Adam Scott: The Golf Magazine Interview
How many times have we seen it? A player wins his first major title. He exults. Then his game vanishes like a mouse through a floorboard. The heightened attention and demands can rattle a newbie unless he's ready for it. Even before Adam Scott, 33, snapped his 0-for-47 spell at the majors, defeating Angel Cabrera in a drizzly playoff at the 2013 Masters, the Aussie had a plan should he one day bask in major glory. The gist of it: Don't bask for long. Scott would cherry-pick his media hits (sorry, Letterman), adhere to his practice routine and resist reflecting too deeply on his life-altering Sunday among the azaleas (there'd be plenty of time for that later). Instead, he seized on his newfound confidence and pressed on, recording top-5 finishes at two more majors (British Open, PGA Championship) and a win in the FedEx Cup playoffs. In November, while escorting the green jacket on a victory lap Down Under, he won another pair of majors (Aussie ones this time) before narrowly missing out on a third. So, yeah, his plan worked, and you can guess what Scott is preparing for next: major title No. 2. During a visit to New York City, the world's second-ranked player discussed his grand plan, the "raucous" closing moments of the 2013 Masters, and whether female fans really send him their lingerie.
Last season you made a concerted effort to avoid reveling in your Masters victory. Why?
When I start thinking about it, I quickly get back into the moment and it gets really emotional. I felt that I had so much momentum last year that if I stopped to reflect on it, I might get in a fog and waste an opportunity to play some more good golf.
What specifically about that day makes you emotional?
Just the atmosphere and the environment. Maybe I was kidding myself, but in the playoff I felt everyone was supporting me -- I don't know, maybe they were supporting us, because they were enjoying the golf. It really was a display of amazing golf. It was cold, wet and miserable. It was getting dark. It was a bit like watching football in the dead of winter: Only the raw golf fans were left. It became a little more raucous than you'd expect Augusta to be. And I felt like I had everyone behind my back pushing me along. It's a feeling I've never had before.
Did you feel even more support at Augusta than you get when you're playing at home in Australia?
Yeah, this was different. Look, there were tons of Australians there -- maybe they rallied the troops. [Laughs] It was a moving experience and that's why I didn't let myself get too caught up in thinking about it.
Now that you've had time to reflect, what did the win mean both to you and your countrymen?
No matter what happens in my career now, it's going to be tough to top winning the Masters, being the first Australian to win. That doesn't mean I'm not going to try to achieve more, but it's a big deal. The Masters became such a big thing in Australian sport through the '80s and '90s when we watched Greg [Norman] and other Aussies play in it -- Craig Parry made a weekend run one year. It became this thing that we hadn't achieved in sport. We're a proud sporting nation and it was the one thing left on the shelf after [Australian] Cadel Evans won the Tour de France [in 2011].
What most surprised you about how the final round played out?
That I never thought of winning the tournament that day. I never had a feeling like I was going to win. The whole day nothing [exceptional] was happening, so I never got ahead of myself, like, Oh, I'm on track to win this thing. The only time I thought I had a good chance was on the 17th fairway. There were only three [full] shots left to hit. I stood there after hitting my drive down the fairway and thought, "Well, I have a real chance," because I'd just watched Jason [Day] make a bogey, and I knew where everything stood.
Surely you were thinking about winning after you drained a 25-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole to go up by one, right?
Yeah, the putt on 18 in regulation was huge. It was a massive moment for me. The winning putt [in the playoff] was big, too, but to get myself into that position, to make a putt on 18, on Sunday, at Augusta -- that meant a lot.
On the first playoff hole, No. 18, Angel Cabrera's birdie chip looked like it might drop. Did you think for a moment that you'd inherited the curse of Greg Norman?
[Laughs] Yeah, that would have been tough. It was such a good shot. It's not the hardest chip in the world, but it's not the easiest in that situation either. But he hit a very precise shot, a beautiful shot, and it had the look of rolling in. As it got closer to the hole, my heart stopped.
How different was your mindset coming down the stretch at Augusta compared with what it was at the 2012 British Open, when you bogeyed the final four holes to lose by one to Ernie Els?
Much different. At Lytham I was thinking, "It's all happening here. You're gonna win." It was tough to swallow for sure. The Lytham experience definitely hardened me. At the Masters, it was like, "Well, here we go again." But then I thought, "You need to start making it happen. You let one go and you can't do that again. This has got to be my time. I've put in all the work, and I feel like I'm ready to make it happen." So it was a completely different feeling.
What taught you more about yourself: losing the 2012 British or winning the 2013 Masters?
I don't know if I learned things about myself more than confirmed them -- at both tournaments. At Augusta I showed people around me, people on my team, what they needed to see to keep [supporting me]. Some people may have felt that Lytham didn't hurt me as much as they think it should have, and that can be concerning to the people close to me, like, "Does he care?" I obviously care, but perhaps I show it differently than others do. To see the killer instinct come alive in me -- maybe I learned that from not having enough of it at Lytham over the last four holes -- was good for them and for everyone else always questioning me. And it confirmed things to myself, internal beliefs that I have. Those need confirming every once in a while, because it's a tough go out there.
You credited your caddie Steve Williams for giving you the line on the winning putt on the second playoff hole. Walk us through that moment.
It was so dark. My eyesight's not that good, and I don't know that his is that much better, but I definitely leaned on his experience. He has great instincts, and we worked hard on doing all the right things leading up to that moment so that when we got in that position, we knew how to operate with each other. I said, "It's gotta be a cup," and he said, "It's gotta be two. It breaks more than you think." The best feeling was that I had immediate trust in what he said. There wasn't a doubt, like, "Hmm, let's split the difference." You can sense it sometimes -- you're alert and you're aware, and I could sense Stevie had his eye on it, and I went with it. It was an incredible read, because I hit it pretty firm, too. It was four feet by if it missed. But it was a pure putt.
