Adam Scott is ready to win a major championship

Friday April 4th, 2008
Scott has long complemented his good looks with a series of high-fashion endorsement deals, but this year he's added two-a-day, everyday workouts in his quest to break through in the majors.
Robert Beck/SI

Adam Scott is this generation's Fred Couples — he makes it look so easy you can never tell how hard he's trying. Dressed like a model, with the looks of a movie star, his movements set to a soundtrack of squealing female fans and ringing cash registers, Scott glides around a golf course with such grace he conjures comparisons with Fred Astaire, not Fred Funk.

At age 27 he has won seven international events and five times on the PGA Tour, notably the 2004 Players Championship, which was followed two months later by another victory, at the Booz Allen Classic. Even so, questions remain as to just how much he wants 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 drifts from the eyes of his inquisitor to an oversized TV in his hotel room, on which he is idly monitoring a college basketball game. Maybe this is a sign of modesty, or residual shyness from his quiet upbringing in Brisbane on Australia's Gold Coast. But if Scott can't look a reporter in the eye while expressing his desire, how is he supposed to strike fear into the hearts of the best golfers in the world?

No one knows Scott better than his longtime coach and confidant, Butch Harmon, and he, too, is impatient for his prize pupil to develop the flintiness that has defined so many great champions. "He has a tremendous work ethic," says Harmon. "No one in golf is working harder to get better." At the start of the year Harmon made headlines by crowing that among golf's young talents, Scott is the player most likely to challenge Tiger Woods. The racy quotes were less an honest assessment, however, than a ploy to motivate Scott. "I wanted to light a fire under him," says Harmon. "It's time for him to show the world how good he is."

Scott, like everyone else, knows how this can be done. "I have to play better in the majors, simple as that," he says.

Scott has been a can't-miss kid at least since 2001, when he won his first European tour event at age 20. The victory at the Players seemed to signal his arrival as a superstar, but in the years since he has been very good but not quite good enough. Last season he won only once worldwide, in Houston, where he prevailed despite hitting his tee shot into the water on the 72nd hole. More to the point, he was a nonfactor at all the major championships, as he has been throughout his career. (In 27 majors Scott has only four top 10s.)

But dig a little deeper and 2007 was hardly a lost year, as Scott learned plenty from assorted growing pains. Last season the onetime boy wonder embraced full-blown adulthood, taking control of his business affairs, moving into his first house, and rethinking and recommitting to his practice and workout routines. The stunning final-round 61 to roar to victory at the Qatar Masters in January was confirmation that all the change was worth it, but Scott is no longer satisfied rolling up victories in B-list tournaments.

"Everything we're doing is geared toward the Masters," says Harmon. "For Adam, it's all about Augusta."

Scott began preparing for the Masters in February, with a spring training of sorts in Oceanside, Calif., where he tuned up his game and equipment at the cutting-edge Titleist Performance Institute. With his triumph in Qatar only a week old, Scott radiated good cheer. In press-conference settings he chooses his words carefully, often suppressing a dry sense of humor. In the relaxed environment of the Performance Institute he was good for nonstop giggles. His personal trainer, David Darbyshire, dumped some electrolyte powder into Scott's bottled water. "We're trying to do all our drugs now, before the testing begins," Scott deadpanned. "After that we'll just smoke our divots."

For this season Scott has retained Darbyshire, a fixture around the Tour, on an exclusive contract, 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 few weeks ago Scott took a surfing vacation on the Maldives with his girlfriend, Marie Kojzar, and he insisted that Darbyshire tag along.

"In the past I would work with a trainer at tournaments, but on my off weeks I would work out on my own," says Scott. "It's not the same. I would get tighter, and my swing would change a bit without me even knowing it. Then I'd come out on Tour and work with a trainer again, and my body and my swing wouldn't feel right."

So after a few months of diligent work, does he feel different? "No, I feel the same, every day," Scott says. "That's the whole point."

Harmon has noticed the change. "When we have a big practice day, say four to five hours, he comes back the next day like it's nothing. He's a lot stronger than he was."

In the past the bulk of their work was spent building one of golf's most aesthetically pleasing swings, and Scott is candid that he did not focus enough on his short game. He has come to realize that improving his work on and around the greens is what will take him to the next level. "I consider him a very good chipper now," says Scott's longtime friend Sergio Garcia. "He's miles better than he was two or three years ago."

