Two 20-year-olds — one a first-year professional and one soon to be — have made the early running in the Emirates Australian Open at Royal Sydney in a triumph for the nation's golfing development.
Curtis Luck wore lurid, teal-coloured pants and carried it off without a worry as he played alongside Jordan Spieth and Geoff Ogilvy, both major winners, and outscored them.
Perth's wunderkind, who came through the Golf WA high performance program, revealed an inner calm and confidence that will take him a long way in the game, opening with a five-under par 67 with just 23 putts to show his ability to scramble.
His score was matched by Victoria's Lucas Herbert, recently graduated from the high performance programs of Golf Australia and the Victorian Institute of Sport, on a day for the young bucks.
Luck and Herbert lead Ryan Fox, Benjamin Clementson, Adam Burnett, Germany's David Klein and veteran Peter O'Malley by a shot after the first round, with Spieth a further shot back after his opening 69. World No. 7 Adam Scott began with a one-over par 73 and is six shots back.
Luck won the US amateur this year as well as the Asian amateur, and it has been said that he is an amateur by title only; in fact, he plays like a pro already. He intends turning professional after he takes up his invitation to play in the Masters at Augusta National in April, but he might yet go there as the Australian Open champion.
"It’s something that has kind of come to me over the past few years,'' he said of his ability to remain focussed despite the big galleries and the presence of greatness in Spieth, the American. "I think every child at some point has a few little issues with controlling their anger, but it’s something I’ve got really good at. I guess now I can kind of put it away and just keep going and digging deep when I’ve hit a couple of bad shots, which today I probably didn’t hit it my best, so there are times where I did need to be able to make some saves and fortunately I did.''
Luck chatted with Spieth, thought not about Augusta, as he had said that he might. He loved every bit of the moment, especially the chance to play alongside Spieth. "I just really admire how casual he (Spieth) is about it, I think that’s great. I’m someone that enjoys chatting on the golf course, so the fact that he’s happy to talk with some stinky amateur out in the field is pretty good I think.''
Spieth, who had his moments, anointed Luck "a really, really impressive player'', noting his uncommon calm on the course. "I thought he was better composed than I was. No doubt,'' said the American.
Herbert, who hails from Bendigo in north-central Victoria, has been an Eisenhower Cup player but is now finding his feet as a pro, coming off a tie for eighth in the New South Wales Open last week that persuaded Golf Australia to offer him a spot in the field at Royal Sydney.
He missed a short putt at the 18th for a 66 that would have given him the outright lead, and he drew on his experience of this event from 2014, when he slept in a car overnight from Melbourne so that he could get to Sydney and pre-qualify.
This time he slept soundly in a bed, but with higher expectations. "I thought about it to get those vibes back,'' he said. "On 2014, I definitely draw on that on the bad days and the bad time, because I think it’s very easy to start thinking, 'am I good enough to play or is this what I want to do' when you’re playing badly. I always like to think back to the times where I played well, the memories I shared with some of my really good friends back then in those two big events. That drives you as much as anything.''
On a great day for new talent the 51-year-old Peter O'Malley led the charge for the older group, taking a share of the lead until he made the mistake of tugging his drive left on the par-four 18th and dropped a shot. Still, he carded a 68 and is in the mix.
Scott drew a big gallery for his afternoon tee-off but was slightly disappointing for most of the day, before rolling in a bomb for birdie on the 17th.
He will tee off early tomorrow and needs a low one to get back into contention, along with two-time winner Aaron Baddeley who started with a 74.