card when he has exempt status in Europe and Asia.
Alternatively, he could play his way onto the US Tour by earning enough FedEx Cup points from playing well in Majors and the World Golf Championships. This season he’s already earned $US225,750 with a T-7 at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and T-54 at the WGC–HSBC Champions in China.
We’ll never know if an AIS scholarship would have fast-tracked Hend’s development. We do know that nobody
from that scholarship intake went on to achieve anywhere near the success he’s enjoyed. Maybe being overlooked was a blessing in disguise.
Through trial and error, Hend has become an accomplished tour professional. He’s learnt how to better channel his aggression as he’s adjusted to family life.
And he’s learnt how to harness his power. Last year he went for a shorter-length driver with a heavier shaft “to try and cut my dispersion down and hit a few more fairways. It’s obviously worked”. And he still averaged 301.1 yards off the tee on the European Tour.
In essence, Hend is a competitor who loves the game more than most. Growing up across Australia, with constant change in his life, seems to have provided him with the resilience to cope with the challenges that came his way. There’s no better example than how he used his father’s cancer scare as motivation to win.
In the meantime, he’s aiming to stick to his game plan. And to keep himself fresh, Hend plans to reduce his playing schedule to 23-28 tournaments. But he won’t be reducing his desire.
“I want to win 20 times before I finish my career. I want to be able to say that I won 20 times, I won the Order of Merit in Asia and then I went on to Europe and played great
“I’d love to contend in a Major, possibly win a Major, and then go onto the US Tour and all of a sudden I’m on the senior tour.
“I feel like I’m the sort of guy who’s going to keep playing until I’m 75 and they wheel me off in a cast.”
THE HEND FILE
Born: August 15, 1973
Birthplace: Townsville, Queensland
Resides: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Height: 182 centimetres
Weight: 90 kilograms
Family: Wife, Leanne; children, Aston (10), McLaren (10)
Turned Professional: 1997
Sponsor: Dong-A Pharmaceutical (hat, bag)
Professional victories: 14
1999 – South Australian PGA Championship (Foundation Tour)
2000 – Toyota Southern Classic (Development Tour)
2002 – Victoria Open (Canadian Tour)
2003 – Queensland Open (Von Nida Tour) – Toyota Southern Classic (Von Nida Tour)
2008 – Pertamina Indonesia President Invitational (Asian Tour)
2012 – ISPS Handa Singapore Classic (Asian Tour)
2013 – Chiangmai Golf Classic (Asian Tour) – Mercuries Taiwan Masters (Asian Tour) – Venetian Macau Open (Asian Tour)
2014 – Hong Kong Open (European Tour/Asian Tour)
2015 – Venetian Macau Open (Asian Tour)
2016 – True Thailand Classic (European Tour/Asian Tour) – Queen’s Cup (Asian Tour)
Most Wins By Australians In The Past Five Years (2012 – 2017)
Jason Day 10
Scott Hend 8
Adam Scott 8
Matthew Griffin 5
Brendan Jones 4
Brad Kennedy 4
Nick Cullen 3
Brett Rumford 3
Adam Blyth 2
Steven Bowditch 2
Greg Chalmers 2
Andrew Dodt 2
Matt Jones 2
Marc Leishman 2
Bryden Macpherson 2
Rod Pampling 2
Peter Senior 2
Aaron Baddeley 1
Adam Bland 1
Marcus Both 1
Nick Flanagan 1
Marcus Fraser 1
Mathew Goggin 1
Richard Green 1
Ashley Hall 1
Steven Jeffress 1
James Nitties 1
Geoff Ogilvy 1
Cameron Percy 1
Aron Price 1
John Senden 1
Paul Sheehan 1
Todd Sinnott 1
Andre Stolz 1
Robert Allenby 0
Stuart Appleby 0
Andrew Buckle 0
Gavin Coles 0
Kim Felton 0
Scott Gardiner 0
David Gleeson 0
Paul Gow 0
Nathan Green 0
Scott Laycock 0
Stephen Leaney 0
Peter Lonard 0
Jarrod Lyle 0
Peter O’Malley 0
Craig Parry 0
Terry Pilkadaris 0
Ewan Porter 0
Alistair Presnell 0
Michael Sim 0
Scott Strange 0
Most Wins By Australians Since 2000
Adam Scott 27
Brendan Jones 15
Scott Hend 13
Robert Allenby 12
Jason Day 12
Kim Felton 11
Peter Lonard 10
Geoff Ogilvy 10
Andre Stolz 10
Marc Leishman 9
Stuart Appleby 8
Paul Sheehan 8
Aaron Baddeley 7
Steven Bowditch 7
Brett Rumford 7
Scott Strange 7
Greg Chalmers 6
Nick Flanagan 6
Marcus Fraser 6
Matthew Griffin 6
Brad Kennedy 6
Gavin Coles 5
James Nitties 5
Rod Pampling 5
Craig Parry 5
Adam Bland 4
Nathan Green 4
Richard Green 4
Stephen Leaney 4
Peter O’Malley 4
Cameron Percy 4
Peter Senior 4
Michael Sim 4
Marcus Both 3
Nick Cullen 3
Andrew Dodt 3
David Gleeson 3
Mathew Goggin 3
Paul Gow 3
Ashley Hall 3
Scott Laycock 3
Terry Pilkadaris 3
John Senden 3
Adam Blyth 2
Andrew Buckle 2
Scott Gardiner 2
Steven Jeffress 2
Matt Jones 2
Jarrod Lyle 2
Bryden Macpherson 2
Ewan Porter 2
Alistair Presnell 2
Aron Price 2