When Adam Scott won the Masters in April, he received a torrent of phone calls and text messages, the kind of outpouring that comes with a first major championship victory, particularly after a decade in the conversation with no significant prizes about which to talk. One, though, caught his attention. It was from Justin Rose, as contemporary a contemporary as Scott has, seeing they were born exactly two weeks apart and had in many ways grown up in golf together.
Scott responded to the text with encouragement for Rose: “This is our time,” he wrote. Both men are 32. Both have played professionally for more than a decade. Both have endured travails that could have derailed their careers.
“I truly believed that comment was aimed at him — and probably a few other guys around our age as well,” Scott said Wednesday. “. . . If he didn’t believe it already, I was hoping that he would see it through me winning.”
Scott is the marquee name and face at the AT&T National, which begins Thursday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. To win, he’ll have to beat a field that includes some of the best young players the PGA Tour has to offer, from 24-year-old Rickie Fowler to Scott’s Australian countryman Jason Day, 25, to Billy Horschel, the 26-year-old who won his first tournament earlier this season and pushed up the leader board at the U.S. Open. The course they’ll play — Congressional’s Blue Course — was mastered by Rory McIlroy just two years ago in the U.S. Open, back when the Northern Irishman was just 22.
But for all the attention the kids have drawn, Scott’s message to Rose, and Rose’s subsequent victory at the U.S. Open, shows there might be something to the idea of “too much, too soon,” and that some seasoning is invaluable. Place McIlroy aside for the moment, because he could well be a generational talent, the winner of two major championships already. For others, golf is a game learned over time, and the time might be now for a talented and experienced group of 30-somethings: Scott, Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Matt Kuchar, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and others.
“If you look at most golfers, prime years are usually in their 30s,” said Tiger Woods, the 37-year-old who will sit out the event he hosts this week because of an elbow injury. “It takes a while to learn how to win at this level and learn how to do it consistently. I think you’ve got to learn what you can and can’t do.”
Since Woods won the most recent of his 14 majors, 13 of 21 major champions have been 30 or older. Since the PGA Tour established the season-long FedEx Cup competition in 2007, no winner has been younger than 29 (Bill Haas in 2011), and the average age of the champions has been 34.7. The winner of last week’s PGA Tour event was Ken Duke, a sprightly 44 who said Wednesday that he doesn’t “know anything about that Twitter stuff.” Of the 25 events on tour this year, 18 have been won by players 30 and older.
For all their talent, Fowler and Day — two of the biggest stars at Congressional — have but two PGA Tour wins between them. They don’t yet have what could propel them to more victories.
“It’s experience,” Scott said. “That’s the one thing you can’t have when you’re young. But you don’t necessarily need that if you get the right information to you as a young player — or . . . you’re just naturally good. But it certainly shapes all your decisions.”
Day is quickly accumulating experience in the most nerve-jangling situations. In 2011, he finished tied for second at the Masters and second by himself in the U.S. Open at Congressional, trailing only McIlroy. This year, he held the lead at the Masters when he stood on the 16th tee of the final round, and bogeyed his next two holes to finish third. Two weeks ago, he held a share of the lead in the final round of the Open before finishing tied with Phil Mickelson for second, two shots behind Rose.
“It takes time,” Day said Wednesday. “Some guys get there quicker than others, but it all boils down to: How much do you want it?”
Fowler draws some of the largest galleries wherever he goes, but his lone win came last year in Charlotte, and he has just one finish in the top five in his past 24 official tour events. Gary Woodland, 29, won his first tour event in 2011 and has an enormous amount of talent, but he has just one top-10 finish in the past two seasons. Ryo Ishikawa, a 21-year-old from Japan, hoped to match his success as a teenager in Asia, but has more missed cuts (six) than finishes inside the top 35 (one) this season.
They will all be at Congressional, trying to build the résumés that might allow them to break through again.
“You just have to put yourself in that position over and over again,” Duke said. “You’ve got to be patient out here. You can’t make it happen. You’ve got to let it happen.”
Scott has let it happen, and it has helped him reshape how to pursue the next step. He is at Congressional because he loves the golf course, and because he needs to build momentum to next month’s British Open. There, he will be confronted with another piece of his history: the four consecutive bogeys he made to close the 2012 Open, losing to Ernie Els by a stroke. That is part of what shaped him, part of what he had to overcome to win the Masters.
“You can only go off previous experience,” Scott said. “You shouldn’t ignore it. You’ve got to learn about who you are as a person and a golfer to succeed in golf, I think.”
Just as Scott sent his message to Rose, and thereby sent encouragement to all their contemporaries, he well knows what seems like a pattern may end up being passé — this week, at the British Open, for the rest of the summer.
“There’s just no normal for golf, is there?” Scott said. “There’s just no set pattern. Anything’s possible, and no one’s career is the same.”