In the immediate aftermath of his shocking collapse in the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Adam Scott sat down with the media to discuss what happened. After a birdie on 14, it appeared that the tournament was over, the championship his.
But as Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
As all the world knows by now, Ernie Els also birdied 14 and then uncharacteristically in recent times, sunk a clutch putt on 18 for birdie.
In a slow motion disaster that played out over his last four holes, Scott made one improbable bogey after another to lose the tournament to Els. Improbable because Scott had been in complete and impressive command of himself through the entire tournament right up until that first bogey on 15. No, it was that third bogey on 17.
Well actually, it wasn’t until he hit it into a deep fairway bunker on 18 when it was the only thing he absolutely couldn’t do. At that point, he was tied with Els and needed birdie to win, par to get into the Open’s traditional four-hole playoff. He pitched out of the bunker and hit a good shot into the green. But at that point, a 7-foot putt was too much to ask.
What in the world happened?
Well, it was a very sloppy finish by me, just talking about the golf. And disappointing to finish that way. I played so well all week. I wasn’t even really out of position, and I managed to get myself in some trouble and couldn’t make the putts to get out of it the last four holes.
But that’s what was to be expected coming in here. It’s a championship golf course, it’s very difficult. And you’ve got to play some good shots to win those golf tournaments, and I wasn’t able to do that the last few holes. Sure, I am very disappointed. But I felt like I played well this week, and it was probably a great chance.
But how could that happen? What was going on?
I was surprisingly calm the whole round. A little nervous on the first tee but less so than yesterday. And I was surprisingly calm out there.
I probably spent all my nerves over the 24 hours leading up to playing today. It’s funny, I definitely worked myself up a little bit at times, but once I was out there I felt completely in control. And even the last few holes I didn’t really feel like it was a case of nerves or anything like that.
It came down to hitting — not making a couple of putts on the last four holes. If I make either on 15 or 16, it’s a very different position and a lot more comfortable. And I put myself in a position where I had to hit a great tee shot off the last and I didn’t hit a great one. But I was quite calm.
It did seem, however, that a little scoreboard watching may have contributed to the tightness and consequent loss of freedom:
I started paying attention [to the leaderboards] around the turn there, 7, 8, 9, 10, and I was obviously in pretty good position but a long way to go. And I think I played kind of accordingly to that. I hit a lot of good shots, hit a lot of greens. I left a lot of putts short right in the middle today but felt I didn’t need to rush anything at the hole. I was just trying not to take any risks and keep hitting good shots, make pars, but that didn’t quite work at the end.
The approach shot on 17 was the one that started the alarm bells ringing. He had 178 yards into hole back left, but instead of hitting safely into the middle of the green, taking two putts and getting out of Dodge, he hit a big high, looping draw that hit the left hand bank and kicked down the swale and into deep, wild rough. Bogey.
But looking back on it, it all comes down to the shot into 17 for me that I’m most disappointed with. At that point I’m still well in control of the tournament, and [if] I hit a nice shot somewhere to the right of the hole and I can go to the last with the lead still. So that was pretty disappointing for me really.
In the face of catastrophic failures like this one, the tendency is to want to go crawl into a hole somewhere out of sheer embarrassment. Until you train yourself away from that, it’s the predilection of the ego. “Oh, my God. I can’t believe I did that!”
But if you fail enough on the way to success, you discover that failure is a part of success. And that if you’re going to be embarrassed each time you fail, you are acting inappropriately to the natural state of things. It’s all part of it.
But most important, you discover that you have friends who care about you, people who have been there themselves, people who can commiserate with you. In Scott’s case, it’s Ernie Els himself:
You know, he said he felt for me and not to beat myself up. He said he beat himself up a little bit when he’d lost or had a chance — not lost them, but had a chance to win. And he felt I’m a great player and I can go on to win majors, which is nice.
We have a close friendship. We’ve had some good battles in the past, and it’s nice to hear that from him. I respect Ernie a lot, and he’s a player who is a worthy champion.
There is the risk that as this sinks in, he’ll have his morose days, but from what he had to say in the media room, he sounded like a well-adjusted, experienced Tour pro who will probably not shed any tears over this:
I know I’ve let a really great chance slip through my fingers today. But somehow I’ll look back and take the positives from it. I don’t think I’ve ever played this well in a major championship, so that’s a good thing for me moving forward. All the stuff I’m doing is going in the right direction. Today is one of those days, and that’s why they call it golf.
I’m a positive guy; I’m optimistic and I want to take all the good stuff that I did this week and use that for the next time I’m out on the course.
It seems evident that we won’t have to worry about him and that he’ll be back.
It also seems evident that if we know that this constructive place is where we will end up in the aftermath of failure, it makes it pretty obvious that a whole lot of handwringing just gets in the way of the remedial work that needs to be done.
Failure is all part of the process.