Scott Draper is recognised as one of Australia’s top tennis players. He’s represented Australia in Davis Cup tennis and been ranked in the top 100 tennis players in the world. “I’ve always been a person who loves playing sport,” he says. “Tennis has always been my first love.”
But he’s also a professional golfer. Surprised? His good friend Jason Stoltenberg, also a tennis player, was surprised too, at first. But the sporting world is taking notice as Scott Draper continues to improve with his golf.
Bernie Pramberg, sports writer for Brisbane’s Courier-Mail, says, “To make the crossover in individual sports is extremely difficult. I can’t find any elite athlete who’s played at any sport equivalent to Davis Cup tennis or grand slam tennis tournaments who’s switched to golf.”
But Draper comes from a sporting family. One grandfather beat a world number-one lawn bowls player; while on the other side, his grandfather played first-grade cricket; his grandmother was a professional ice-skater; his mother plays in veteran tennis teams and is a premier-grade squash player; his father played off a three-handicap as a golfer; and his first cousin is well-known Olympic swimmer Petria Thomas. Draper and his siblings have hung around tennis courts all their lives, according to his mother.
In 1992 Draper won the Wimbledon Junior doubles. It was clear he was talented, with a bright future. In 1995 he drew a wild-card entry into the Australian Open, and he went from nothing into the top 100. It was the fastest rise of anyone on the tennis tour.
Scott Draper’s battles off the court make his sporting achievements even more remarkable. At the age of 18, he was struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). His fussiness and orderliness became obsession. It would take him three hours to get to bed at night as he triple-checked every appliance and light switch, turning things off and on.
Says Draper, “I’m a person who loves control. Anything that I’m not able to control, I don’t like. And this situation I couldn’t control.” Michael Fox, a sports psychologist, says, “He has incredible resolve and stubbornness and with almost a snap of his fingers he decided it wasn’t going to stop him from doing things—and he moved on!”
Draper decided one day that when the tyres on the car left his driveway to go to a tennis tournament, that that would be the end of it: no more OCD. And that was it. He still has a tendency for OCD, but now manages it. However, it is his natural inclination to be fussy and particular that possibly suits him to golf.
Of this point in his tennis career, Draper was “totally undisciplined and he had a big ego and thus he would play for everybody else rather than playing to win. So he would do spectacular things and become frustrated and go crazy on the tennis court. Not nasty but he would rant and rave at himself.” Fox helped Draper develop self-discipline and he started to play better tennis.
Falling In Love With Kellie
It was during this time that Draper fell in love with Kellie Grieg. Says friend Michael Scott, “Scotty was just stricken in the heart. Kellie was like this gorgeous, beautiful blond elf.” But what few people knew was that Kellie had cystic fibrosis.
Kellie and Scott married. Kellie’s father, John Grieg, says that after the ceremonies Kellie cried her eyes out because she never wanted the day to end. “That’s the type of day it was.” By 1998 when Draper was at his highest world ranking (42), he had a busy life travelling and playing. Off court he was caring for Kellie, doing her physiotherapy and massage.
Kellie was at her most unwell just at the time Draper began his climb in tennis. Onlookers may have thought Draper was still undisciplined, not putting in the work required on the tennis court, but they weren’t to know what he was dealing with at home.
Friend and fellow tennis player Andre Aggassi says, “Scott is a walking testment to what the human spirit is capable of. It’s a cruel, cruel disease and just a difficult thing to watch anyone have to go through. But on top of that, to negotiate being one of the best tennis players in the world is a real testament to his strength.”
Draper talks about playing he French Open when Kellie was very sick early one morning. He took her to hospital, where she had emergency surgery. Kellie would have wanted Draper back on the court playing, so despite having no sleep, he changed into his tennis outfit and took a taxi to the tennis courts, arriving 10 minutes before his scheduled match. He won that match. he says he couldn’t have gone back to the hospital to tell Kellie he’d lost.
“Kellie was one of the most corageous people I’ve ever known,” he says. “Even though she had an incurable disease you were always thinking, ‘Well, she’s going to live to 40 or 5 0- there are always medical breakthroughs.’ ” But she did not make it. Kellie died in July 1999. Draper was just 25 and it seemed his world fell apart. He deicded to still play in the US Open, but his parents say it was just too difficult too soon. Draper says that for the next two years, he really struggled.
He took time off tennis and mainly plyed gold. He found the golf course a place where he could forget grieving for Kellie for a while. He talked a lot to friend Jason Stoltenberg, whom he would spend time with on and off the golf course. “I needed some reason to say…it OK to go on. I had to basically let my guard down and say, ‘Well, OK, I’ve got a life. I’m still alive. Kell might be gone but the best thing I can do is to push on.’ “
When Draper got to this point in his life, it seemed to be the beginning of a revival. Draper says, “It was a perioud that I think is a high part of who I am today, and I’m a stranger person, without question.” He set up a foundation in Kellie’s name and raised some $A80,000 for cystic fibrosis charities.
Then he met Jessica Kersten, wo lived down the road. After an initial meeting, he wanted to ask her out. Jessica’s father had secrectly given Draper Jessica’s mobile phone number and asked him to let them know how he was going with his tennis. Draper called and eventually they fell in love. However he makes the point that Kellie is a part of his life and not forgotten.
He married Jessica, who is nine years his junior. With this new love, he got back his “first love” – tennis – which was also improving. But a knee injury in 2004 pushed him off the tennis court, which meant he played more golf.
Draper played “golf school,” and managed to secure his Australian tour card, enabling him to play professionally. Ealier in 2005, Draper played the Australian Open in tennis, with mixed doubles partner Samantha Stosur, winning that title, and the same day played in the Victorian Open gold tornament!
All quite remarkable achievements, but Draper wants more. Draper says of golf, “Its an addictive game. ANyone who’s played golf out there-you hit one shot, great! And that’s it you’re hooked.”
He’s been playing in gold tournaments more often recently, finishing eigth in the South Australian PGA Championship. Jason Stoltenberg says, “He’s made a lot of people eat their words, cause there are a lot of people who said he can’t do it, and, ‘You will not do it. You’ve got no chance of doing it.’ Well you know, he’s doing it.”
Draper says he will decide his future after the US Open and then re-evaluate things “My feeling is,” he says, “that I will retire from tennis and take up full-time gold. I’m hoping that golf will be even more successful than I was in tennis.”