Tennis courts on a helipad in Dubai
taken from Josh’s Flickr
The Laureus Academy, made up of the greatest athletes in the world, announced the nominations for its annual Laureus Awards. Tennis, being an international sport, received a few nominations, including Federer vying for male athlete of the year with buddy Tiger Woods, and Henin, Mauresmo, and Sharapova taking three of the five spots for female athlete of the year. If you’re going to pick the top crop from tennis in 2006, that sounds about right.
And the media gives doubles its due this week. CNNSI still has Lisa Raymond’s first column up on the main tennis page, and ESPN published a nice profile on tennis player-cum-golfer Scott Draper. I’m including it after the cut.
Draper’s tale of two sports is one for the movies
By Greg Garber
There is a new, white-hot project making the rounds today in post-Oscars Hollywood: The Scott Draper Story.
Bobby Kreusler, CEO of Blue Giraffe Sports, is in serious discussions with several motion picture studios. We can’t tell you which ones because Kreusler doesn’t want to compromise negotiations, but it’s going to happen. A year ago, when someone first told Kreusler about Draper, his first thought was, “I can’t believe I’ve never heard this story.”
Golf is a ‘fussy’ game, which seems to suit Draper just fine.
You’re to be excused if you have the same reaction.
“It’s a love story, a story of overcoming obstacles and triumphing over adversity,” Kreusler says into his Miami-based cell phone. “This is a life story that transcends sport.”
According to Kreusler, there are at least three A-list actors interested in playing the lead role in a movie about Draper. There’s a new Nike deal in the works for him, too. As they say in the business, the Scott Draper story has developed some serious traction.
Indeed, there is a cinematic scope and sweep to Draper’s improbable story, with dramatic turns so breathtaking that it will be viewed by some as so much Hollywood pulp fiction. Think “Rudy” meets “The Natural” and ultimately becomes “Invincible.”
The pitch goes something like this:
An Australian tennis whiz wins the junior doubles championship at Wimbledon at the age of 18 but is very nearly paralyzed by obsessive-compulsive disorder … One day, cold turkey, he forces the oppressive disease into remission with another, more powerful, part of his mind … He marries sweetheart Kellie, who is afflicted by cystic fibrosis … As her health deteriorates, he plays the best tennis of his life, and wins a prestigious title at The Queen’s Club just before she dies at the age of 23 … After 18 months of debilitating depression, golf becomes a grieving tool for him … He wins a Grand Slam tennis title, the 2005 Australian Open mixed doubles, while playing in his first professional golf tournament at the same time, yet a knee injury forces him to retire from tennis six months later … He begins 2007 as Lleyton Hewitt’s coach at the Australian Open and wins his first professional golf title less than one month later … At 32, he embarks on a second career, with aspirations (and, perhaps, the skill) to play the PGA Tour in America.
“Sometimes,” says Draper’s mother, Bronwyn, “truth is stranger than fiction. It’s an amazing story, even to those of us close to him.”
Tennis was working for him, but Draper’s ceiling might be higher in golf.
People in America, thinking he’s actor Mark Wahlberg, have stopped Draper on the street for autographs. Indeed, Marky Mark and Matt Damon, who both bear more than a passing resemblance to Draper, might be right for the role in his movie, although Jason Stoltenberg, an Australian who has won four professional tennis titles, isn’t sure anyone can truly capture the amped-up essence of his friend and former doubles partner.
“They’re going to have to get the right speed of the walk. Scotty walks faster than anyone,” Stoltenberg says, laughing. “It’s a good story, with all the highs and lows he’s had to endure. He’s quite unique — unprecedented, I suppose.”
In the language of tennis, players invariably acknowledge an unreturnable shot as “too good.” That phrase, a concession that some things in life are simply destined to be, is the title of Draper’s autobiography, just published by Random House in Australia and available soon in America. After an unrelenting series of peaks and valleys, “Too Good” is the philosophy he has come to embrace. His passion for sport already has carried him to heights of versatility that, if ATP and PGA researchers are to be believed, no other athlete has conquered. According to Stoltenberg, that passion and versatility might take Draper even further in his second life as a professional athlete.
