Date: March 29, 2017
Author: Mark Hayes

FEATURE: Luck by name, plan by nature

When the dust settled on Curtis Luck’s breath-taking 2016, there were precious few certainties.

As delectable as many of the offers on the table must have seemed, Luck knew little more than he’d be teeing it up at Augusta National in early April.

He also knew his family had his back in what would undoubtedly be a period of incredible – albeit positive – tumult; and that his coach, Craig Bishop, would be by his side when it mattered most.

Surely that side of things is ho-hum, a matter of course for a young golfer in the months since his twin triumphs at the US and Asia-Pacific Amateur titles.

Well, not so much.

Consider these experiences and possible distractions as, having proved beyond doubt that he is the world’s No.1 amateur – even though it took the official rankings a few months to catch up – Luck has honed his game to compete against the world’s top professionals …

There’s been rounds with major champions Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy. He’s been involved in European Tour promotional picture shoots with no less than Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer and reigning Masters champ Danny Willett. Naturally, he was a drawcard when the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia visited his home town for the Perth Super 6. He also played in the emotion-charged Arnold Palmer Invitational on debut on the US PGA Tour. Oh yeah, and he’s signed with global management giant IMG.

Did we mention he’s still an amateur?

You can see that life has been somewhat of a whirlwind for the fun-loving 20-year-old from Cottesloe Golf Club, a passionate West Aussie and great mate to all those with whom he’s come through the ranks.

But fast-forward to the week before the Masters and, impressively, not much has deviated from the original plan. And nothing at all from those key planks around which the bearded youngster’s Augusta dreams are built.

Family and close friends booked for Augusta? Absolutely.

House rented for the clan to keep things as “normal as possible”? Tick.

Bishop there to keep golf focus narrow? You betcha.

Luck, as US Amateur champ, will face off against British Amateur champion Scott Gregory overnight in the increasingly prominent exhibition match for the Georgia Cup, played north of Atlanta.

From there, it’s back to Augusta National and from Thursday to Sunday (American time), for an intense four days of planning with Bishop, who will only don the white overalls as caddie next week when the whips are cracking.

Some would argue that Bishop’s time on the bag will be for the most important days – and, naturally, the scores Luck cards on tournament days will be the thing by which he’s ultimately judged.

But Bishop himself mounts a case that it’s later this week that will have a bigger impact.

“We’ve got four days on course together and we are going to have local caddies every time he’s out there,” said Bishop, who leaves Perth on Wednesday.

“We’ll just get our feet and, to be honest, I feel really sorry for those caddies because we’ll be picking their brains like crazy.

“The key for Curtis to do well is to stay calm, organised and focused … that’s the time when we will make sure he has all the information he can possibly have to fall back on when we get going (in the tournament).”

Luck hasn’t confirmed his housing plans for later this week, but Bishop said he’s contemplating taking up Augusta National’s standing offer for amateur Masters invitees to stay in the club’s famous Crows Nest.

But that will only be until the family arrives and they move into the house as a unit for tournament week.

So what will satisfy Luck and his long-time mentor next week, arguably the biggest of their golfing lives to date?

“We haven’t set a goal for an overall result – it’s just too hard to do that,” Bishop said.

“All we want to do is be prepared as best we can and for Curtis to enjoy the week. He has said that he wants to be low amateur and clearly that involves making the cut.

“But really, we want him to learn for the future. We want him to take away a heap of information not only about Augusta and the Masters, but how to prepare, how to deal with all the noise around him, those type of things.

“But we won’t put any expectations on him at all. I know others will externally, but he’s got such a great family around him and those closest to him only want him to learn and enjoy the week.

“The rest will take care of itself.”

Luck said at the Emirates Australian Open in November that he’d acquired the phone numbers of 2015 Masters hero Spieth and that he might reach out for a practice round in the lead-up.

But Bishop said he thought the plan would now be to “have a hit” with a past champion or two who weren’t in realistic contention, such as 1988 champion Sandy Lyle who has played every year since 1985 and despite being aged 59 now, made the cut as recently as 2014.

“Sandy’s a great bloke, very amenable and, no offence to Jordan or anyone, but his focus will be Jordan whereas Sandy, I’m sure, would be very happy to pass on as much information as possible to someone like Curtis,” Bishop, 43, said.

“It’s totally understandable that Jordan will be working on his own game while playing the round … I think playing with someone like Sandy would benefit us a bit more right now, he can give us such good perspective on the course and what happens.”

It’s that sort of planning – in fact the whole bankable dependability of his crew – that has catapulted Luck into what will undoubtedly be a glaring global spotlight next week.

He left Perth a few weeks ago on the back of rounds of a club-best 61 and 63 at his beloved Cottesloe as he put the finishing domestic touches on his preparation.

But as sweet as that sounds, Bishop is under no illusion that it’s remotely relevant on a course that induces butterflies like no other.

“They (those rounds) were nice, no doubt. They probably made him sleep a bit better on the plane on the way over thinking his form was OK,” said Bishop, who vowed to himself that he’d only ever go to Augusta as either player or coach.

“I wasn’t good enough to make it as a player, but through Curtis and his dedication, we have this opportunity now.

“All we can do, the two of us and his family … is get him to the first tee with everything planned out … for as many scenarios as possible.

“I can promise you he won’t be thinking about a 61 at Cottesloe when he gets there.

“Look, he’s a big boy and I’m sure he handle himself well.

“But we don’t know how he’ll react. Even the great players, blokes who’ve won there before, will get nervous – and Curtis will be no different.

“But if he’s ready and plays to his own plan, we’ll be fine.

“We won’t live and die by the result … the learning and enjoyment are the most important things we can take away for the future.”

One gets the sense that future will take in many trips back to Augusta National to cash in on this splendid, thoughtful approach.