Date: November 02, 2016
Author: Adrian Ballantyne, Golf Australia Express

Feature: Amateur hour

When discussing or writing stories on the rising crop of Australian amateur golfers, it’s best to do it quickly.

Delay for more than a couple of hours and you’ll most likely find the details outdated, as another young upstart will have emerged in those precious minutes and done something spectacular.

Golf Australia high performance director Brad James spoke to Golf Express about Australia’s current batch of young amateurs, led by Curtis Luck, Brett Coletta and newly-minted pro Cameron Davis, who have swept all before them in a way that no other group of homegrown future professionals ever has before.

Between them, they’d won the US Amateur and Asia-Pacific Amateur (Luck), the Queensland Open (Coletta) and the Eisenhower Trophy (Luck, Davis and Harrison Endycott – by a record 19 strokes, if you don’t mind).

Asked to identify the young players who might one day replace the star trio as Australia’s best amateurs once they make the transition to the professional ranks, James threw up a Queenslander teenager named Louis Dobbelaar as one of a group of talented kids with the potential to do some big things.

‘One day’ turned out to be three days later.

Fifteen-year-old Dobbelaar became the youngest ever winner of the New Zealand Amateur Championship on the weekend, when he peeled off five consecutive holes late in the 36-hole matchplay final to defeat Kiwi Peter Spearman-Burn.

Whether or not Dobbelaar one day goes onto even bigger and better things is something we’ll have to wait to see, but the performance that’s put him on the map is a testament to the talent factory that Golf Australia has produced since overhauling its high performance program after James was appointed in 2010.

For James, who was recruited from the American college system, it was a lack of cohesion between the states that was holding Australian golf back.

“The biggest thing was the lack of integration within all of the states’ high performance programs and within all the major bodies of golf. Golf is so small in Australia and when you’ve got segregation and you’re not working together, it’s not great for the development of golf in any avenue,” James says.

“It really showed its face in high performance where everyone was bidding against each other rather than working with each other in the interest of building better athletes and for the betterment of Australian golf.”

“Now you’re an Australian athlete, and that’s a key cultural shift.”

A propensity to shelter younger Australian golfers from higher programs had also prevented many from reaching their full potential, he says.

The true success of Golf Australia’s new direction won’t be known for years, but the early signs already point to more Aussies making waves at the highest level.

“I remember in 2013-14 they said, ‘Oh, you’re getting some great results’, and I said, ‘Look, the fruits of the program won’t be shown for another five, 10 years, maybe 15 years’ time when these athletes are out there competing on the international stage’, James says.

“Minjee Lee was one of the first athletes in our program, and Minjee was 13 at the time. You’re really just starting to see the fruits of that program in her results now, and that’s five, six years down the track.”

THE last couple of hours of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship tells you everything you need to know about why Luck has all the tools to one day match it with the world’s best.

Having already won the US Amateur Championship, netting himself a Masters berth, he led Coletta on the final day, with his good mate chasing a victory that would also have earned him his own ticket to Augusta.

Instead, Luck didn’t hesitate to step on Coletta’s throat, putting another victory onto his growing resume.

James says it’s that killer instinct that has thus far set Luck apart, and holds him in good stead for when he eventually transitions into the professional ranks.

“If Tiger Woods or Greg Norman or Karrie Webb were in that situation, they would have done the exact same,” James says.

“What he did was just do what he naturally does. You can’t take anything away from him at all.

As for Colleta, his Queensland Open victory was a sweet consolation, and has him weighing up how long he waits before launching his professional career.

“We had dinner with Brett last night and we discussed, ‘should I turn pro, should I not turn pro?’” James says.

“It was basically, ‘You know mate, you could turn pro and have an incredibly successful career’. The idea is just to try and increase the percentages of having a successful career.”

“We want to find talent at that young age and then put the right coaching structures and platform around them so that their chances of being successful only increases.”