Date: May 05, 2016
Author: Tom Fee

Interstate Series Aussie golf’s amateur hour

After winning the Nexus Risk TSA Group WA Open, Curtis Luck said he is in no rush to turn professional. And it’s clear why.

As a PGA Tour of Australasia winner, Luck can claim playing rights for the next two years if he turns professional – but there’s only four events scheduled between now and the first big carrot of the coming summer in November’s Emirates Australian Open.

By staying amateur and solidifying his place in the WAGR top 50, Luck will see himself eligible for a slew of events that offer Major incentives including U.S. Open sectional qualifying, the U.S. Amateur and the Asia Pacific Amateur.

And there’s plenty to keep the Cottesloe golfer busy on home soil, with the Australian Interstate Series kicking off in Queensland in just five days’ time.

The Interstate Series will be hotly contested featuring one of the strongest fields in recent memory. Behind Luck and Royal Fremantle's Min Woo Lee, it represents WA’s best chance to break a 16 year drought since the likes of Brett Rumford and Scott Strange saw WA victorious on home soil.

In one of his many post-win interviews, Luck paid homage to those who will be his teammates and rivals in the coming weeks.

“I’m not going to put any promises on when I’m turning pro, as I’m really happy [as an amateur],” said Luck.

“I think all of the underpinning programs, like GolfWA’s for example…I think they’re doing a great job at producing what Golf Australia are calling ‘professional Amateurs’, and I think that’s why we’re capable at competing at these events.”

And competing is an understatement.

Of the 14 events played on the PGA Tour of Australasia since last November, two have been won an amateur including Ben Eccles’ victory at the 2015 NSW Open.

A further three have seen an amateur runner-up through Luck at the 2015 WA Open, Queensland’s Anthony Quale featuring in a playoff at the PNG Open, and Travis Smyth making it an amateur 1-2 at the 2016 WA Open.

Jarryd Felton’s win at the 2015 NSW PGA just two months after turning professional also highlights how blurred the lines are between the amateurs and professionals on tour.

After sharing the WA Open Round 1 lead with amateur Haydn Barron, Felton enjoyed his second best professional finish in fifth place, but he seemed even more delighted to see his former WA teammate win, tweeting;

“Couldn’t be happier for a great mate, congrats Curtis Luck on your WA Open win!”

There may have also been some comfort from the fact that Luck and runner-up Smyth weren’t eating into his winnings. Instead Felton finished just two shots back of lead professional honours, with fellow rookie pro Antonio Murdaca taking home the cheque in third.

Even if Felton dropped a couple more shots to fall out of the top five, it wouldn’t have cost him a cent. Just one back of Felton in sixth was WA junior Ben Ferguson — an incredible achievement in itself, but even more so when you consider that the Vines golfer suffered a disastrous start to the event.

Through six holes, Ferguson was 3-over the card, while Luck was 3-under. Those six holes made the eventual difference between the pair, as they went 16-under for their remaining 66 holes.

In short, whether they were professional or amateur, youth dominated at WA Golf Club. In terms of age, the top 6 came in at 19, 21, 20, 30, 21 and 17 years respectively.

Outside of WA’s Rick Kulacz who placed fourth, five of the top six at the competed at last year’s Interstate Series — and five golfers from the top ten will play this year.

Scrolling down the entire leaderboard, you’ll find thirteen names in total that will front at next week’s series, and all thirteen made the cut — including all eight members of the WA state team.

Despite the weight behind these impressive results, it would be more than a stretch to say that the upcoming Interstate Series is the equivalent of a professional event.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

What these amateurs lack in star pulling power they’ll make up in their camaraderie as a team and their drive to bring glory for their home state.

Just yesterday Golf Victoria posted videos of their State Team braving a frigid Melbourne morning, performing a series of excruciating exercises that included climbing sand dunes on their backs, with the players resembling a sea of crabs and falling all over each other in the process.

The motivation behind these golfers getting up hours before sunrise goes far beyond money and individual glory, yet the standard of their play will be closer to professional golf than it’s ever been. If the Interstate Series was to hypothetically include professional golfers, you could easily argue the case for more than a handful of these amateurs to earn selection.

While breaking WA’s men’s title drought will be the top of Luck’s agenda, Luck says the bond between the WA team is special and he’s looking forward to making the most of the time he has left in that environment.

“It’s really really great how well everyone played. I think we’re going to have a good time at the series no matter the result, but it always helps with how you play,” said Luck.

“We’ve got such a tight little group, we’re all good mates — or great mates really, and I think a good time off the course will hopefully turn into a good time on the course.”