Two weeks ago, the world watched — although tempted to cover its collective eyes at times — as Adam Scott fell apart on the final four holes of the British Open.
On Wednesday at Firestone Country Club, the 32-year-old Australian practically relived it again. He revealed his thoughts about what went wrong, what he and caddie Steve Williams would have done differently, what he learned and how he reacted in the aftermath.
Stunningly, he didn’t scream or punch any walls after he lost a 4-shot lead with four holes to play and handed Ernie Els the Claret Jug.
“There have been times I’ve done that, absolutely,” Scott said. “But I think I was a bit shocked because I was playing so nicely. It had never really happened to me before in that position and I was a bit numb of feeling because of that.
“I’m certainly one who thinks you should get the anger out if it’s inside, but I never really had that feeling of wanting to break anything. I left that major the same way I left every other one, and that’s empty- handed. I’ve been disappointed a lot of times at majors, even though I’ve never been closer to one maybe.”
Set to defend his title at the $8.5 million World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational that begins today, Scott has yet to see his talent rewarded with one of golf’s biggest prizes. But when it comes to grace, honesty and sportsmanship, he has reached the same level as those who have captured the trophies he covets.
“Scotty is an upstanding guy,” Els said Wednesday. “He faces the music, as you like to see professional golfers do.”
Scott, who lives in Crans sur Sierre, Switzerland, said he retreated to the French Alps for a few days last week. Els, who kept in touch through texts, said Scott was joined by his father at the resort town, which a website describes as “on a sun-drenched plateau above the Rhone Valley.” It is also the site of a nine-hole Jack Nicklaus golf course.
Scott resumed practice last Thursday, then stopped at Kiawah Island, S.C., site of next week’s PGA Championship, to play a couple rounds on the way to Akron.
Since his dreadful Sunday at Royal Lytham, Scott has been consoled and propped up by current and former PGA Tour players who have experienced the same misery. That night he spoke to Australian Greg Norman, whom he called “a close friend and supporter.” He was swamped with messages and email from family, friends, golfers and “some people I don’t know how they got my number, actually.”
One of Sunday’s messages came from Rory McIlroy, who shared a similar disaster during last year’s Masters and bounced back to win the U.S. Open.
“I just said to him, ‘Don’t let the last four holes hide the fact that you played better than everyone else for the first 68,’ ” McIlroy said Tuesday. “You have to really believe in yourself and believe that for those 68 holes, you were the best player that week. It’s a tough loss. At that moment in time, you think it’s the only chance you’re ever going to get, and your whole world came crashing down. But in reality, Adam is such a great player that he’s going to have plenty of chances to win more major championships.”
Scott sounds like he’s been taking such encouragement to heart. Els felt that way after speaking to Scott Tuesday night at their hotel, their first conversation since the British Open.
“The pain is there, I know that,” Els said. “But he’s handling it unbelievably well and I truly think he now believes he can win multiple majors.”
That’s what might separate Scott’s reaction from others who have shared his fate. He believes the loss at Lytham could put him over the top in his major quest.
“The way I look at it, that was the proof that I’m good enough to win major championships,” Scott said. “It’s just putting the piece of the puzzle together and that may have been the last piece for me.”
In the past year, Scott has cut his tournament schedule so he can focus more on majors. (Going into this week, he’s played in only 10 events.) He changed caddies, hiring Steve Williams last July after he was fired by Tiger Woods. Next time Williams, described by Els as “a strong character, a little unlike Adam,” might encourage Scott to try to pad his lead instead of attempting to hang on and cruise home.
“I think he’s on the right road because he’s won a World [Golf] Championship now, he’s won internationally and he’s almost won a major,” Els said.
In his past seven majors, Scott has been second twice (tying for that spot at the 2011 Masters), finished in the top eight four times and in the top 25 six times. He’s missed only one cut, at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional.
Before 2011, Scott had come close only in 2006, when he tied for eighth at the British Open at Royal Liverpool and tied for third at the PGA at Medinah.
Those results tell Scott that the plan he’s crafted to make his major breakthrough has taken him to the precipice.
But did he leave his mental pain on the couch in Crans, where he said he decompressed for 48 hours, like he always does after a major?
“The disappointment of Lytham shouldn’t hold me back from taking advantage of the way I’m playing at the moment,” Scott said.
It seemed rare for a golfer to recover as quickly as McIlroy did last year. But in the next two weeks, Scott can prove there’s belief behind his words of conviction.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.