Adam Scott is the last guy who would ever ask for praise. He’s inordinately modest and soft-spoken, and probably feels self-conscious (maybe even a little guilty) about all the outsized gifts he’s been given, from his Hollywood looks to his Platonic swing to his innate likability.
But the 35-year-old Australian honestly hasn’t been given enough credit for what he has accomplished to date in 2016. It goes beyond winning two straight PGA Tour events, which sets him up this week at Bay Hill to become the first player ever to win three times on a Florida swing.
In the process, Scott has done something very rare. At an advanced stage of his career, in the midst of a long period of underperformance—last year was his first since 2000 in which he went winless worldwide—he has reversed a persistent and often debilitating tendency to melt in the cauldron of a tournament’s crucial moment. The failures usually came from the putter, but in big moments, Scott was prone to big misses with any club. It all pointed to an inner fragility that, for all his physical talent, seemed to put a ceiling on Scott’s capability. Although he had won 11 PGA Tour events coming into this year, including the 2013 Masters, it was hard to project Scott winning much more.
Some of Scott’s losses, because he is such a stylish player and shotmaker, and because he is such a decent person, have been among the most painful in recent history. His collapse on Sunday during the 2012 British Open at Royal Lytham was epic, but it might not have matched the hurt from his inability to put away the 2013 Australian Open, where Scott’s ball-striking was Hoganesque. Still, Scott couldn’t get any of a number of short birdie putts to fall on the back nine, allowing Rory McIlroy to hang around until, on the 72nd hole, Scott over-clubbed from the middle of the fairway to make the most untimely of bogeys. McIlroy eventually stole a one-stroke victory (which the Irishman later cited as a key to his transcendent 2014 season) with a crushing 20-foot birdie putt.
Exacerbating Scott’s pattern was the seeming crisis he faced with the ban on the anchored stroke. Although a decent putter early in his career, Scott subsequently suffered through several periods of futility on the greens, during which he struggled to win. The broomstick putter he took to in 2011 seemed to save him, especially when he won the Masters with two great mid-length birdie putts at the very end. Yet it gradually became evident that Scott was really not much better on a week-to-week basis when anchoring.
On last year’s Florida swing, ostensibly in preparation for the coming anchoring ban, Scott tried a conventional putter at Doral, Innisbrook and Bay Hill. After a fool’s gold first round at Doral in which he had 24 putts, his work on the greens suddenly devolved into frighteningly bad, especially at close range. Asked later in the year what method he was considering after the ban, Scott said he was leaning strongly toward using the same long putter “unanchored,” seeming to dismiss the possibility of again using the conventional putter. Scott acknowledged his Florida nightmare by saying, “I know what I’m in for there.” At least from afar, it wasn’t an overreaction to worry that Scott’s putting problem had become career threatening.
But here’s the thing about Scott. For all his pretty-boy trappings, and presumed inner fragility, the guy has grit. He works hard, stays the course and is amazingly resilient. Many expected Scott to be broken by his collapse at Lytham, but instead he carried on. To his fans, his habitual tight smile after another crucial screw-up could be exasperating (C’mon, Adam! Get mad!), but in fact the stoicism is a strength. Scott, who last year became a father, is very good at not letting things get him down.
Scott took a proactive step at the end of 2015 when he changed course and began using a conventional-length putter, having been taught a new claw-style grip by short-game magician and countryman Brett Rumford. By last month, the commitment was paying off as improved work on the greens had also energized his ball-striking. Scott was leading on the final nine of his second event of the year, at Riviera, until a couple of late misses from short range again left him runner-up. However, he took heart from his overall progress.
At the Honda Classic, Scott seemed to be cruising with a three-stroke lead on Saturday when he made a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 15th hole. But he held things together mentally and on the greens in a way that he too often hadn’t, and on Sunday brought home victory.
In the final round at Doral, Scott had two double bogeys in the first six holes to fall six strokes behind. From that point he was superb, especially with the putter. His stroke was flowing and smooth, the ball rolling in at ideal speed. When Scott shanked a delicate sand shot on the 16th hole, he kept his nerve and saved par. With a one-stroke lead, Scott stayed aggressive on the terrifying 18th. After a slightly pushed drive, his bold 8-iron from behind a tree failed to fade. But fortune favored the brave, as the ball stayed on a steep bank bordering the water. From there, Scott forgot about the shank and finessed a flop shot to six feet. The putt was in all the way.
As the Masters looms, Adam Scott seems transformed. For the moment at least, and perhaps for a long time, he has done that most difficult thing in competitive golf: turned his weaknesses into strengths. For which he deserves much credit.
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the March 14 issue of Golf World.