Two weeks on from his maiden win on the European Tour, Lucas Herbert was wearing the same orange/red shirt and the same big smile at the end of the ISPS Handa Vic Open. A final round of 69 at 13th Beach took the newly-minted Dubai Desert Classic champion to ten-under par and a spot just outside the top-10.
All of which was just fine with the 24-year old Victorian. While he was at pains to say he wasn’t actually that tired – at least not physically – after four consecutive weeks on the road mental fatigue was definitely setting in.
“I’ve done a pretty good job managing myself this week,” said Herbert, who is ranked 84th in the world. “But yes, I will definitely be a bit fresher a week from now after a few sleep-ins. I have a week off before I head to Mexico for the World Golf Championship event. I’m pretty proud of how I battled here. I haven’t played that well. It was pretty scratchy really. But I did break par every day, despite not holing much on the greens. The things that have been sharp in my game weren’t quite as sharp this week.”
Still, his recent success has distanced Herbert from the near-despair he was feeling only recently. Only a few months ago, he went public with the mental health issues that blighted his 2019 season.
“Halfway through the year, when I came home from the Irish and Scottish Opens, I didn't even know if I wanted to play any more because I just didn't enjoy the game,” he told the PGA Golf Club podcast. “I was playing great but I didn't enjoy the game, didn't enjoy a round, didn't enjoy the many sacrifices that you have to make to play well. I just was not in a place where I wanted to make them. I was like 'if I lose my Tour card this year, I'll happily go home and get a job as a chippy or a carpenter or something like that.’”
All of which – again – was in marked contrast to the remarkable progress Herbert enjoyed in 2018. After starting the year ranked 278th in the world, he rose almost 200 places on the back of a string of excellent performances.
As many as seven top-seven finishes on the European Tour – each one achieved from the depths of “affiliate membership” – were a million miles from the more modest ambitions he held at the end of 2017.
“I went to the Q-school in Canada early in ‘17 and got my card,” he says. “I didn’t really have much status though. So I was qualifying on Mondays. I missed the first three by a shot each time. So that wasn’t working out. I came home in the middle of the year and played Fiji and the Diamond Cup in Japan. I had my card in Australia but that was never going to be enough. Then I went to the web.com Q-school and missed there. I was running out of immediate options. And if my aim was to get to where I am now in 12 months, I was running out of time real quick.
“So my plan at that stage was to go back to Canada, basically repeating what I had already done. I was thinking I had ten years to get to the PGA Tour so there was no rush. I wasn’t panicking but I was a bit deflated.”
Not for long though. The rise and rise started at home in Australia. One week after running second in the 2017 New South Wales Open, Herbert was playing alongside Jason Day in the final group on the weekend in the Australian Open. Leading with nine-holes to play, the youngster faded to a T-6 finish, but it was the start of bigger and bigger things that culminated with his thrilling play-off victory in the Middle East.
“Looking back, I just played solidly all week in Dubai,” he says. “I hit the key shots well, especially in the play-off after I found the water on the first extra-hole. That was one of the worst shots I’ve ever hit in my life. I think I’d have gone through a different process if you gave me another go at that one. I wasn’t quite convinced I had the right club – even though it was – and I had doubt in my mind, That’s never good. But it is irrelevant now.
“I was good on the hard holes all day. It wasn’t like I played perfect golf. But I hit the right shots at the right time. Which is an important lesson. It really wasn’t that different from how I have played on Sundays before that.”
Now, of course, there is much to reflect on, albeit briefly in the hectic world of professional golf.
“I’ve had a bunch of people congratulating me, which is great,” he says. “I have an almost three-year exemption on the European Tour. The bank account has had a bit of a boost. There really aren’t too many problems with winning. And it definitely frees you up on the course. On the back-nine today I was pushing a bit to post a score just in case the wind plays havoc with the guys later on. I felt free to do that, There was no worry about making a big score and fall back down the leader board. I was just free to play. Plus, I know what I do is good enough to win. There’s no reason why I can’t do it again.”
And going forward?
“I get into the WGC events,” he continues. “They are a great chance to test myself against the best players and make some money. I’ll get to see some wonderful parts of the world too. All of which will hopefully boost my world ranking. I’m open to playing in everything.
“I sat down this week and made a plan for the rest of the year. I want to get into some PGA Tour events. That would get me some FedEx Cup points and hopefully get me into the KornFerry Tour finals at the end of the year. My ultimate aim is to play in the States. That represents a chance to set-up my family financially for life. And I want to play against the best week-in and week-out.”
Indeed. For Lucas Herbert, life is good. Never better, in fact.