“I had it in my hands with four to go”, bemoaned Adam Scott after choking in the final round of The Open last summer. Scott was in perfect position to capitalize on his four shot lead and win his first major championship. Although his final round was not without moments of doubt, Scott still maintained a sizeable lead going in to the final four holes. Then, it fell apart. Dropped shots on the 15th and 17th holes, fear percolated through his game and he went into the 18th needing a par to force a playoff.
Instead of taking the usual driver, Scott opted for a safer 3-wood, bringing the fairway bunkers into play and that’s where the ball ended up. He eventually got onto the green needing to hole a 10-footer to stay in the tournament.
We all knew what would happen. We had seen it in 2007 with Sergio Garcia’s putt to win The Open. Just as we all knew Garcia would miss that putt, when Scott drew back his broomstick of a putter, it never had a chance. His ball painfully brushed the side of the hole, notching his fourth bogey in the final four holes. He had choked.
This was immediately compared with fellow Aussie Greg Norman’s collapse at the 1996 Masters. Such collapses are meant to leave psychological scars that last for years, preventing the players from winning the ultimate prize. Players are labelled as chokers and subjected to years of cliches about the moment he ‘blew it’.
However, that label is fast becoming a myth thanks to victories such as Scott’s at Augusta. Despite his previous shaky performances in majors, Scott held off a more experienced and past champion Angel Cabrera in a nerve wracking playoff.
Although instances of collapse will always plague a sport which allows the player so much time to think – moments like van de Velde taking a dip at the 1999 Open will never be forgotten – more and more chokes are being rivalled by stories of players refusing to let the traumatic experience of an event affect a lifetime’s labour. Cue McIlroy in the 2011 US Open, just four months after his choke at the Masters.
Scott’s victory at Augusta demonstrated to sportsmen that a choke is not terminal. He explained that his experience at the Open ‘proved to me, in fact, that I could .’ Scott has shown it might actually be necessary to lose in order to know how to win. Once a choker, but not always a choker.