Adam Scott is thisgeneration's Fred Couples—he makes it look so easy you can never tell how hardhe's trying. Dressed like a model, with the looks of a movie star, hismovements set to a soundtrack of squealing female fans and ringing cashregisters, Scott glides around a golf course with such grace he conjurescomparisons with Fred Astaire, not Fred Funk.
This is an article from the April 8, 2008 issue
At age 27 he haswon seven international events and five times on the PGA Tour, notably the 2004Players Championship, which was followed two months later by another victory,at the Booz Allen Classic. Even so, questions remain as to just how much hewants it. Asked this question directly, Scott says, "I want to win. Badly.It is what drives me." And yet during this brief answer his gaze driftsfrom the eyes of his inquisitor to an oversized TV in his hotel room, on whichhe is idly monitoring a college basketball game. Maybe this is a sign ofmodesty, or residual shyness from his quiet upbringing in Brisbane onAustralia's Gold Coast. But if Scott can't look a reporter in the eye whileexpressing his desire, how is he supposed to strike fear into the hearts of thebest golfers in the world?
No one knows Scottbetter than his longtime coach and confidant, Butch Harmon, and he, too, isimpatient for his prize pupil to develop the flintiness that has defined somany great champions. "He has a tremendous work ethic," says Harmon."No one in golf is working harder to get better." At the start of theyear Harmon made headlines by crowing that among golf's young talents, Scott isthe player most likely to challenge Tiger Woods. The racy quotes were less anhonest assessment, however, than a ploy to motivate Scott. "I wanted tolight a fire under him," says Harmon. "It's time for him to show theworld how good he is."
Scott, likeeveryone else, knows how this can be done. "I have to play better in themajors, simple as that," he says.
Scott has been acan't-miss kid at least since 2001, when he won his first European tour eventat age 20. The victory at the Players seemed to signal his arrival as asuperstar, but in the years since he has been very good but not quite goodenough. Last season he won only once worldwide, in Houston, where he prevaileddespite hitting his tee shot into the water on the 72nd hole. More to thepoint, he was a nonfactor at all the major championships, as he has beenthroughout his career. (In 27 majors Scott has only four top 10s.)
But dig a littledeeper and 2007 was hardly a lost year, as Scott learned plenty from assortedgrowing pains. Last season the onetime boy wonder embraced full-blownadulthood, taking control of his business affairs, moving into his first house,and rethinking and recommitting to his practice and workout routines. Thestunning final-round 61 to roar to victory at the Qatar Masters in January wasconfirmation that all the change was worth it, but Scott is no longer satisfiedrolling up victories in B-list tournaments.
"Everythingwe're doing is geared toward the Masters," says Harmon. "For Adam, it'sall about Augusta."
SCOTT BEGANpreparing for the Masters in February, with a spring training of sorts inOceanside, Calif., where he tuned up his game and equipment at the cutting-edgeTitleist Performance Institute. With his triumph in Qatar only a week old,Scott radiated good cheer. In press-conference settings he chooses his wordscarefully, often suppressing a dry sense of humor. In the relaxed environmentof the Performance Institute he was good for nonstop giggles. His personaltrainer, David Darbyshire, dumped some electrolyte powder into Scott's bottledwater. "We're trying to do all our drugs now, before the testingbegins," Scott deadpanned. "After that we'll just smoke ourdivots."
For this seasonScott has retained Darbyshire, a fixture around the Tour, on an exclusivecontract, and they are religious about working out twice a day, every day.Their first scheduled day off in 2008 is the Monday after the Masters. A fewweeks ago Scott took a surfing vacation on the Maldives with his girlfriend,Marie Kojzar, and he insisted that Darbyshire tag along.
"In the past Iwould work with a trainer at tournaments, but on my off weeks I would work outon my own," says Scott. "It's not the same. I would get tighter, and myswing would change a bit without me even knowing it. Then I'd come out on Tourand work with a trainer again, and my body and my swing wouldn't feelright."
So after a fewmonths of diligent work, does he feel different? "No, I feel the same,every day," Scott says. "That's the whole point."
Harmon has noticedthe change. "When we have a big practice day, say four to five hours, hecomes back the next day like it's nothing. He's a lot stronger than hewas."
In the past thebulk of their work was spent building one of golf's most aesthetically pleasingswings, and Scott is candid that he did not focus enough on his short game. Hehas come to realize that improving his work on and around the greens is whatwill take him to the next level. "I consider him a very good chippernow," says Scott's longtime friend Sergio García. "He's miles betterthan he was two or three years ago."
Scott's touch wasevident during a stolen moment at the Performance Institute. He was working onhis chipping when Titleist Tour rep Rick Nelson handed him a cellphone so hecould say hello to a mutual friend. As Scott chitchatted, he held the phone inone hand and continued chipping with the other, to a tough pin on top of aknoll with a couple of feet of break. He nonchalantly dunked a chip with hisright hand, then switched hands and a moment later jarred another shot with hisleft.
