What Can Adam Scott Teach Us About Mental Toughness?

Great Scott: Adam Wins His First Green Jacket!

Adam Scott wants you to know something: The only difference between failure and success is a subtle shift in perspective.  The 2013 Masters Champion was a career 0-48 in Majors before Sunday, but has been in contention for a handful championship trophies (or Jackets) during his brief and already successful career. In fact, just last July, on the hallowed grounds of Royal Lytham and St. Annes, he was ever so close to winning his first, but lost the chance to call himself the Open Champion after an epic collapse down the stretch. After going into Sunday with a four shot lead, he bogeyed 15, 16, 17, and 18. In the meantime, The Big Easy, Ernie Els, sauntered his way down the back nine and birdied the 18th to finish with a final round 68, one shot better than Scott and just enough to win his fourth Major.

Adam dejected after finishing second at the 2012 British Open

Adam dejected after finishing second at the 2012 British Open

So that’s it, Adam Scott had a chance a glory, but he choked it away, right? Four shots on four holes, and just like that, the Claret Jug slipped through his fingers faster than a ball of ice on a rainy day. We can imagine ‘normal’ tour pros losing a four-shot lead with four holes to go, but Adam Scott? He’s arguably one of the 5 best players in the world! Some writers called it the worst collapse in Major Championship history. Other pundits thought it would be his last chance at Major glory; his prodigious talents washed away with the tides of the English coastline; just another wasted opportunity.

You know who didn’t think that? Adam. You know what Adam thought? Here, let him tell you:

Responding To His 2012 British Open Defeat

“I’ve got to take something out of it. I’m playing great.”

“It’s not what I wanted out of today but it’s not all bad. I’m still young and hope to get more chances.”

“I learned a long time ago to look for positives.”

“I’m very disappointed. I played so beautifully for most of the week.”

“Next time, I’m sure there will be a next time, I’ll do a better job.”

“I still feel like I won that Open- I just played so well and felt like I controlled the golf tournament. “

Just for good measure, go ahead and read those quotes one more time. What do you see? What do you notice? How did Adam respond to enormous adversity on golf’s greatest stage?  In the moments after the biggest disappointment in his professional life, he was able to acknowledge the failure, but find the silver lining in the success. He owned up to his mistakes, but made sure to reflect on the positives from the week. Notice how he started each sentence by acknowledging the negative, but finishing with a positive thought.

For Adam, losing the Open Championship didn’t mean he was a bad golfer. It didn’t mean he’s a hack, a failure, or not able to win when it matters. It didn’t relegate him to the depths of Choke City, where mentally weak athletes can disappear for years after a meltdown like this. On the contrary, Adam chose to look at the bright side, surely a harder decision than any shot he made all day. He proved to himself that he could contend in a Major. He was proud of what he accomplished. Sure, it was a mystifying four-hole collapse; but more importantly, he looked at it as a 68-hole masterpiece. Think of it this way: What if those four holes had been scattered over the first three days?  He’s not even in contention and I’m not writing this article. See what I mean? Perspective holds the key to Mental Toughness, perspective.

But I digress… For most of us, it’s tough to imagine the rollercoaster of emotions an experience like that would conjure up. Try for a moment to put yourself in Adam’s size 13 Footjoy’s. What would your reaction be after losing a four shot lead with four holes to go in a Major? Could you have been that sure of yourself, that confident in your ability, that certain that your time would come once again?

Fast-forward nine months to Sunday afternoon at Augusta. Scott enters the final round in contention, again, at a Major.  This time, he’s the one who has the chance to come from behind. Sure enough, he battles his way up the leaderboard and makes an unbelievable putt on the 18th hole to take a one shot lead! In the process, Scott lets out a “Come on Aussie, Come on Aussie” loud enough for Greg Norman to hear clear across the Atlantic in his seaside Australian villa.

