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Thrown off balance, Adam Scott still searching for equilibrium

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Adam Scott isn’t looking for sympathy. And that’s helpful, because it’s impossible to pity the man who seemingly has everything. A lovely wife who loves and supports him. Three beautiful children. The career résumé with 31 worldwide wins, a major and more than $60 million in on-course earnings.

But what Scott wants most during these unprecedented times is a work-life balance. He wants to be able to battle the best in the world, sure, but not at the expense of seeing his family for a few days every two months. He's tired of having to choose.

“I’ve been juggling a lot of things,” he said Friday in an interview outside the TPC Southwind clubhouse, “and it’s very hard to do all of them good.” 

These past 17 months have been full of pain and suffering and sacrifice, and Scott is the first to acknowledge that his travails pale in comparison. But this is also true: In this gilded world of elite pro golf, arguably no player has been impacted more by the COVID-19 pandemic than Scott. 

When the world shut down in March 2020, he was a recent winner at the Genesis Invitational and the No. 6-ranked player in the world. Today, he is down to No. 47 – just the second time in the past decade that he’s dropped that low, with a divisor that could see him tumble even further, quickly. No healthy player at the upper echelon has suffered a more precipitous fall.

And the sad irony? Last year, on the verge of turning 40, Scott predicted that the next five years might be his best. After all, he’d gained distance. He had remained a physical specimen. His oft-maligned putting had gotten more consistent. “I think this is going to be the best year of his career,” boasted his caddie, John Limanti, after the Riviera victory, and instead it was one to forget.

After a three-month COVID break, the PGA Tour returned to competition last June, but Scott, uncomfortable with some of the health and safety protocols, was one of the last to come back. And once he did, he felt lost and unmotivated and unfulfilled, wondering what he was doing out there at all.

“I was out there with no crowds and thought, What’s the point? I’ve had 20 amazing years out here, and I could have been home,” he said. “But it’s so hard to step back, because then I’m not even giving myself a chance to achieve what I want.”

Full-field scores from the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational

So, Scott forged ahead. He mapped out chunks of a schedule so the two-week travel quarantine on the back end was more manageable. He committed to working remotely with his London-based swing coach. He and his wife, Marie, stuck to their plan to move from Australia to Switzerland last summer so their kids could start school. They welcomed a third child in October, but even Scott’s bonding time was cut short – he came down with COVID four days later and was forced into isolation.

“There’s just been a lot of stuff going on,” he said. “But what do you do? We’ve been trying to make the best decisions we can. It’s just a lot of guessing.”

Life events are often the root of any athlete’s performance decline, but Scott’s dropoff has been significant. His driving stats are abysmal, his scoring average pedestrian, and his best finish in his past 19 starts is a tie for 10th. Compounding his frustration: “I’m as motivated as ever,” he said. Only now does he realize that he was probably overambitious.

“What I should have done is lower my expectations for the new year,” he added. “Everything is easy in hindsight, but that’s also very hard to do when you expect to compete at a top level all the time. I haven’t been in an environment to allow myself to do that.

“More than anything, it seems like I’ve dropped a level and I haven’t been able to pick it back up yet, either because of circumstance or something else. That’s not an excuse. I could have changed it if I wanted to in some ways. But it makes it really hard to compete against the best players in the world when they’re giving themselves a better chance than I am.” 

Adam Scott wife
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Through the first six months of the year, Scott spent twice as many weeks in quarantine (14) as he did at home (seven). Home life is supposed to provide perspective, a much-needed checks and balances for the high-stress, high-stakes, maddening world of pro golf. But while Scott has been mired in some of the worst form of his decorated career, he hasn’t had any release, no way to decompress. After playing The Open in England, Scott couldn’t return home because of quarantine requirements, so he met up with his wife and kids in Spain. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Spain,” he said, beginning to laugh, his self-awareness kicking in, “but I wanted to go home! I’d been gone for seven weeks already.”

Worse, there’s no immediate solution, no clear end in sight, not with the delta variant now wreaking havoc. A deteriorating crisis means a greater likelihood of travel restrictions and more headaches and more time away. He knows the toll the past year has taken on his wife, his kids. He wondered aloud when he’d be able to travel to Australia, since his parents, under strict lockdown, haven’t been able to see their grandchildren, now ages 6, 4 and 10 months.

Professionally, in the short term, Scott hopes to improve on his T-52 position here at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, qualify for the playoffs (currently projected at No. 124) and enjoy a lucrative postseason rally – a reward for what’s been a miserable season for him and his family. But there’s also a part of him that just wants his year to end, to fly home and stay put and wait this out, to be an equal partner and a present father.

“It sounds bad,” he said, “and we’re just trying to do the best we can, but it’s certainly gotten to a point now where it’s not sustainable. We knew it was going to be a tough year and we were going to suck it up. And we did, we have. But that can’t go on – it won’t go on – moving forward. It can’t be like this, just to keep the balance of life going.

“I’m looking forward to next year.”