Oakmont Setup Could Translate to Success for Scott

Adam Scott has always believed he had the right type of game to win a U.S. Open, and this year he is coming in with good form. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)
Adam Scott has always believed he had the right type of game to win a U.S. Open, and this year he is coming in with good form. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

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OAKMONT, Pa. – Given his successes elsewhere, Adam Scott’s U.S. Open record – six missed cuts and no top-10 finishes in his first 12 appearances – is one of the more baffling things in recent golf history.

But he contends there is a simple explanation. “I can’t remember a U.S. Open where I was bringing my best form into it,” Scott said Wednesday at Oakmont Country Club, where despite his predominantly poor championship history he will be a player to watch closely this week.

That reality is based on a couple of things.

Scott’s U.S. Open fortunes have changed for the better the last two years, giving the 35-year-old Australian something other than frustration in his memory. In 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2, he tied for ninth. At Chambers Bay last year, he charged into contention with a closing 64 to tie for fourth.

“I was playing well heading into Pinehurst just determined to turn my luck around at the U.S. Open,” Scott said. “I played fairly well there, but Martin [Kaymer] kind of ran away with it. Last year, I had a great final round and maybe for a moment had a fleeting chance of posting a score and catching the leaders. But fun nonetheless. At least I feel I can get myself somewhat in the hunt after the last couple performances.”

On top of that is the way Scott, currently No. 8 in the Official World Golf Ranking and second in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings, has played during 2016. He won the Honda Classic and World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in consecutive weeks this winter, bouncing back from a winless 2015 season and proving that he could succeed by putting traditionally after years of anchoring a long putter.

His highly regarded ball-striking has been as good or better than ever this season. He is No. 1 in the PGA Tour’s strokes gained: tee-to-green, and strokes gained: approach-the-green categories, nearly half a stroke better than No. 2 Henrik  Stenson in the latter statistic.

Scott certainly doesn’t come into the U.S. Open attracting the attention of his fellow Aussie, world No. 1 Jason Day, but he believes Oakmont’s demands and the quality of his recent play create a favorable combination.

“I really feel if I can execute and play my style of golf this U.S. Open, I haven’t seen a better setup for me than this,” said Scott. “If I can drive the ball how I usually do, I think I’m at a little bit of an advantage starting out playing from down the fairway here. So I’m excited about the week.”

Although Scott is ranked 111th in strokes gained: putting in 2016, which would seem to put him at a disadvantage at Oakmont where the dastardly greens are such a focus, he contends that the nature of the severe putting surfaces could work in his favor.

“I do feel these greens are going to be a bit of a leveler,” Scott said. “The long-range stuff, they’re so difficult with the speed involved. Of course, someone is going to make some long putts, but I think it’s going to be much tougher than usual. You just have to be so careful on putts over 40 feet. If you’re a foot or so offline, they can really get away from you and end up breaking 12 feet away from the hole without hitting a really bad putt.”

More than the complete game that is required, Scott will try to stay positive in the face of the Oakmont challenge.

“You need to have the right mindset to enjoy whatever gets thrown at you,” said Scott, who wasn’t so good at that in the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he shot 76-82 to miss the cut.

“If you get crazy putts, enjoy it. Do whatever you have to do to fool yourself that it’s not do or die and just have some fun,” Scott continued. “You’ve really got to have the right mental approach and not get frustrated. The guys who are going to play well will be upbeat and calm and kind of just floating around the course and won’t get dragged into all the bad stuff that’s out there. A lot of time at a U.S. Open on a lot of the holes, walking off with a par should feel like a birdie.”

Scott’s swing, with its textbook form and fabulous tempo, can make things look so simple, as if it’s the way a ball was meant to be struck. The last two men to win U.S. Opens at Oakmont, Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera, also have actions that are easy on the eyes. As Scott strives for a title that once seemed beyond his reach but is no longer, there are worse harbingers, for sure.

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who contributes frequently to USGA websites.