Date: February 06, 2019
Author: Martin Blake

Herbert surges forward at 13th Beach


Lucas Herbert is intent upon putting the rules fracas of Dubai a fortnight ago behind him and is focused on his 2019 goals beginning with the ISPS Handa Vic Open this week.

Herbert, the 23-year-old Australian who is the highest-ranked local player in the men’s field this week at No. 75, was penalised two strokes for improving his lie during the Dubai tournament on the European Tour, but also suffered fierce criticism in social media.

Caught by the cameras using his wedge to gouge out some loose vegetable matter near his golf ball in a sandy waste area, he has moved on. He’s been labelled a cheat in the dark morass of the internet, but in fact, the backlash was slightly less intense than he expected, given that the television footage looked awful.

“I mean, a lot more got made out of it than what it needed to be, really,’’ he said. “It was probably a little bit of a misunderstanding of the rules from my interpretation and a little bit of carelessness in obviously not getting down and moving some loose impediments with my hand and carelessly scraping them away with the club. I learnt my lesson there. A little two-shot penalty’s probably cost me quite a bit of cash and a lot of world ranking points which I need for the Presidents Cup team. I’d like to think I won’t do that one again any time soon.’’

This week’s Open is a priority because he has not won as a professional yet, despite jumping a whopping 175 places on the world rankings in 2018. He’s had a number of near-misses, including at 13th Beach in 2017 when he fell away in the last four holes.

The Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne from 12-15 December is a big draw for him. Eight years ago when the event came to Melbourne he carried a walking scoreboard for Geoff Ogilvy’s singles match against American Bill Haas on the final day; now he has a chance to join the International team by right.

He needs to accumulate enough world ranking points this year to get into the top eight in the International standings (he is 15th currently) to guarantee his spot. Outside of that, captain Ernie Els has four captain’s picks to add, although Herbert does not want to rely on luck.

“It’s all up to me,’’ he said. “I don’t think I’m going to get gifted a captain’s pick there. It’s whether I can play well enough to put myself in that team or not. I mean, it would be unbelievable to play, especially given that right now, I live about a kilometre from the golf course. It’d be unbelievable to play Royal Melbourne, a course I played a lot growing up, against those Americans who are as strong as ever, really.’’

At No. 75 in the world he is also quite close to a top 50 ranking that would get him into the majors, starting with Augusta in April. These are interesting times for the boy from Bendigo in northern Victoria, who came through the Victorian Institute of Sport programs.

This week at 13th Beach, he has his eye on a win. Pure and simple. “I had a really good chance to win (in 2017), realistically,’’ he said. “I think back and I was a different golfer, I think. I’ve made a lot of changes and big steps since then. But obviously the event’s grown as well, being European and you’ve got some pretty good players this week. You expect to win every week, don’t you?

“Sometimes if you’re form’s not good you can afford to be more realistic, but I think you turn up every week trying to win, especially coming home to an event in Australia. It’s a great chance to put a win on the resume. That’s where my expectations are at this week.’’