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“I’ve never said this to Scott,” Stoltenberg says, “but I believe he actually has more passion for golf than he did for tennis.”
Draper is a bright, cordial, high-energy guy who seems embarrassed by the attention he’s been getting lately. The prospect of a movie about his life that stars someone such as Wahlberg or Damon in the title role moves him to nervous laughter.
“It’s OK,” Draper says, “as long as it’s not Danny DeVito.”
Everything in its place
The movie might open this way.
An exterior shot from the back of a two-story brick house in Grange, a northern suburb of Brisbane, Australia. The camera pushes in and through a window. Scotty, an 18-year-old boy, fiddles with a sheet of paper on a desk. You see the sadness in his brown eyes. Squinting with concentration, he aligns the paper’s edges just so, equidistant from the sides and the front of the desktop. With extraordinary care, he touches the paper three times; but his last touch sends the paper slightly askew. He sighs and adjusts the paper again. He starts over, beginning with a cleansing touch, then repeats the three ritualistic touches. This time, the paper doesn’t move, but the boy isn’t happy with the pressure applied to the second touch. He sighs and starts again. And again. Again. Three touches. Nine touches. Twenty-seven touches. Then he moves to the pen on the other side of the desk. Then the doorknob. The towels in the bathroom. A single drop of water in the sink sets him to tidying for several minutes.
With one win as a golf pro under his belt already, Scott Draper intends to take on the Nationwide Tour in the States this summer.
Sometimes, Draper says, he would fuss around in his room for three hours before falling, exhausted, into a bed that he had already made and remade a half-dozen times.
“Everything in my life had a ritual — everything,” Draper says, standing in the very childhood home in which he says he was a prisoner, mentally speaking, for nine months. “I could have been hospitalized. I was worse than Jack Nicholson in ‘As Good as it Gets.’”
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety illness that can be triggered by stress. According to studies, more than 2 percent of the general population suffers from OCD. Once a person heads down this obsessive path, even with medication, it can take years, even decades to recover. In Draper’s case, it took the form of a fixation on multiples of three and an unabating terror of regurgitation.
“I had a terrible fear of vomiting,” he says. “I somehow came to think that if I didn’t do all these things, if everything wasn’t in its exact place, God would make me vomit. It doesn’t make sense, I know, but that was my reality.”
By being clever, he hid it. When he was around people, he would hold objects in his hand and count the touches in his mind. His mother sometimes heard him knocking around the bedroom late at night and wondered why he was turning the lights on and off, but never thought much of it. Later, she would wonder whether Scotty’s acne medication had unbalanced his brain chemistry.
“I was just discovering who I was,” Draper says. “I was an extremely competitive person, a perfectionist, and this thing just took ahold of me.”
This “thing” arrived, perhaps not coincidentally, just as Draper began to climb the ubercompetitive international junior tennis ladder. Scotty and partner Steven Baldas won the Wimbledon junior doubles title in June 1992, his Wimbledon debut, and the OCD arrived soon after.
Michael Fox, a sports psychologist who worked with the Queensland state tennis team, met Draper when he was 15 years old.
“He won Wimbledon junior doubles and, all of a sudden, he was expected to perform,” says Los Angeles-born Fox, whose company, which specializes in maximizing performance for athletes, is based in Toowoomba, Australia. “Under that pressure, he fell apart.
“Certainly, he believed he was out of his tree.”
Scott and Kellie Draper
Scott and Kellie each had problems, but love kept them going.
Draper says he loathed his life, despised the rituals that controlled him. And then, nine months after the OCD had taken hold, he willed it away. He had just passed his driver’s test and was facing a 10-hour drive to a satellite tournament in New South Wales in February 1993.
The movie …
A white Ford Laser Ghia wheels across the screen, out of a suburban driveway. The driver, jaw set, eyes grim, says aloud to himself, “I’m never doing this s— again.” Five hours later, near Coffs Harbour, he stops for petrol. As the fuel pours into the tank, he finds himself tapping the pump. In threes. He swears and, instead of delicate, nuanced touches, the boy starts to slap the nozzle to make himself stop.