Putting does notcome quite so naturally, and inconsistency on the greens has also held backother young, talented ball bashers such as García and Charles Howell. Forbetter and worse, one of the defining performances of Scott's career (so far)was in the semifinals of the 2003 Match Play Championship. He was fearless inoutplaying Tiger Woods from tee to green, but Scott gave away the match with athree-putt on the first hole of sudden death.
This year Scotthas committed to practicing his putting for at least 45 minutes every day, evenif, as he puts it, his "give-a-crap meter is on empty." Though he has afew technical thoughts—keep the hands higher, weight on the balls of his feet,not his heels—his primary focus is making a languid, rhythmic stroke. Scott'sscorching flat stick at Qatar was an early return on the time he has invested."My putting was beautiful that day," he says, "maybe the best I'veever putted."
Two weeks ago, enroute to a tie for ninth at Doral, Scott seemingly made everything over thefirst two rounds, taking only 50 putts. He surged into the lead early on thefront nine of the third round. But then his putter went cold, and over thefinal 36 holes he burned 59 strokes on the greens, including a missedtwo-footer as he was trying to rally on the final nine. "I'm a betterputter than people think," Scott says, but he's also a bit exasperated bythe question. "In Australia they actually think I'm a bad putter. It'sfunny, really."
Geoff Ogilvy,another Australian and Scott's close friend and rival since they wereteenagers, says, "He has to be a pretty good putter, doesn't he? You can'tbe up there every week like he is [and] putting poorly. The bottom line is thatif Adam has identified putting as a weakness, then he will make it a strength.That's the kind of commitment he has."
THOUGH SCOTT'Soverall game remains a work in progress, his life off the course is moresettled than it has ever been. For someone so outwardly marketable, he hasspent his career struggling to find the right stewards of his business affairs,repeatedly changing agents as he ran the gamut from monolithic IMG to, mostrecently, a boutique outfit called Prism Sports, where he was the only golferin a stable that included Shaquille O'Neal and Andre Agassi. Last summer Scottdecided to assume total control in charting his career and began building theAdam Scott Company, handpicking a small staff to run it.
Branching out onone's own is a move that players traditionally make later in their careers, aswas the case with Scott's mentor, Greg Norman, who didn't leave IMG's bosomuntil he was almost 40. "Adam has always been old for his age," saysfellow Tour member Justin Rose, who is two weeks younger than Scott. "I'vecome to respect and value his opinion on things. He's someone I go to foradvice on important matters."
Even an old soullike Scott couldn't help but be distracted by all the off-course commerce lastyear. Setting up his management company "was a lot of work," he says,"probably a bit more than I expected." At the same time he was alsoramping up work on the Adam Scott Foundation, which has a charter to serveAustralia's underprivileged and disadvantaged youth. In addition to providingacademic scholarships, the foundation announced last April that it would fundand construct a specialized apartment complex in Brisbane for young people withdisabilities who require 24-hour care.
"When he takeson a project, he dives in," says Adam's father, Phil, a prominent coursedesigner in Australia. "He has been candid that last year he felt a bitdistracted by all the decisions he had to make off the course." Last yearthe Scotts collaborated on Crooked River Golf Club, which will be the firstAdam Scott signature design when it opens in 2010. Located in Kimana, 90 milessouth of Sydney, the enticing site features rolling heathland, winding creeksand old-growth forests. After walking the land on a half-dozen occasions, Adamhas come up with an old-school design featuring narrow fairways and smallgreens framed by challenging runoff areas. "His tastes are from a differentera," says Phil. "He has zero interest in building the world's largestwaterfall."
The other majorlife event that Scott went through in 2007 was moving into his first house,which ate up much of November. His dream home is on the Gold Coast just southof Brisbane, perched atop a bluff with sweeping views of postcard-perfectSanctuary Cove. It has a sleek, modern feel and all the Cribs-worthy goodies,like a 12-person screening room. Though he is happy to be establishing someroots, Scott admits that playing house has freaked him out a bit. "It's alittle overwhelming," he says. "I don't know if I'm in thehouse/dog/picket-fence mode yet."
Scott is sixth inthe World Ranking; all five players ahead of him are married with children, buthe says he is a long way from domesticity, even though he has been datingKojzar, who's from Sweden, on and off, for seven years. "I couldn't imaginehaving a family and traveling the Tour," Scott says.
For now, at least,Scott's time line is simpatico with Kojzar's, as she is tethered to their basein London while studying to become an architect. (Scott also keeps a chalet inCrans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland, for tax reasons and the occasional ski getaway.)"My girlfriend is a really ambitious person," says Scott. "Shehasn't been going to school all these years to not put that knowledge touse."
Kojzar's lowprofile on the golf circuit is all the more noteworthy because Scott'sgalleries tend to be predominantly female. "I love to play near him,"Stuart Appleby, a fellow Aussie, says. "You ever see seagulls in the ocean?If you're a fisherman, that's where you go because you know there are fish.With Adam, you know where the young, single women are."
