x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Adam Scott can spark life back into struggling Australian golf with Masters victory

A memorable victory by Adam Scott, the first Australian to win the Masters after decades of futility, could finally reverse the flagging fortunes of the sport Down Under.

Adam Scott shows off his green jacket after winning the 2013 Masters in Augusta.
Adam Scott shows off his green jacket after winning the 2013 Masters in Augusta.

He stoically rescued a tournament that seemed destined to be recalled for broken rules, head-shaking officiating and less-than-memorable play across the board.

Now we will see whether Adam Scott can breathe life back into the fortunes and future of professional golf in Australia, too.

Scott, a rakish 32 year old, won the Masters last night in a play-off over 2009 winner Angel Cabrera, making clutch birdie putts on the 72nd green in regulation and second play-off hole to become the first Australian ever to wear the vaunted green jacket.

When the play-off ended, it was mid-morning in Australia, and just as players like Scott had stayed up all night as a boy to watch countryman Greg Norman's battles at the majors, thousands Down Under happily went to work or school on Monday with red eyes.

There is a popular saying in Oz, "Good on ya", that perfectly applies to the image of the handsome Scott in the Masters winner's jacket.

But it also indirectly begs the question of what the win could mean for golf in Australia, where the sport has experienced a precipitous slide. Will the nation likewise wear it well?

"This win was almost like an 11th-hour stay of execution," said Luke Elvy, a longtime golf broadcaster in Australia.

That is not just hyperbole. For years, the sport has been drying up, both in terms of relevant tournaments and as a production pipeline for top players. No question, Scott's win could provide the shock to the system that the sports-crazy nation of 20 million needs to revive its flagging interest in golf, once a sporting centrepiece there.

The three biggest events in Australia, played during the US tour's traditional winter break, have struggled in recent years to attract players, sponsors or provide much in the way of purses.

While golf remains a popular participatory sport, private clubs have lost thousands of members. The four biggest events in Australia are propped up financially by the government.

Worse, entering Masters week, there were only two Australians ranked in the world top 40. Ten years ago, there were five. Scott is only the second Aussie to win a major since Steve Elkington claimed the PGA Championship in 1995.

"It's hard to quantify just how big a boost Scott's Masters victory will be for Australian golf, but it will certainly lift the sport off its knees," Elvy said.

Outside of Tiger Woods, nobody has spent more time ranked No 1 in the world than Norman, but many Australians seemed to lose interest when the Shark retired to the business world. Norman was clearly moved by the victory and hopes the feat wakes a sleeping giant.

"[Scott] probably had more pressure on him today than any other player on the planet ... because no Australian has ever done it," Norman told the Golf Channel last night.

Scott moved up to third in the world ranking, matching his highest position ever. There is no tour player held in higher esteem as it relates to dignity and deportment. He does not throw clubs, use profane language and rarely raises his voice.

Moreover, after blowing a four-shot lead over the final four holes to lose the British Open last summer, he has become a sentimental favourite, too. In other words, if anybody can reignite the flame in Oz, Scott seems a perfect frontman.

He is not exactly hard on the eyes, either. As countryman, fellow major winner and friend Geoff Ogivly once put it, there is no bigger golfing "gallery puller" among the female fans.

"Greg was obviously huge - amazing for drawing crowds, ratings and sponsors - and no one replaced him," said former Aussie tour pro Michael Clayton, now a renowned course designer. "Adam is much-admired down here and he supports the local tour, so this will be huge for us.

“People like to watch him play. He’s modest, quiet, not a poseur. It will probably ensure the financial security of the [Australian] Masters and Open down here for years.”

Given Scott’s play at the British and Masters, Norman wasted no time in predicting more success for Scott, which would be welcome news back home on several fronts.

“I think he’ll go out there and win more major championships than any other Australian golfer … he will catapult himself now,” the Shark said.

If not the sport. When Scott rolled in a momentous birdie putt on the 72nd hole, in a spectacular and spontaneous burst, he screamed a popular Oz phrase at the top of his lungs in celebration: “C’mon, Aussie!”

It was only perfect. It served as an enervating invitation to fans whose interest had waned back home, too.

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