Again, try to put yourself in his shoes. You just took a one shot lead at The Masters. It’s time to take what’s rightfully yours and get redemption from the agonizing defeat of last summer. What a weight off your shoulders…but then you realize, it’s not over. As you walk your way over to the official’s tent to sign your scorecard, the final group is about a Rugby length field away down the 18th fairway. Before you can even pull out a pen, El Pato, Angel Cabrera, never one to back away from a challenge, hits a beautiful approach on 18 and proceeds to make his two-foot putt to force a playoff.  Remember the rollercoaster of emotions? Tap into that experience, cause here we go again.

Adam celebrating after winning the 2013 Masters

Adam celebrating after winning the 2013 Masters

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or on the moon, I don’t need to tell you what happens next. Scott and Cabrera both par the first playoff hole and hit eerily similar approaches on the second. Cabrera, just outside Scott’s ball, burns the right outside edge of the hole on his birdie attempt, leaving the door open for Scott to quiet all the naysayers and “experts” who said he could never come back from Lytham. With one putt to win the Masters, let’s see what Adam has to say about the opportunity:

Responding To His 2013 Masters Win

“My mind was clear. I said ‘this was the putt that winners make and I’m just going to go on instinct’. Those are the moments where you find out how much you really want it. ‘Don’t even think about speed, just swing the putter’”.

“That was my chance, that was the moment I had to seize.

“I somehow managed to stay in each shot when I needed to.”

“On 18 I told myself to go with instinct. Show everyone how much you want it, this is the one.”

“I could hardly see the putt on 10 because of the darkness, and I asked Steve to help me out, and I trusted him, he was my eyes on that putt.”

As darkness fell on Augusta, Scott asked his caddy, Steve Williams, to be his eyes on a putt TO WIN THE MASTERS. Obviously, it was the perfect speed, perfect line, and perfect ending to a fantastic tournament.
Do you know what Mental Conditioning Coaches call that? Mental Toughness.

Over a 45 minute span, from the regulation putt on 18 to take a one shot lead, to the playoff putt on 10 to win his first Major and the coveted Green Jacket, Scott demonstrated what I hope all athletes and coaches have the chance to experience at some point in their lifetime. The total euphoria of knowing that all the hours in the gym, on the practice field, and working on The Mental Game are worth it! Whether you’re an amateur, high school, college, or professional athlete, there is something to be learned from Scott’s triumph.  The poise, energy management, focus, emotional control, and confidence he displayed are what separate great performers from the rest of us. While it might have looked like an eight foot putt on your television screen, it was over 20 years of hard work that helped guide that ball to the center of the cup.

Here’s one last quote, to hammer home how Adam was able to accomplish this monumental feat: “I’m just so proud of myself right now.”

So are we Adam, so are we.



          Mental Food for Thought

1. What is your automatic response to adversity?

2. What thoughts run through your mind in the moments after success? After failure?

          Mental Conditioning Exercises

If you feel that you can improve in this area of the Mental Game, think of a special word/phrase or image that you can think of when things don’t go your way. Try to make it a thought or image that elicits a positive emotion or helps revive your confidence.

Use this when adversity hits, and with enough practice, it will be your ‘automatic response’ to adversity.


          Mental Food for Thought

1. How do you respond when your athletes make a mistake? Do you react the same way with some players and differently with others?

If so, why? How does that approach work for each athlete?

2. What do you do when you make a mistake? How do you know if you’re coaching poorly? How do you react to adversity?

          Mental Conditioning Exercises

Talk with your coaches about evaluating each other after every practice or competition. If you’re asking your players to improve their skills, is there room for you to do the same?

Think about what failure looks like from a coach’s perspective.  What is your automatic response to adversity and how does that impact how your athletes respond when they face adversity?


76 thoughts on “What Can Adam Scott Teach Us About Mental Toughness?

  1. Pingback: What Can Adam Scott Teach Us About Mental Toughness? | All Things Sport 101

  2. Wow, I really love this blog post! As an athlete on the college level, I find this to be a very useful piece for my teammates and coach. I’m a true believer in positive self-talk and finding the positives regardless of the outcome.