What was the aftermath like? Your manager, Justin Cohen, said that you received 2,000 congratulatory e-mails in the first 24 hours.
It was overwhelming, the outpouring of celebration and congratulation. Apparently, it was off the charts down in Australia. The Australian public has seen my whole career pan out, and I've been a big hope for a long time that hasn't lived up to that potential. Hopefully this is just the start of me meeting expectations.
Did you feel the weight of Australia on your shoulders?
I don't think I carried a big burden. The biggest burden was my own expectations of what I think I can achieve in golf. It's been a long process to get the first major. I'm going to try to speed up the process to get the next one. The nice thing is my supporters really enjoyed the win, but my critics did, too -- the people who maybe didn't think I had what it takes. That was questioned a lot at home.
Did people doubting you piss you off?
Initially it did, a long time ago. But I'm always learning, and I learned that golf is such a long career and such a long process. I never felt I lacked the killer instinct. I felt I lacked the ability to get myself in a position to use it. I never got myself into position to win a major until a couple of years ago. That's what I had to figure out -- how do I lift my game so for three days I play good enough to get into a position to win and not just make up the numbers? Most of the time, when I've had a shot to win, I've won. I'm trying to make Lytham the anomaly.
Why did you struggle to contend at the majors?
Because my process, the way I practiced and all the preparation, was not correct. I was playing too many events, and that was not allowing me the time I needed to prepare properly for a big tournament, to have my game hold up for four days of the toughest pressure you can face. Every swing is crucial [at the majors], because the penalty for making a mistake is getting out of control. You can't recover.
Have major setups become too severe?
Yes, over the past seven or eight years, it has been too severe. Sometimes the difference between [the reward] for good golf versus mediocre golf is too great. That's why [the scores in] U.S. Open fields are spread apart so far -- you just can't score at a U.S. Open unless you're hitting all the fairways and greens. If you miss three greens per round then, okay, you've got a chance. But if you miss six to eight -- and if you look at Tour stats, you're having a better than average day if you're missing only six greens -- you've got no chance.
But aren't U.S. Open setups less penal than they were 10 or 15 years ago?
Yeah, they've been doing a better job. Last year [at Merion] was an exception. Last year was extreme. But the other majors have toughened up, too. They're getting tougher and tougher because the players are getting better and better.
Does your swing feel as good as it looks?
[Laughs] Some days it does. Some days it doesn't. It's amazing how different it can feel on a daily basis. It's always a work in progress, but the last few years have been great. Brad [Malone], my coach, has got me in a place where on the days it doesn't feel good at least it's in the right place.
After winning the Masters, you declined to make the rounds on the late-night TV shows. Reciting the top-10 list on Late Show with David Letterman has become a rite of passage for major champions. Weren't you tempted?
No. I'd probably have fumbled my way through it. [Laughs] I wasn't going to do the New York [media] tour. I had no interest. I knew we were going to do some key appearances that were important for Australia. We did one [national media interview] for America [CBS This Morning], which was important, because I felt like, "Wom, I'm an Aussie and feel really accepted playing golf in America. I feel really lucky."
Are you comfortable with your celebrity?
Yeah, or at least I've never been in a position that's uncomfortable. If I ever get recognized, it's a polite person coming over to say congratulations on winning the Masters. And like I'm talking to you now, it never gets old talking about it. It's not like I've got hecklers yelling abuse at me.
Is it true that women send you lingerie to sign?
That might be embellished. Just pictures. [Laughs] Everyone at the office enjoys opening that kind of fan mail, I'm sure. I've received lots of letters from kids or letters from parents who write about their kids. It's all touching stuff. As a major champion you understand that you're in a position where you have to act accordingly. You can have a good impact on people.
Having won a Masters, do you now feel differently when you tee it up at a major? Has your mindset changed?
Yes and no. It was a new experience teeing off at the U.S Open as a major champion -- a good experience. But I hadn't won the U.S. Open, so I was still nervous at Merion. The same goes for the other two majors. I haven't won them, so I'm still nervous playing. It'll be interesting to see how I feel when I tee off at the Masters this year.
But you look so calm. It's surprising to hear you say that you still get so nervous.
Well, I'm calmer than I was a couple of years ago. That's part of the job -- learning to control your emotions. It used to take me six or seven holes to calm down at the Masters, before I could I feel my hands and my feet. My legs were jelly. Especially if I didn't hit any good shots early on. The first hole at Augusta is the toughest on the course. It's a slap right in the face from the get-go.
What course changes would you make to Augusta National?
I never played it until 2002 so I'm not the best judge, but there seemed to be many more angles. It was much more wide open. They've tree-lined a lot of holes that have greens that sit perpendicular to the fairways, where you could have created angles before, and now you can't. That's toughened the course up but robbed it of some of its character. The only thing I'd say is I'd love to see them do away with the rough or the first... cut? Is that what they call it?
That's correct. "First cut," not "rough." You'd better brush up on your lingo. You're an honorary member now.
I'll get a rap over the knuckles for calling it rough. [Laughs] But that's where I'd start. Do away with the rough and get it as firm and fast as you can and see some balls running into the trees and the pine straw. That would be fun, because that was an amazing feature of the course for so long.
What does putting Augusta's greens feel like?
It's scary when you're a little edgy and you can't calm down. In 2011, when I tied for second there, I had a real thing in my head about the first green. I feared that green so much. So that Wednesday afternoon I went and putted all over it for an hour. And I thought, "Okay, I've got the breaks sussed. I know every bit of the green now." The next day I three-putted the first hole.
You can't overthink it.
No, you can't. But hopefully now that I've won, I can put all that behind me. Hopefully I can enjoy playing Augusta for the rest of my life.