Killer instincts and sportsmanship at The Masters


It’s April, so my mind always seems to go to South Georgia.

Last year’s Masters was, as The Masters always is, thrilling to watch. Having attended the event the year before, I had a new appreciation for the majesty of the course and electric atmosphere of that great cathedral of golf. And there were some compelling story lines: Will Bubba repeat? Will an Aussie finally win a green jacket? Will Tiger get #15? Will Air Phil have another jump? But the most compelling story for me was Adam Scott being back in contention on Sunday at a major (The Masters, no less) after the previous year’s Open (that’s “British Open” to Americans).

At the 2012 Open, Scott went into the final round with a lead he held throughout the tournament, eventually going into the final stretch 4 shots clear of the field. But an uncharacteristic bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey finish ended his bid for his first major. The press, who had been disappointed by the relative lack of drama as he cooly cruised along with things well in hand, had a feeding frenzy on his “collapse” (examples abound but here’s one in the Daily Mail). The overwhelming consensus was that despite his perfect swing Scott wasn’t made of the stuff of champions. Even before that finale, midway through the tourney, the pundits suggested Scott is too “nice” and lacks the “killer instinct” necessary to win a major. This conclusion was amplified after what unfolded Sunday. They were talking about his character – who he was as a person; he didn’t have the mentality to close a major.

Flash forward to the final holes of the 2013 Masters, where Scott drained a 20 foot birdie to (as it seemed at the time) win the Masters and silence all the pundits who said he didn’t have it in him to close in such clutch circumstances. Well played, Adam!

Golf: The Masters-Final Round

But then Angel Cabrera, who has shown that he rises to these occasions, sticks his approach and sends the event to extra holes. “What’s this?” The cowed pundits suddenly straighten up at a second chance to be right about Scott – no way he’s going to be able to handle having an arm already in the green jacket only to take it off and step into sudden death overtime. He isn’t made of that fabric, after all. But as everyone knows that on the 10th green, after Cabrera’s birdie bid narrowly missed, Scott stepped up and drained yet another huge putt to end it. He said he made those two clutch putts “on instinct”.

So, what do we make of this? What’s the truth about Adam Scott’s mental fortitude? Did the 2012 Open reveal his true nature, or was it the 2013 Masters? Scott ended up saying that Lytham gave him the belief he could win a major, even that he “won” that event in his mind, and that this gave him the confidence to close a major within a year. Was he a different man at the Masters? Scott succeeded at Augusta because he learned from his painful experience.

“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.”

He was not defined by his “collapse”; he was motivated by it; his “belief” in himself was fortified. And it paid off, not only in avoiding the mire of regret but in converting it into success on the biggest stage.

And what of Angel Cabrera? Here’s a guy who hits the shot of a lifetime into the 10th green and tragically hangs his birdie putt over the edge, and then has to watch Scott’s putt do what his didn’t, and Scott win what he didn’t. His immediate response?

This wasn’t image branding manufactured by a PR agency; this is a genuine sportsman. It’s nice that a big sporting event, watched by many millions of people around the world (about 45 million, plus highlight replays ad infinitum), can showcase exemplars of sportsmanship and is also nice when some in the media are willing to tell that story. For the record, Els, who ended up winning the Open that Scott “lost” also exhibited great sportsmanship, comforting Scott, advising him not to beat himself up, and reassuring him he will win many majors in his career. Nice that a guy would include that gesture amid in his moment of celebration.

Golf has given us many of these examples of how to play hard and fair, to compete with all your might yet remain a good sport throughout. We watch them on TV and we experience them when we play.