By David Droschak
Few people remember the losers in golf. Who finished runner-up at the 2013 U.S. Open or the 2016 Masters? Who knows, and to be blunt, who really cares?
Winning is everything in golf, hoisting the trophy, soaking in the march up the 18th fairway with the tournament in hand and the crowd cheering is exhilarating.
Through history, finishing second is worth noting for only a few in the game, and that distinction is usually reserved for players who “blew the lead” in a major or for a golfing risk-taker like British Open disaster Jean van de Velde.
Except if your name is Steve Scott.
Scott, a former three-time All-American at the University of Florida, recorded one of the most memorable runner-up finishes in golf history, taking a 20-year-old Tiger Woods to the limit and then some in the 1996 U.S. Amateur final match, falling on the 38th hole as Woods captured his third straight championship.
“It is something that I’ve always felt was a badge of honor that somebody with my lesser physical abilities was able to hang with a guy like that for as long as I did, and I gave him one of the best runs anybody ever has,” Scott said. “I can certainly hold my head high that I forced him to throw everything at me but the kitchen sink, and maybe including the kitchen sink. If I didn’t want to talk about it I wouldn’t be in the golf business or I wouldn’t be playing golf, I would be holed up in some cubical without any windows.
“It was a cool day in golf history, and if you think of the odds of me being the guy to stop that history of three U.S. Amateurs in a row, well the odds would be overwhelmingly against me. I got a lot more traction out of finishing second than most people ever do. A lot of great things came out of it.”
While Woods has gone on to win 80 PGA Tour events, the 41-year-old Scott never really hit the golfing big-time despite rising to the No. 1 amateur ranking in the world in 1999. He played six professional journeyman seasons, three of which were logged on the Canadian Tour.
Then after spending almost a decade as a club professional in New Jersey and New York, Scott moved to Winston-Salem before Christmas last year to be closer to the in-laws, accepting a position as the head golf pro of The Outpost Club, which is an invitation-only, national golf society in the United States. Modeled after historic golf societies in Great Britain, it does not own a course but members can play more than 70 events each year at top 100 courses around the world.
Scott is upbeat these days, and with good reason. In his first season playing in the ultra competitive Carolinas PGA section, he won the CPGA Head Professional Championship in March and the CPGA Professional Championship in August. In between those two wins, he finished tied for fourth in the South Carolina Open and sixth in the Carolinas Open as the Section Player of the Year award awaits Scott.
Scott’s first CPGA win qualified him for the RBC Heritage, his first PGA Tour event in 13 years.
“It is still a circus out there — in a good way,” Scott said. “It is a different arena to play golf in and you have to get back into that rhythm. On the Wednesday right before the RBC I guess I made a mistake, but it was kind of cool. I ended up hitting balls next to Bryson DeChambeau. He was on his Bluetooth headset hitting golf balls and talking to somebody about his spin rate and launch angles and I was kind of listening to what he had to say, and maybe I won’t do that again. It was interesting because he’s the mad scientist out there and he has a lot of things going on in his head. I don’t think that analytically out there. I’ve always played by feel and instinct.”
Scott made just three PGA Tour cuts in 15 career events, earning less than $17,000, prior to his most recent brief return to the Tour. At the RBC heritage he shot 80 and 73 and missed yet another cut.
Scott says his professional career was stunted by poor putting and a lack of distance off the tee.
“I could fly it 270, and that’s pretty good, but not Tour good or trying to be one of the best in the world,” he said. “Amateur golf tended to lend itself to shorter golf courses at the time — it was more of a wedge and putter contest, so not being the longest player in the world didn’t hurt me at the amateur level, which is why I had more success there, and the Canadian Tour was similar, not crazy long.
“I am 5-foot-10, and I think the days of dominant golfers being less than 6 feet all are over,” he added. “You have to be 6-3 or 6-4, they all seem to be so tall now because you naturally create more club head speed. All these guys are flying the ball 300 yards plus.”
While Scott has not been able to tap into any more distance as he reached his 40s, he has improved his putting drastically with his own putting grip invention, something he calls the Gator Clamp.
“It is a combination how Bernhard Langer used to grip the club, clamping it to the forearm, but I turn my hand in an inverted position, kind of like Chris DiMarco holds the putter but I clamp it in there with that inverted hand,” Scott said. “It looks like a gator chomping on your arm a little bit. It has really worked for me and been so consistent.
“About five years ago my game was not really very good. With the combination of changing jobs and having children my game went in the tank for awhile and honestly I would shoot in the upper 70s or low 80s,” he added. “So in 2013 I changed to this putting grip and rededicated myself to golf. Now, golf has become a lot more fun. I am competitive again.”
Scott has played some tremendous golf in 2018 and is also heading up a new section of The Outpost Club called the Sliver Club Golfing Society. The name pays homage to the very first competition on record back in Scotland in 1744, where competitors played for a silver club and the winner’s name was put on the club.
“It will be akin to some of the other amateur tours you see out there but it will be a membership driven society, based around competition, and we want to attract members with a 7.9 handicap index and below is kind of our area,” he said. “People love to play competition and we’re going to be staging on some really great courses like Bay Hill, Barton Creek, Point O’ Woods. We’re trying to create a network of some really good people and really good players to play great courses all around the country.”
So after growing up in Florida and spending a good portion of time as a club pro in the Northeast, Scott appears to have found a comfortable home in the Tar Heel state.
“It has all been good,” he said. “I am liking this part of the world a lot.”