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?