    Thank you for the useful information Jesse!

  3. Jesse, great post thanks. I’ve done a lot of work on the mental side to improve my golf game and your points are very salient. I find that as prepared for failure as you can be, it’s more difficult to take if you haven’t mastered the fundamentals of your sport. In essence, trying to work the mental side of your game without the physical tools usually works out of the gate but doesn’t sustain too well. Trying to play golf and only work the mental aspect is commonplace amongst those of us who can’t dedicate as much time to the game, and is difficult. Success can only be sustained through a balance of mental approach and physical practice. Keep up the great work!

    • Glad you liked it Brain, and really happy to hear you have been working on your mental game. I agree, the mental aspects of the game are a solid supplement to the physical component. It’s the topping on the ice cream sundae, if you will. Without the physical tools (ice cream), the mental game (chocolate sauce, sprinkles, cherry, etc.) may not matter. Question it, how much time do you dedicate to the mental game? Do you put in mental practice throughout the day? Keep improving man!

      • Jesse, to answer your question: I don’t practice mentally as much as I should and it’s mostly limited to the time I spend on short game and on the range playing simulated rounds, which amounts to once per week. Was doing more pre-round mental imagery and rehearsal of my preshot routine immediately after I finished reading the Rotalla books on putting and Golf is not a game of perfect. Time dedicated to mental has definitely slipped. It’s more of a struggle as the physical game suffers. Thanks!

  4. Great observations! I learned several years ago that your attitude is the way you CHOOSE to view the world, and am constantly surprised at how often something so simple such as deciding to view things with a positive light can make all the difference.

  5. Great post! Years ago, I was in a lowly scratch (no-handicaps) bowling league. I typically practiced about 40-games per day, at least five days a week. Weeks before my first 300 game, I had my first eleven in a row during a sanctioned league game, and completely choked on the twelfth shot, getting only six. Not only disappointed, but then had to listen to cat-calls from the 80 or so other league members who had halted their bowling so I could make my shot.

    About two weeks later, in a separate league at another facility, I closed out my first of three games with four strikes. Every shot was preceded by my normal pre-shot ritual of balance, breathing and push-off. Started the second game with one, two then three perfect shots, and before you know it, I had twelve in a row, but they were split across two games, so not a perfect three-hundred.

    Rather than thinking negative thoughts about the likelihood I would throw four more to get my first sanctioned three-hundred, I concentrated on continuing making good shots.

    Long-story not short…..I threw a total of twenty-strikes in a row, to get my first sanctioned three-hundred in front of the couple hundred scratch-league bowlers who stopped to watch. I finished the night with a 759 three-game total.

    Most importantly, I had once again learned that practice, concentration and positive mental attitude (PMA) do pay off.

    Not on par with winning a major golf-tournament, but exactly the same mindset for success.

    This is the mindset I used to build a 3500 employee, semiconductor IC design and mfg co. It works. It is now working for me as I am relearning to play guitar following a couple of strokes that were not only debilitating, but after which I was told to get may affairs in order…three months (at best) to live.

    I’m not saying we can beat all life’s setbacks with PMA, but that without it, all life’s challenges are made more difficult to overcome.

    Again, great post.

    • Thanks for the read/reply, Rich! You experienced something I see with athletes and coaches every single day. Things are going well, maybe too well, and all of a sudden you start thinking ahead, asking yourself “what if I_____” and taking your focus away from where it should be: On the routine and rhythm of the throw. Congrats on being able to get back to the present and proving to yourself you could get to that 300 and cap it off with the 759! No doubt that mindset contributed to your business as well!