“It got to the point where the stress in my life overcame the fear of vomiting,” says Draper, who is still haunted by the remnants of OCD. “I had to stop it, and I did. I’m so glad I went through the experience. Looking back, it made me stronger and made me motivated to succeed.”
When he married Kellie Greig early in 1998, Draper knew she suffered from cystic fibrosis. He didn’t care. The disease meant Kellie’s body constantly manufactured excess mucus and she required constant care; it was as if she woke up every day with the flu. Physical therapy and massages and trips to the hospital were a way of life. Strangely, amid those constant off-court obligations, Draper’s tennis game thrived.
The camera focuses on the distraught man sitting on the edge of a bed in a Paris hotel room, then pushes in slowly to the woman a few paces away who is vomiting into the bathroom toilet. She writhes in pain. Cut to a cab, rushing to the hospital. In the operating room, doctors surgically correct a twisted intestine. Assured that she is resting comfortably, the tennis player throws down a ham and cheese baguette and rushes to Roland Garros.
Working with little sleep that day at the French Open, on pure adrenaline, Draper beat Tomas Nydahl of Sweden in straight sets.
“Kel hated being a burden,” Draper says. “It was like, ‘Go down and win the bloody match.’ The motivation was to not go back to the hospital and tell Kel I lost.”
At Wimbledon in 2002, Draper lost in the second round to Tim Henman.
At the next tournament, Queen’s Club, Draper played the best tennis of his life. He beat six solid grass-court players — including two-time Grand Slam champion Patrick Rafter of Australia — for his first and only ATP-level victory.
“I’m extremely stubborn,” Draper says. “I’m very, very competitive. With Kel, tennis was always second. If the ranking drops, the money drops and I can’t support her. I had no out, no excuses. I was very good at focusing on what needed to be done.”
Stoltenberg says, “He tried so hard to do well, just to make her happy.”
Draper achieved the highest rank of his career — No. 42 in the world — in May 1999. Two months later, Kellie, after 10 days on life support, died. They had been married for 18 months. Today, the only photograph of Kellie in Draper’s home is a black-and-white snapshot taken by a friend during Draper’s moment of triumph at Queen’s. As Draper describes it in his book, it is the very picture of happiness.
When he delivered the eulogy at Kellie’s funeral — perhaps, he says, the toughest task of his life — Draper didn’t waver. But for the next 18 months, he struggled to make sense of her death.
“Why did it happen?” Draper says. “I had a sort of identity crisis. I was so used to being Scott and Kel, and now it was just Scott. [Michael] Foxy and I did a lot of talking during that time. He said, ‘Son, you have to digest her life and move on.’”
“He was depressed, and he started drinking,” Fox says. “That’s when he really turned to golf. There were no expectations on the golf course.”
A few beers, a half bottle of red wine, a few more glasses of port. It was a nightly ritual, and Draper gained 18 pounds. Then, at 25, he took his first golf lesson.
Says Stoltenberg, “Golf was his great escape. Five hours, it was good for him to get out there alone with his thoughts. During that process, you could just see him healing.”
He had missed part of the 1998 tennis season after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee; he sat out the entire 2004 season when his left knee failed him. The cartilage had worn away, leaving bone rubbing on bone. As part of his rehabilitation, he played golf, sometimes 36 holes a day. When he won his club championship at Keperra Country Golf Club in late 2004, Draper began to think he could succeed as a professional. In December of that year, he earned his Australasian Tour Card at the Australasian PGA Tour Q-School at the Peninsula North Golf Club in Melbourne.
Scott and Kellie Draper
Scott had to keep playing tennis to make sure he could pay for Kellie’s care.
In mid-January 2005, almost predictably, Draper’s two sporting passions collided. In typical Type A fashion, he decided to play in the Australian Open mixed doubles event with Samantha Stosur and make his professional golfing debut at the Victorian Open — on the same Friday.
