Q&A with Golf Digest's best golfer

January 16, 2020

You already know our editorial director, Max Adler, by his extraordinary writing in Golf Digest. His work helped exonerate Valentino Dixon after a wrongful murder conviction and 27 years in prison. Max also wrote two popular series, Golf Saved My Life and the Undercover Tour Pro. He plays off scratch at golf, tennis, skiing, snowboarding, music and art. I have a picture of my favorite Vermont hole hanging at home, painted by Max—it’s a blind tee shot for him, but a blind second shot for me. Before joining Golf Digest in 2006, he played Division III golf at Washington and Lee, earned a master’s in English Studies at the University of St. Andrews on a Ransome Scholarship (named for Ernie Ransome, the late Pine Valley president) and later qualified for the U.S. Amateur. All this would certify Max as a very annoying person, but, in fact, if amateurs were considered, he’d lead our ranking of the Nicest Guys on Tour. And did I mention? He and his wife, Jessica, have three daughters and a son, all under the age of 5.

After Max shot 68 in the first round of my member-guest this summer, we were sitting with friends under the moonlight at the beach club telling funny stories when the subject of flying lessons came up. No, Max never took flying lessons. “But I know,” Jessica said, “if the announcement ever came from the cockpit that someone was needed to take the wheel, Max would be right there in the pilot’s seat. He can always be trusted to figure it out.”

That’s exactly what I thought when I asked Max to take the wheel at the magazine starting this month as I focus more on the strategy and content across Golf Digest and GOLFTV for our new company, Discovery Golf. I’ll continue to write this letter on the people of golf, and Max will write a new column about what’s going on behind the scenes of the game and Golf Digest (see page 10).

I should explain that despite his erect and long, flowing swing that produces shots with the trajectory of a ballistic missile, Max is a humble guy and agreed to the title of this letter with reluctance. “That I’ve figured out how to break 75,” he said, “isn’t exactly a triumph of the human spirit.”

When did you know you first had a thing for golf?

The first ball I ever hit solid, which flew faster, higher and farther than any football, baseball or Frisbee I’d been messing around with.

How far do you hit your driver?

If it’s 240 yards to carry a bunker, it’s a decision. So about as far as most competitive, 135-pound teenagers hit a 3-wood nowadays.

What kind of exercises do you do?

We have a stroller that fits all four kids, which I’ll run with sometimes. It’s got a steel undercarriage, so going up hills is no joke. We also belong to the local YMCA, where daycare is included.

How often do you practice, and what’s it look like?

We live in suburbia, and our back yard allows about a 15-yard-pitch on the diagonal. I go off-speed with an unnecessary amount of wrist hinge to feel a fuller swing. I’ll also hit flops into our enclosed-net trampoline.

What’s your go-to shot?

Line up right of the target and pull it.

Describe your golf game in six words.

Craven consistency mixed with unflagging self-delusion.

Best memory of beating your fellow staffers?

Going around New Haven Country Club in 68 to win my first Editor’s Putter, dropping some putts down the stretch on Peter Morrice, who’s just one of several staffers (Joel Beall, Alex Myers, Hally Leadbetter, Christopher Powers) who can all play and cut me on their day.

What player on tour does your game most resemble?

Peter Malnati? He’s one of those guys who doesn’t look impressive until you add it up. A grinder.

Best tip you ever got from a tour pro?

How about an amateur? Buddy Marucci told me about the top of the backswing: “If you can pause, you can play.” Whenever my swing thoughts get to a dark place, I try to remember that.

What’s the one thing you’d like to teach your kids about golf that will carry them through life?

As with anything, eventually you’ll get from it what you put in.

You wrote a course-strategy column with Jack Nicklaus. what stays with you?

For each of us, the quality of our ball-striking exists on a spectrum, and so the game is about managing what you have on a given day. Becoming accordingly tactical is more interesting than simply always trying to hit the perfect shot.

Driving or putting?

Driving. To shoot the same number, I’d rather hit it great and make nothing than spray the ball and make everything. At least with the former, there’s hope for the next round.

With four kids and a scratch handicap, what’s the secret?

My beautiful wife, Jessica, is the coolest. I try really hard to make sure she consistently gets her looks at recreation, too, though none of her pursuits take four hours. I’m also pretty laid-back about entering scores. It all goes back to the importance of deluding the self. Suppose a few bad rounds have me trending worse. A numerical representation of that to the decimal inflicts needless psychological harm in an already ego-punishing game. Some people might say that’s an outrage, but I don’t really play handicap events. I compete against other people who either are or aren’t similarly deluded that they play to scratch. So it’s more an ideal than an actual handicap. But I can play to it.

Tell us a story about your last nongolf adventure.

I went heli-skiing with a bunch of guys in the ski-media world at this incredible place called Deplar Farm in Northern Iceland. The sun basically never went down, and one night our first helicopter lift-off wasn’t until 8. We flew over a golf course, and so as a lark we later went to hit some balls, all in the name of the perfect day.

You made it to the 35th hole of the club-championship final at Winged Foot in 2017. What’s something the average golfer doesn’t know about next year’s U.S. Open site?

The place is the antithesis of stuffy. Sure, there’s a dress code, and many of the members are very successful, but the grillroom gets loud and loose. If you love golf, you’ll fit in. The clock above the bar is known as the fastest in sports.

What’s the greatest joy you get from golf?

I love competing, having an event on the calendar that you’re building toward. That sick feeling of nerves on the first tee means this is going to be a day unlike other days.