Adam Scott: The Lessons in Winning and Losing

Thursday’s beginning of the 2014 The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida, provided an opportunity for Adam Scott to look back on the meaning of his wins in the 2004 Players Championship and the 2013 Masters and, conversely, his loss at the 2012 British Open and this year’s Masters.

It provides a constructive glimpse into the mind of a world class player and his slow ascension to the top. He comes in this week as World No.2, and in a fluke of the points system, with Tiger sidelined, would have gone to No.1 had he merely stayed home. Tiger has been losing his 2012 points, but not earning any 2014 points and that would have edged Scott over the top. Since he is here, he needs to finish in the top 16 to move to No. 1. (By the way, he had no idea about any of this. Like so many of the great ones, he just plays.)

“Yeah, obviously I love coming back here.  I guess it’s 10 years since I won.  I was just a kid and I didn’t know how hard the game was, but it’s exciting coming back here and I’m very motivated this week.  I’ve been playing some good golf and not getting the results I wanted, so here’s a great chance for me to kind of get back up in contention again and hopefully pull off a win.  I feel like my game’s in good shape and I’ve done some nice stuff since Augusta, so it’s an exciting week, I think.”

And he had a chance to reflect back on both the positives and the negatives of that early win: 

“I think that I probably, interestingly, took the wrong things out of winning The Players at a young age.  And completely on the other side I took all the right things out of losing an Open Championship and made the most out of it, and I didn’t make the most out of winning this tournament at a young age.”

“I think inexperience and being a bit naive at that point probably worked against me and I didn’t realize to keep going up to that next level how much harder I probably would have to work.  You just think it’s all going to come along; everything did to that point in my career.  And I kept winning and playing good, but I never really performed like that on any other big event for quite awhile.”

“So whereas winning the Masters last year was a similar kind of thing, where I felt like I can’t waste this chance and this opportunity and the momentum and confidence that gives me, and I think I did a good job of that.  So I definitely learned something out of my experience 10 years ago.”

He took a moment to look back on the Open Championship where he had the tournament in his grasp, but fell inexorably to a 75 over the closing holes giving Ernie Els a 1-shot victory. Those kinds of losses can be brutal while at the same time being very constructive. And in the final analysis, the lessons learned there contributed to the player he is today:

“Well, I took all the positives out of the Open Championship, which you try and do every week, but obviously maybe when it’s as dramatic a loss as that, it’s harder to do. But I just finally played the way I wanted to play in a the majors and the big events for the first time probably since The Players.”

“I focused on those 68 great holes where I felt like I really controlled the event and the outcome was up to me and it didn’t work out. But I took all those good things and just put it down as part of the process of me becoming the best player I could be.  That was the big goal in my mind.”

“The big goal wasn’t about the result at the end of the Open Championship, that just kind of falls into the process and you just keep pushing yourself.”

“So after a couple days probably of moping around, you just have to get on with it and understand that it’s going to be part of my career and I’m going to get chances to go back and hopefully win an Open Championship one day.  But I had to get on with the next event and try and get myself ready for that and push myself along.  I didn’t want that to be my legacy as a guy who lost The Open Championship; I wanted to make up for that and luckily I did, so it was good motivation.”

“I think that everything I’ve done plays a part in the golfer I am today, so I would have to say I probably wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t happen.  And it definitely had a big impact on it.”

Certainly, there were the same sort of takeaways for his T14 finish at this year’s Masters:

“Yeah, I was pretty annoyed at myself after the Masters, I have to say.  Saturday was so disappointing [76] to kind of lose my momentum and not get it back [72].  I maybe was a little too comfortable going out Saturday, which I sometimes feel is a curse of mine.  I get quite comfortable even bogeying a few, I had done that the year before and managed to get it back and I just didn’t.”

“Really, the only thing I can nitpick out of the Masters was my long‑range putting.  My speed wasn’t as good as I would have hoped and that cost me shots, certainly over the weekend but also the first couple days.  So I was frustrated with that, because I felt like I had really prepared really well and put myself in a good position through two rounds.”

“So it was easy for me to get back out and practice after that and get my head into this week.”

And there was this one last introspective look back on why winning The Players so early lulled him into a state of complacency, especially when this guy name Tiger Woods was running around with his hair on fire, doing everything he could think of to get better…and then some:

“Yeah, it’s not necessarily that I did things wrong, it’s more that I just didn’t do some things, I think.”

“When things are going good, and you’re 23, it’s pretty easy to cruise along and you just expect to keep getting better. To a point that’s true, except when you’re talking about trying to get to a top‑5 player in the world and win the biggest tournaments and your game withstand that kind of pressure.”

“I don’t think I had a very good understanding of exactly what I needed to do to do that on a consistent basis.  I showed up here and played great that week and it held up, but you can pick any other big event for the five years around that time, and it didn’t.”

“So I just didn’t have the best plan in place.  I went through the motions and did all the practice, but maybe it wasn’t intense enough, there wasn’t a narrow enough focus on exactly what I had to do, and thinking back to that time you’ve got a guy who was maybe the most dominant athlete in the world putting everything he has into it, and I just didn’t have a great understanding, I think, of what was required to be at the best in your field at that point.”

And who can blame him? What’s the old saying? “Youth is wasted on the young.” And the corollary, “But, baby, look at me now!”

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