A montage of loose iron shots and pulled putts dissolves into a wide shot of the scoreboard: Draper +7. He jumps into a car and drives, frantically, across the city to Melbourne Park and, still in his golf clothes, runs into the players’ locker room. He takes the court with Stosur and, high-fiving, they win their mixed doubles semifinal.
On Saturday, he missed the cut on the golf course. But the next day, he and Stosur won the mixed doubles title on the tennis court. Draper was a first-time Grand Slam champion.
Six months later, he played his last professional tennis match, losing to Nikolay Davydenko in the first round at Wimbledon.
“It [the Australian Open title] was sort of like a check mark on the résumé,” Fox says. “But even then, he was already immersed in golf.”
Figuring it out
In retrospect, it makes a certain kind of sense. Draper’s still-obsessive personality is peculiarly suited to controlling a small, white, dimpled ball.
“Scotty’s problem — and advantage — is his obsessive behavior,” Fox says. “It’s crazy, but it makes him bloody awesome on the golf course. Scotty’s fussy; and golf, in a sense, is a fussy sport.”
There are times, though, when the rituals and routine of golf summon the ghosts of those uncomfortable feelings.
The golf ball, a Nike No. 3, fills the screen. The camera pulls out. The golfer frowns as he looks at the unlucky “3.” “It’s got nothing to do with the freaking ball,” he says to himself, aloud. He takes a deep breath and says, “Talk slower. Walk slower. Think slower.”
In 1998, Draper hoisted the championship trophy for his singles tennis win at Queen’s Club.
Draper’s swing mechanics, according to his good friend Martin Joyce, the head pro at Spring Valley Golf Club in Melbourne, are impeccable.
“From a ball-striking point of view, he never mis-hits a shot,” Joyce says. “His hand-eye coordination is unbelievable. But coming to it so late, there are a lot of things he needs to learn. He knows this. And, yeah, he asks a lot of questions.”
But last month, a question asked of Draper, rather than by him, had him briefly reconsidering his golf career. It came from former Davis Cup teammate Lleyton Hewitt: Will you be my coach?
The 2007 Australian Open was about to start. Simply because the former No. 1 player in the world had asked, Draper said yes. But it didn’t last long. Hewitt lost in the third round, and Draper didn’t continue in the job.
Draper says simply, “I want to be the coached, not the coach.”
Two weeks ago at the Australasian Tour golf tournament in Sydney, Draper got confirmation that the decision to leave Hewitt was the right one. He started the final round 4 shots behind leader Paul Marantz, but shot a 7-under-par 65 to win by a single stroke.
“It was a bit surreal to be part of the presentation ceremony holding a golf trophy, when tennis has been my entire life,” Draper says. “It’s a fantastic feeling to know I’m on the right track.”
And, so, at 32, Draper is climbing another competitive international ladder. His short-term goal this year is to spend the summer in America — after his second wife, Jessica, gives birth to a baby boy due in May — to attempt to qualify for Nationwide Tour events. His long-term sights are set on the PGA Tour, where Australians Greg Norman and, more recently, Adam Scott, Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby have thrived.
“Too Good,” Draper’s autobiography, ends a few weeks before his recent golfing triumph. But you get the idea that his story is going to require a second edition.
Scott Draper and Samantha Stosur
Proof that Draper is a Grand Slam champ in tennis: He holds the 2005 Australian Open mixed doubles trophy with partner Samantha Stosur.
“He has an inner strength to pull these things off,” his mother says. “The other day, he said, ‘Mum, I’d love to walk down the last hole at Augusta.’ I can tell you, he’d be absolutely over the moon.”
“Maybe,” Stoltenberg says, “we haven’t seen the best of Scott. He’s young, and he’s got the self-confidence to figure it out. He’s living the life he always wanted to live, and he’s writing a new chapter each week.
“As a mate, I’m going to enjoy watching it all unfold. I wouldn’t bet against him.”
There is only one way, really, for this movie to end.
A soaring jib camera pans across the crowd at Augusta National’s 18th hole, then picks up Tiger Woods walking down the fairway. As Tiger approaches the green, he’s joined by Draper, who needs to make a 15-foot putt to win his first green jacket.
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.