Scott's touch was evident during a stolen moment at the Performance Institute. He was working on his chipping when Titleist Tour rep Rick Nelson handed him a cellphone so he could say hello to a mutual friend. As Scott chitchatted, he held the phone in one hand and continued chipping with the other, to a tough pin on top of a knoll with a couple of feet of break. He nonchalantly dunked a chip with his right hand, then switched hands and a moment later jarred another shot with his left.

Putting does not come quite so naturally, and inconsistency on the greens has also held back other young, talented ball bashers such as Garcia and Charles Howell. For better 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 in outplaying Tiger Woods from tee to green, but Scott gave away the match with a three-putt on the first hole of sudden death.

This year Scott has committed to practicing his putting for at least 45 minutes every day, even if, as he puts it, his "give-a-crap meter is on empty." Though he has a few 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's scorching 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've ever putted."

Two weeks ago, en route to a tie for ninth at Doral, Scott seemingly made everything over the first two rounds, taking only 50 putts. He surged into the lead early on the front nine of the third round. But then his putter went cold, and over the final 36 holes he burned 59 strokes on the greens, including a missed two-footer as he was trying to rally on the final nine. "I'm a better putter than people think," Scott says, but he's also a bit exasperated by the question. "In Australia they actually think I'm a bad putter. It's funny, really."

Geoff Ogilvy, another Australian and Scott's close friend and rival since they were teenagers, says, "He has to be a pretty good putter, doesn't he? You can't be up there every week like he is [and] putting poorly. The bottom line is that if Adam has identified putting as a weakness, then he will make it a strength. That's the kind of commitment he has."

hough scott's overall game remains a work in progress, his life off the course is more settled than it has ever been. For someone so outwardly marketable, he has spent his career struggling to find the right stewards of his business affairs, repeatedly changing agents as he ran the gamut from monolithic IMG to, most recently, a boutique outfit called Prism Sports, where he was the only golfer in a stable that included Shaquille O'Neal and Andre Agassi. Last summer Scott decided to assume total control in charting his career and began building the Adam Scott Company, handpicking a small staff to run it.

Branching out on one's own is a move that players traditionally make later in their careers, as was the case with Scott's mentor, Greg Norman, who didn't leave IMG's bosom until he was almost 40. "Adam has always been old for his age," says fellow Tour member Justin Rose, who is two weeks younger than Scott. "I've come to respect and value his opinion on things. He's someone I go to for advice on important matters."

Even an old soul like Scott couldn't help but be distracted by all the off-course commerce last year. 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 also ramping up work on the Adam Scott Foundation, which has a charter to serve Australia's underprivileged and disadvantaged youth. In addition to providing academic scholarships, the foundation announced last April that it would fund and construct a specialized apartment complex in Brisbane for young people with disabilities who require 24-hour care.

"When he takes on a project, he dives in," says Adam's father, Phil, a prominent course designer in Australia. "He has been candid that last year he felt a bit distracted by all the decisions he had to make off the course." Last year the Scotts collaborated on Crooked River Golf Club, which will be the first Adam Scott signature design when it opens in 2010. Located in Kimana, 90 miles south of Sydney, the enticing site features rolling heathland, winding creeks and old-growth forests. After walking the land on a half-dozen occasions, Adam has come up with an old-school design featuring narrow fairways and small greens framed by challenging runoff areas. "His tastes are from a different era," says Phil. "He has zero interest in building the world's largest waterfall."

The other major life 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 south of Brisbane, perched atop a bluff with sweeping views of postcard-perfect Sanctuary 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 some roots, Scott admits that playing house has freaked him out a bit. "It's a little overwhelming," he says. "I don't know if I'm in the house/dog/picket-fence mode yet."

Scott is sixth in the World Ranking; all five players ahead of him are married with children, but he says he is a long way from domesticity, even though he has been dating Kojzar, who's from Sweden, on and off, for seven years. "I couldn't imagine having 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 base in London while studying to become an architect. (Scott also keeps a chalet in Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland, for tax reasons and the occasional ski getaway.) "My girlfriend is a really ambitious person," says Scott. "She hasn't been going to school all these years to not put that knowledge to use."

Kojzar's low profile on the golf circuit is all the more noteworthy because Scott's galleries 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 his girlfriend has nothing to worry about. "She's seen that most of them are well 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 his mail and some girl has sent him underwear to sign. When I follow him at tournaments, the comments in the gallery make me blush."