  6. “While it might have looked like an eight foot putt on your television screen, it was over 20 years of hard work that helped guide that ball to the center of the cup.” As a fine artist I can appreciate this statement. I have been painting all my life and that one finished painting is a culmination of years of trial and error, aka hard work. I gold as well! Love the sport. Wonderful Post, Thanks. JD Hannah

  7. Great piece, thanks. The other things I liked about Scott’s win were: his humility and the way he behaved as he walked off the final hole, with his arm round Cabrera’s shoulder in obvious admiration; the way he shared the euphoria of his win with those around him; and the tribute he paid to others, like Greg Norman. I could not imagine Tiger behaving as did Scott. Don’t mind saying his win choked me right up (‘scuse the pun).

  8. Pingback: What Can Adam Scott Teach Us About Mental Toughness? | mededrocks's Blog

  9. I love this!!, thanks very much for sharing! I loved how he kept a positive approach, how he felt like he won still! that’s very important and shows his self esteem is very high, It also shows me a lesson in life, a subtle shift in perspective can make all the difference, he hit the nail right on the head when he said that!

  10. If there ever is a sport that requires mental toughness, its golf. I just joined North Carolina Golf Association and will start playing in tournaments this summer. My goal for this year is to become a single digit handicap. I am so close. Currently a 12. I have been an athlete my whole life and my playing partners and friends agree that it is not the physical aspect or talent that I am lacking. It is being mentally tough. Making a double bogey and dwelling on it for three holes rather than finding a positive, moving on and hitting a great shot the next hole. It’s a whole different approach at the professional/tour level of golf, but for the recreational or amateur golfer the mental side is so overlooked. GREAT read!

    • Completely agree Scooch, and I love that you already set a goal for yourself. What do you think it will take to reach that goal? How many hours of putting/chipping a day? How many minutes of Mental Training a day? Think about the blueprint or map that will help you get into single digits, and you’re well on your way.
      A quick tip for refocusing after a double or triple- Accept the reality (dropped 1+ shots), acknowledge the disappointment, look for any positives to take with you to the next hole, and then do something to literally “leave that double” at that hole. Could be leaving/breaking a tee and dropping it somewhere, could be untying or re-tying your shoelace, could be washing the ball with a special towel-something to signify that you’ve gone through the process of “moving on”. Good luck this summer!

  11. Pingback: What Can Adam Scott Teach Us About Mental Toughness? | supernaturalsoldier

  12. Very smart to show the point with one person who has achieved what he wanted, it’s so much more inspiring! I might borrow some of this when I’m having a course for people trying to climb higher (literally) !

  13. love this! im a huge believer in mental toughness. im a reporter for the local newspaper and cover high school sports. the kids here are really talented but they do seem to be lacking in mental toughness. they hit that wall and can’t seem to pick themselves up. i know when i was an athlete i always found that most of any sport is what’s in your head. you do well to begin with when you go in mentally prepared; you can come back from a deficit by being mentally tough and not giving into what seems insurmountable. i also really love the suggestions for helping flex that muscle if you will. awesome post.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! It’s great to meet other folks who “get it” and appreciate what it takes to perform at the top level. There are so many stories of athletes failing to reach their full potential despite their physical skills and athletic ability. I agree with all of your points, and the mental side of sports becomes all the more important as we rise in competition level! What city do you write for? What sports do you enjoy most?

      • i definitely was an athlete that failed to reach my potential; was always afraid, of what i couldn’t say. fear plagued my life as a whole that i’m working hard to remedy now. just wish i had done it sooner lol oh well. i work for the small weekly newspaper here in needles, calif. im a soccer fan myself, but i don’t get to cover that here unfortunately. right now its baseball/softball season, which i’ve learned to really see the value of mental toughness in those particular sports. one tiny mistake and it becomes compounded quickly.

  14. Pingback: What Can Adam Scott Teach Us About Mental Toughness? | Zing Zeal

  15. Reblogged this on Being "mindful" means …. and commented:
    Mental toughness is a key component of success. No one is given anything anymore … you need to earn it, and being able to absorb and deal with what stands in your way will impact the level of success that you and those you are responsible for experience.

    Great read. Check it out today.

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