A three-club wind howling off Bass Straight greeted Andre Lautee when he hit the driving range at 13th Beach today, with some sideways rain around as well. Rain suits were in vogue in what passed as the Victorian summer.
In short, it was close to Scottish weather, but Lautee was hardly complaining.
For the 20-year-old Victorian Institute of Sport scholarship-holder Lautee, starts in any professional event – let alone a European Tour event like the ISPS Handa Vic Open – are precious.
The amateur from Kingston Heath, already a state champion and national strokeplay champion, is in the field on invitation from Golf Australia along with Queenslanders Louis Dobbelaar and Jed Morgan, the recent Australian Amateur champion.
Two players from Chinese Taipei, Ching-Hung Su and Yu-Cheng Hsu complete the amateur group in the men’s side of the tournament, while the likes of Sydney’s Grace Kim and England’s Charlotte Heath are in the women’s field alongside the superstars of the LPGA Tour.
They’re here for the experience and the learnings that come from playing alongside professionals. Sometimes, in their heart-of-hearts, they might dream of winning, as Perth’s Minjee Lee did in 2014 before she turned professional. Mostly, it’s about seeing and listening.
Lautee played last year here as a result of winning the Victorian Amateur, made the 36-hole cut but dropped out when the field was trimmed to 60 after three rounds. “It was awesome,’’ he said. “I loved the experience. The first two rounds were good, the third round the conditions were really, really tough. I struggled quite a bit.’’
The links at 13th Beach sit just over the dunes from the sea and they can be brutal; the tiny, par-three seventh hole becomes a beast at just 104 metres, the green perched on top of a dune and the prevailing wind blowing hard out of the right. “Wind into and off the right,’’ recalled Lautee. “It was tricky.”
The wind is tipped to stay around this week; today, it was blowing stiffer than 30 km/h. Lautee said he would alter his ball flight to meet the conditions; you could safely tip a low ball-hitter, or someone who controls his or her flight, this week. The Victorian is just thanking his lucky stars that his golf is played in Melbourne, where it’s not so different. “In Melbourne, we’re pretty used to this. I’m trying to play my best, see how far I can get into the tournament.”
Lautee is heading to the United Kingdom and the USA this winter to play big amateur events. Like David Micheluzzi before him, he’s happy to work on his game and finish his degree at Swinburn University before he contemplates turning professional.
“I’m probably two years away,” he said. “I’ll finish uni first and see how it goes after that. I’m in no rush.’’