Scott insists hisgirlfriend has nothing to worry about. "She's seen that most of them arewell under age," he says. But Shelly Ryan, his public relations manager,says, "His female fan base is crazy. Plenty of times, I've been opening hismail and some girl has sent him underwear to sign. When I follow him attournaments, the comments in the gallery make me blush."
Scott has helpedpolish his image through a portfolio of endorsement deals with high-endcompanies, notably by sporting a spiffy Burberry wardrobe that has landed himon Esquire's best-dressed list. Scott makes in the neighborhood of $8 millionannually off the course, and lately he has begun referring to himself as abrand with only a little self-consciousness. A true world player who competesregularly in Australia, Europe and Asia as well as the U.S., Scott has thepotential for wide-ranging crossover stardom, as long as he can deliver betweenthe ropes. "Things are going to explode when he wins a major," saysRyan. Scott is used to hearing such talk, and he has made peace with theaccompanying expectations. "I'm ready for all that," he says. "Atleast I think I am."
IN AUSTRALIA thereis a phenomenon known as the Tall Poppy syndrome, a sometimes pejorative termused to describe an egalitarian society's tendency to chop down to size anybodywhose ego or achievements make him stand out too much. This cultural baggagemay or may not help explain Norman's careerlong failings in the majorchampionships, particularly at the Masters, where he was four times arunner-up, including the gruesome finish in 1996 when he let a six-stroke leadslip away during the final round. In Australia that telecast played out earlyon a Monday morning, and Scott vividly recalls watching the Shark unravelbefore glumly trudging off to school. Augusta will always have specialresonance for Aussie golfers because of Norman's annual psychodrama there, andScott does not try to hide how much he covets a green jacket. "It would besweet to be the first Australian to win the Masters," he says. "One ofus is going to win there sooner rather than later, and I'm working hard to bethe guy who breaks through." This seven-decade drought is even moresurprising given that Augusta National replicates many of the shot values ofAustralia's famed Sand Belt courses. (The National's designer, AlisterMacKenzie, also laid out Royal Melbourne, which Scott cites as one of hisfavorite courses.)
At Scott's firstMasters, in 2002, he freewheeled his way to a tie for ninth. He seemed destinedto be an annual contender, but in his five visits since he has failed to finishbetter than 23rd. Speaking of all the majors, Scott says, "I haven't playedwell in them, if I'm honest. I think for a long time I felt I wasn't goodenough to win one of them. That's an experience thing."
Scott had a momentof clarity during the 2005 PGA Championship, at which he was paired witheventual champion Phil Mickelson for the first two rounds. "He playedterrible!" says Scott. "His ball striking was all over the place. Butthe key was, he put his head down and he worked hard. He scrambled so hard onevery hole. I played beautiful the first two days, and he had me by six orseven shots. I was like, There's something wrong here. I'm not doing somethingright."
Scott got anotherjolt when Ogilvy won the 2006 U.S. Open. Throughout their careers Scott hadalways been one step ahead of his pal (who is three years older), and to seeOgilvy prevail convinced Scott that he, too, must be ready. He also enjoyed theadded incentive of tasting champagne from the winner's trophy. Scott was aboutto step onto Ernie Els's plane back to London when he heard about thetopsy-turvy finish, highlighted by Mickelson's notorious collapse, at WingedFoot. He immediately headed back to the course so he could be part of thecelebration. "That was impressive," says Ogilvy. "He was sogenuinely happy for me, even though he was probably insanely jealous at thesame time. It shows what a good friend he is."
At the final twomajors of 2006 Scott applied the lessons learned from Mickelson and Ogilvy,brawling for every par and playing with a newfound belief in himself. He tiedfor eighth at the British Open and tied for third at the PGA, his two bestfinishes in the majors. He was unable to build on these successes amid all thetumult of last year, but Scott remains undeterred. "He has a good attitudeabout his career, very positive," says García. "We all wish we couldwin almost every week like Tiger, but it's not that simple. You guys"—themedia—"make it out like winning is easy, but it doesn't work that way. Heunderstands that and stays focused on improving his game and not worrying aboutall the other stuff."
Scott's equanimitywas evident during a recent afternoon of surfing in Carlsbad, Calif. He may bea big deal in golf circles, but Scott has no superstar airs; like all the othersurf rats, he stripped off his clothes and slid on a wet suit while standingalongside the road. Scott got into surfing only in the last few years, but hehas dived in, lugging his boards to tournament sites and becoming an investorin Firewire Surfboards, an Australian maker of high-tech boards. On this outingin Carlsbad, the conditions weren't ideal but Scott still spent a long time inthe chilly water. Toweling off afterward, his summary of the day reflected hiseasygoing nature as well as the determination that may yet define him.
"The waves maynot be great," Scott said, "but it's still up to you to ridethem."
For an Adam Scottphoto gallery, go to GOLF.com/adamscott.
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