ARDMORE, Pa. — Much ado was made when Steve Stricker – still one of the top-ranked golfers in the world – decided to trim his schedule to the bare minimum. He was quickly dubbed the world’s greatest part-time golfer.
So what does that make Masters Tournament champion Adam Scott?
“We joke about that,” Scott said of Stricker’s new status. “I congratulated him on his semi-retirement – welcome to the club.”
Stricker has made only six starts this season and still made $1.98 million. Scott has made just seven, with $2.3 million and a green jacket to show for it. It’s all part of a well-thought-out plan designed to make the 32-year-old Australian more prepared and less strung out when he gets to the biggest events.
“I think the amount of things I do randomly with golf is very few,” Scott said Monday at Merion Golf Club, where he’ll play the U.S. Open refreshed after only two starts since his April victory at Augusta. “Most of it is planned and purposeful.”
Scott’s limited schedule took shape in 2011 after a decade of relative disappointment on the major stages. After two poor starts to open the season in Hawaii, he took five weeks off and outlined a new gameplan with swing coach Brad Malone.
The reduced schedule paid immediate dividends with a runner-up finish at the Masters, a WGC victory at Firestone and seventh at the PGA.
Scott said the system came about because of “my lack of success and 10 years of playing badly.”
“I’m a learner, but not a fast one, obviously. The frustration was really high in 2010,” he said. “I was playing well, not getting results that I wanted. I was frustrated with a lot of things because of that. I’d had enough, essentially, of not playing well enough in the big events when I felt I could. So I had to do something different. You have to after a while if it’s not working. If it is broke, you’ve got to fix it.”
The key to staying ready between infrequent starts is the focus you maintain when nobody is watching. Scott spends his down time at his Albany home in the Bahamas, practicing four to five hours a day and working out a couple more.
“It’s no secret,” he said. “Tiger (Woods) doesn’t play much and he plays well all the time. (Greg) Norman played a really limited schedule, and he was a dominant player for a long time. It depends on what you do when you’re not playing. It’s not sitting at home on the couch. It’s doing something that’s making you better.”
That’s not always easy when you turn on the television and see players competing at tour stops where you used to thrive.
“It’s hard to sit at home some weeks when I feel like I’m playing really good, it could be my week, and watch other guys win on tour or get in contention when I feel like I’m good enough to be there when I’m at home practicing,” Scott said. “I’ve kind of got the big picture in mind always when I get frustrated with that and think, ‘Well, I’ve got a pretty good plan in place.’ … I guess in the scheme of things it’s a small sacrifice to not win a couple of tour events if you’re going to win the U.S. Open or something like that. That’s where I’m placing the importance at the moment.”
Scott said it was that process, more than anything else, that helped him walk away without scars from his failure to hold onto a four-shot lead with four to play at the 2012 British Open.
From the outside, it’s hard to fathom how he couldn’t be devastated, but to Scott it was nothing but positive because he “controlled” the tournament’s destiny for the first time in a major.
“I think if I sat there and watched someone else do what I did, it would have been devastating,” he said. “I didn’t feel that way. Even when I was out there I wasn’t thinking that, and that was probably half the problem that I just didn’t snap out of it quick enough. I felt like I played good enough to win and I almost had in my head, ‘Well, I’ve won already this week.’ It wasn’t heartbreaking like I would imagine it looked, or if I’d watched someone else do it.
“It’s maybe more apparent to me now, as it’s now 11 months, that you were all surprised that I wasn’t just shattered, but honestly that’s not how I felt. When I changed my plan with preparing to play good in the big tournaments, I took the result out of the equation and it was more about the process of getting there to play well. So essentially at the Open I had achieved my goal. It was preparing to play well and I did, and the result wasn’t the outcome of whether I succeeded or failed, it was the process.”
Scott’s “success” at Royal Lytham is what led to the more desired outcome at Augusta.
“I really think it was just the last couple of pieces in the puzzle that I learned at Lytham to get me over the line, ultimately at Augusta,” said. “Just because you get close once doesn’t mean squat, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get given one. And that was something that I was very conscious of the last four holes at Augusta. I stood there on the 15th fairway and said, ‘You’re two back and no one is going to give this to you today. You’re going to have to do something.’ You’re owed nothing in golf. You really just have to go and get it.”
After his dramatic triumph over Angel Cabrera in the playoff, Scott has validated his limited approach. Joining the major champions club has elevated his profile as well as his hunger.
“I can’t lie to you, I do feel a lot better coming here, even discussing that kind of thing,” he said of being Masters champ and the only player capable of winning the 2013 grand slam. “It’s a good feeling to come here to know that I’ve achieved that. I’ve got my first major. And my sights are definitely set on trying to win more.”