Scott has helped polish his image through a portfolio of endorsement deals with high-end companies, notably by sporting a spiffy Burberry wardrobe that has landed him on Esquire's best-dressed list. Scott makes in the neighborhood of $8 million annually off the course, and lately he has begun referring to himself as a brand with only a little self-consciousness. A true world player who competes regularly in Australia, Europe and Asia as well as the U.S., Scott has the potential for wide-ranging crossover stardom, as long as he can deliver between the ropes. "Things are going to explode when he wins a major," says Ryan. Scott is used to hearing such talk, and he has made peace with the accompanying expectations. "I'm ready for all that," he says. "At least I think I am."

In Australia there is a phenomenon known as the Tall Poppy syndrome, a sometimes pejorative term used to describe an egalitarian society's tendency to chop down to size anybody whose ego or achievements make him stand out too much. This cultural baggage may or may not help explain Norman's careerlong failings in the major championships, particularly at the Masters, where he was four times a runner-up, including the gruesome finish in 1996 when he let a six-stroke lead slip away during the final round. In Australia that telecast played out early on a Monday morning, and Scott vividly recalls watching the Shark unravel before glumly trudging off to school. Augusta will always have special resonance for Aussie golfers because of Norman's annual psychodrama there, and Scott does not try to hide how much he covets a green jacket. "It would be sweet to be the first Australian to win the Masters," he says. "One of us is going to win there sooner rather than later, and I'm working hard to be the guy who breaks through." This seven-decade drought is even more surprising given that Augusta National replicates many of the shot values of Australia's famed Sand Belt courses. (The National's designer, Alister MacKenzie, also laid out Royal Melbourne, which Scott cites as one of his favorite courses.)

At Scott's first Masters, in 2002, he freewheeled his way to a tie for ninth. He seemed destined to be an annual contender, but in his five visits since he has failed to finish better than 23rd. Speaking of all the majors, Scott says, "I haven't played well in them, if I'm honest. I think for a long time I felt I wasn't good enough to win one of them. That's an experience thing."

Scott had a moment of clarity during the 2005 PGA Championship, at which he was paired with eventual champion Phil Mickelson for the first two rounds. "He played terrible!" says Scott. "His ball striking was all over the place. But the key was, he put his head down and he worked hard. He scrambled so hard on every hole. I played beautiful the first two days, and he had me by six or seven shots. I was like, There's something wrong here. I'm not doing something right."

Scott got another jolt when Ogilvy won the 2006 U.S. Open. Throughout their careers Scott had always been one step ahead of his pal (who is three years older), and to see Ogilvy prevail convinced Scott that he, too, must be ready. He also enjoyed the added incentive of tasting champagne from the winner's trophy. Scott was about to step onto Ernie Els's plane back to London when he heard about the topsy-turvy finish, highlighted by Mickelson's notorious collapse, at Winged Foot. He immediately headed back to the course so he could be part of the celebration. "That was impressive," says Ogilvy. "He was so genuinely happy for me, even though he was probably insanely jealous at the same time. It shows what a good friend he is."

At the final two majors of 2006 Scott applied the lessons learned from Mickelson and Ogilvy, brawling for every par and playing with a newfound belief in himself. He tied for eighth at the British Open and tied for third at the PGA, his two best finishes in the majors. He was unable to build on these successes amid all the tumult of last year, but Scott remains undeterred. "He has a good attitude about his career, very positive," says Garcia. "We all wish we could win almost every week like Tiger, but it's not that simple. You guys" — the media — "make it out like winning is easy, but it doesn't work that way. He understands that and stays focused on improving his game and not worrying about all the other stuff."

Scott's equanimity was evident during a recent afternoon of surfing in Carlsbad, Calif. He may be a big deal in golf circles, but Scott has no superstar airs; like all the other surf rats, he stripped off his clothes and slid on a wet suit while standing alongside the road. Scott got into surfing only in the last few years, but he has dived in, lugging his boards to tournament sites and becoming an investor in Firewire Surfboards, an Australian maker of high-tech boards. On this outing in Carlsbad, the conditions weren't ideal but Scott still spent a long time in the chilly water. Toweling off afterward, his summary of the day reflected his easygoing nature as well as the determination that may yet define him.

"The waves may not be great," Scott said, "but it's still up to you to ride them."

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