To remember Adam Scott without putting problems is to think back to a time long ago, when he was winning the Players Championship in a blustery March and taking short-game tips from fellow Aussie Greg Norman.
When Scott won the 2004 Players, he was 23, a can’t-miss star whose work with instructor Butch Harmon elicited comparisons to Tiger Woods; their swing action was so similar.
Fast-forward to a practice round last week at TPC Sawgrass, where Scott found himself amid Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Nick Watney, all students of Harmon or Harmon’s son, Claude Harmon III. The elder Harmon was there for the practice round, too, and with that came stories and memories.
“Me being an ex-pupil, I tagged along for the ride,” said Scott, 37, who clearly enjoyed the banter but still finds himself facing a predicament that even he has difficulty wrapping his arms around:
Scott is not yet qualified for the U.S. Open.
And if he fails to make it into next month’s field at Shinnecock Hills, he will miss his first major championship since the 2001 U.S. Open, a 17-year streak of 67 in a row — surpassed only by Sergio Garcia, who has played 75 straight.
“It’s not the situation I want to find myself in,” said Scott, who is playing in this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson as part of a push to qualify for the U.S. Open. “I look at what I’ve done over the past 12 months and I’m not surprised. I think I’ve at times played better golf than my scores show. I just haven’t gotten the best out of myself.
“My putting has been erratic. Poor overall, with good and bad in there. I’m not getting the best out of my scores. If it were the other way around, I’d have shot a couple better here and there. And those 15th-place finishes instead are top-10s and a lot more world-ranking points in the scheme of things.”
Scott’s tie for 11th at the Players was his best finish of 2018 and the best since he tied for 13th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. His last top-10 was a tie for 10th at the FedEx St. Jude the week prior to last year’s U.S. Open; he hasn’t been in the top-10 since finishing third at the end of 2016 at the Australian PGA.
To that end, his world ranking has slipped considerably, from seventh at the end of 2016 to 31st at the end of last year to 71st two weeks ago following the Wells Fargo Championship — where he decided to make another putting change.
“If you look at his putting stats, they’re horrendous,” said Harmon, who also works as an analyst for Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. “His ballstriking stats are fine. He’s got one of the best swings in the history of golf, but his putting stats are horrendous, and that is what has really hurt him. To think Adam Scott is No.  in the world [following his finish at the Players Championship] is hard to believe. And whenever you don’t putt well, you put a lot of pressure on your long game.”
Scott moved up to 65th following the Players and needs to be in the top 60 following this week’s tournament to qualify for the U.S. Open. Short of that, he can attempt 36-hole sectional qualifying on June 4 or again hope to move into the top 60 by the June 11 qualifying deadline.
The hope is to avoid the sectional route — he could play one in Columbus, Ohio, the Monday following the Memorial Tournament by playing well in the next few events.
“I plan to play until I’m not in,” said Scott, who has 13 PGA Tour victories and another 13 international titles (including the Australian Open). “I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I feel my game is getting to a place where I definitely can put some top-10s together or even better.
“My attitude’s been good. There have been some moments of frustration, of course. I’ve spoiled a lot of good golf with a few balls in the water and double [bogeys] at inopportune times. Momentum-killers. When your confidence is not right there, and you’re fighting to get back up, that’s kind of shattering. It can then take you 18 holes to work yourself back to the position you were. Then the tournament’s over. And you’re nowhere again. Courses are tough, guys are very good, you have to be very sharp. And I just haven’t been that sharp.”
Scott decided he had to get his poor putting straightened out. So he went back to a long putter two weeks ago, the one he first used when switching to it in 2011.
Back then, Scott had myriad putting issues and went to the long putter with an anchored stroke for help. He had a different long putter in his bag when he won the 2013 Masters. While he was never at the top of the game as a putter, he was better than average.
Then the rules changed; on Jan. 1, 2016, players could no longer use an anchored stroke. The rule didn’t outlaw the putter, just the ability to place it against the body. Scott went back to a short putter and won twice in 2016 but has more or less struggled since that time.
Now he’s trying the long putter again, but doing so without anchoring. The switch appears to have done him some good — at least for now.
“I’m feeling really comfortable with my game,” he said. “As soon as you putt a bit better, there is more freedom you feel everywhere else. The confidence to kind of free swing and free pitch and free chip because you feel like you’re going to roll putts at the hole on a more regular basis.
“I think I’m going to have a good year because things are a little bit more under my control.”