Do ‘nice guys’ finish last? How to heal major heartbreak

Story highlights

Adam Scott and I.K. Kim both narrowly missed out on maiden major titles in 2012

British Open runner-up Scott says he has learned to be dignified in defeat

Kim has help from a mental coach to cope with her recent run of near misses

Both Scott and Kim are still looking for their first titles of the year

CNN —  

“Nice guys finish last” is a mantra often preached in sport and business. Where golf is concerned, it would seem “nice guys” finish second. And they even manage to smile.

Adam Scott and In-Kyung Kim both won plenty of admirers for their sportsmanship and grace during two of the sport’s blue riband major tournaments this year.

The only drawback was, all that praise came after agonizing defeats.

For Scott, an Australian ranked sixth in the men’s game who has long been tipped for major success, July’s British Open tested his ability to swallow the bitter pills so often served up on golf’s greens and fairways.

He held a four-shot lead going into the final round, but bogeyed the last four holes and handed the title to veteran South African Ernie Els.

His capitulation followed in the tradition of his compatriot Greg Norman, one of the greatest golfers of the 1980s and early ‘90s – but a player who famously “choked” on several big occasions.

“I think the emotions shown in golf are different to other sports,” the 32-year-old Scott told CNN when asked about how he was able to remain dignified in the face of abject disappointment at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. He congratulated Els with a brave if rueful smile and carried out his duties to face the seemingly endless stream of media requests.

“It has always been referred to as a gentleman’s game, but I think it has got more to do with how you’re brought up and your influences,” Scott said.

“I certainly feel like my parents have brought me up well, but also I had good role models that I looked up to as a kid.

“Certainly Greg Norman, I saw him win hundreds of tournaments and lose some big ones, but I think he handled himself well in those situations too, so like you do when you’re a kid you always try to mimic those you look up to.”

Norman won his first major in 1986, a decade after turning professional. However, that year he led all four majors going into the final round, but came away with just a British Open victory – his first of two Claret Jugs.

The “Great White Shark” was runner-up at no less than seven major tournaments.

Scott, who tied for second at last year’s Masters, collapsed over his putter at Royal Lytham after blowing his biggest chance yet of a breakthrough win.

“I think I was a little numb from shock that I might have lost,” he explained. “I felt like I played like a winner the whole week and even with a couple of mistakes coming in it didn’t feel horrendous out on the course.

“There is only one shot I was really, really disappointed with and that was the shot into the 17th green. I wasn’t really in that much trouble on the last few holes other than the 17th where I was in the long grass.

“That ends up putting me in quite an awkward position to close the tournament. That is probably the one shot I would like to take over again. But other than that I don’t think I would do anything different.”

Kim, known as “I.K.,” is one of a troop of promising female golfing talents emerging from Asia. The South Korean looked set to announce her arrival on the world stage when she was stood over a one-foot putt at the 18th to win her first major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April.

The ball rolled around the lip of the cup but refused to sink, coming to a stop outside of the hole. Somehow Kim had missed and, in a cruel coincidence, she was forced into a playoff with compatriot Yoo Sun-Young which she duly lost.

“I was disappointed right after it happened,” the 24-year-old told CNN.

“I get this question a lot … I am competitive, but from my point of view you can’t really attach your emotion to a result. It is something you can’t control.”

Separating her emotions from her golf is something Kim has worked on throughout her career, using a mental coach to help her hone her craft.

“All we can control is the process and how hard we work, which we do every day,” the world No. 18 explained. “I feel like I worked really hard through that tournament and I stayed with my process and everything was good. I moved on.”

These techniques involve learning to appreciate the good and the bad.

“To smile more often, to enjoy,” Kim said. “I sometimes forget what I can control and what I can’t – they remind me.”

Kim’s ability to perform in golf’s most pressurized situations has been called into question. The playoff at the Kraft Nabisco Championship was the third of her career, and her third defeat.

“I’ve always been really bummed out after the 18th hole and gone into the playoff without preparing,” Kim said. “That is something I have been working on, to control emotion after whatever happened.

“After you have finished it is tough to go and do a playoff, there is nothing you can think about before. That is something I have to work on.”

It has been two and a half years since Kim last won an event, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November 2010.

Kim picked up a cool $220,000 for winning the tournament in Guadalajara, and she chose to donate all of it to charity.

“I like competition, but it is just a different feeling helping someone,” said Kim, who has earned more than $5 million since turning pro in 2007. “I feel like I can help by playing golf.

“Without a lot of good people around me I wouldn’t be able to do it, so I’m fortunate and I wanted to share the win. I always dreamed about helping other people and I had an opportunity.”

Like Kim, Scott is also without a win in 2012. The Adelaide native still has the chance to address that – this week he lines up at the $7 million WGC-HSBC Champions event in China, then goes to Singapore before returning home for two of Australia’s biggest tournaments.

“Playing at home is a big deal for me, I certainly want to perform,” said Scott, who has earned more than $28 million on the U.S. PGA Tour.

“I’m also quite motivated because I feel like I’ve played a lot of good golf this year to not have a win and I’d really like to finish the year off by winning one, or two or more of these tournaments.

“I still view (the British Open) as the highlight of my year. To play so well, that’s what I’ve been trying so long to do in majors, and finally it has happened.

“I didn’t come out as a champion, but if I can repeat that kind of preparation and play then I’m sure if give myself another chance I’m going to win a major or two.”

Kim has won three times on the LPGA Tour, and once on the European Ladies’ circuit, but is cautious about her chances of ending her title drought.

“Golf is a mystery,” she said ahead of this week’s Mizuno Classic in Japan. “Nobody knows how to play this game perfectly and I don’t think anyone has ever done it. You play four rounds every week and it is very hard to keep that momentum going.

“You have to do a lot of work, it might come out this weekend, you never know. I’ll do my best, there are things I need to improve but there are things I’m doing well.

“You want to win, but it’s difficult, being reminded it has been two years since you won! It’s not easy, but for me I work really hard. I’m very happy with everything, so hopefully I can win more tournaments by the end of this year.”