Date: November 29, 2006
Author: Alistair Hogg

Kulacz: the year that was

By Alistair Hogg From winning the NSW Open to playing with Greg Norman and traveling the world, 2006 has been a breakthrough year for 21-year-old Rick Kulacz. Reflecting on his recent success, the West Australian lauded his improved level of consistency. “2006 has been a lot more of a consistent year for me,” he said. “It would have to be up there with 2001 but I think I am a more polished player now than back then. I have been in contention (in tournaments) a lot more and I think the trip to the USA has given me more confidence about my game.” Kulacz&aposs American experience was capped with a fourth place finish at the Dogwood Invitational in Atlanta but it wasn&apost the only highlight of an action packed year for the 21-year-old. In November he won the NSW Open and just prior, he triumphed in the Federal Amateur Championship, sinking a nerve-wracking birdie putt at the final hole to claim victory and book a start in the 2007 British Amateur Championship. However at one stage it looked as though the 21-year-old wouldn&apost even last until the weekend. “I was standing on the 11th tee on Friday at four-over for the day and one-over for the tournament and I think the cut ended up being one or two-over, so I was borderline not playing on the weekend,” he said. But Kulacz pulled himself together, finished strongly and hung in the tournament. The rest, as they say, is history. “Everything just started to click on the weekend and I just hit it really solid and made a few putts here and there. There was nothing magical. I just didn&apost get ahead of myself, went through my routines and got the job done.” Perhaps the impetus for the West Australian&aposs year was a strong showing at the Riversdale Cup in Melbourne which kick-started his 2006 campaign. “Runner-up at the Riversdale Cup gave me a lot of momentum for the rest of the year I think,” Kulacz said. His final round charge of 66 was not quite enough to eclipse winner Steven Dartnall but his solid performance provided a platform upon which to build a successful year, culminating in a third-round pairing alongside Norman at the 2006 MFS Australian Open. “Being paired with Greg Norman was just awesome. There is no other way to put it,” Kulacz noted. “Obviously I was nervous but I felt very calm for the whole day and myself and Ray, my caddy for the week, were just lapping it up and having a great time. I didn&apost feel like there was that much pressure on me I was just playing the game and fortunately making some birdies at the same time.” “I spoke a little bit to Greg, a little bit about golf but not too much, I think we were both pretty zoned in to our game because we were both playing well. Kulacz performed well but finished the tournament at nine-over the card, tied in 30th position. “At the Australian Open, I felt like I played better than what my score suggested. The first day was just a bad round of golf, but the last three days I think I played well.” The 21-year-old carded an opening round 80 before steadying to shoot 72, 71 and 74 for the rest of the event. “I think I definitely played too much before the tournament started,” he said. “I felt fatigued near the end of the week, especially coming off a win the week before and I think that may have showed in my back nine scores on the weekend.” “But as I said, I learned a lot from the Australian Open this year.” One of the things he learned was the appeal of playing in front of large crowds. It was something the amateur is still getting used to but thrives upon. “Playing in front of that many people was very different but I definitely enjoyed the experience. If you hit a good shot the gallery appreciates it and it&aposs great being on the receiving end of a huge roar from the crowd, there&aposs no doubt about it.” A couple of years back though it seemed tournament victories, overseas events, big galleries and playing with &aposThe Shark&apos were distant fantasies. A form slump and loss of motivation had Kulacz questioning whether golf would be a part of his future. “Back then I had no self-belief, no confidence and obviously my golf swing really wasn&apost where I wanted it to be. I remember waking up some days just not wanting to get out of bed to play golf because I was simply just too embarrassed about my game and the scores I was shooting.” “They were definitely some tough times and it&aposs amazing how quick things can turn from being so good to just downright terrible. I went from winning a ton of junior events a few years before to feeling like I&aposd lost my whole game. I felt like I didn&apost know how to play golf anymore and it&aposs definitely not a feeling you want after being successful at a young age.” But after re-assessing his options, Kulacz decided to stick at it and explained what it took to get his game back on track. “Persistence and a lot of hard work in all aspects of my game, not just playing golf but mentally and physically too. I know I am better for it now though and I will never take my game for granted ever again.” Nor will he take for granted the game in general. “Golf has provided me with a lot of friends. I have met so many people just through playing golf and I think it&aposs great to know that you always have someone to talk to anywhere in Australia and even overseas.” “Also, I have been able to travel a lot and see some parts of the world that others never will which I&aposm grateful for. Golf is pretty much my life at the moment so you just have to try and take the good with the bad.” Kulacz has one of the more interesting stories on what led to his interest in the game. For most golfers, choking is a diabolical curse, but for Kulacz, it sparked a flame – at least in the long-term. “I had an asthma attack late one night as a three-year-old. I couldn&apost get back to sleep so my parents turned the TV on for me and what do you know, the 1988 British Open was on which caught my attention. My Dad took me to a local course a week later. I then joined Hartfield Country Club at 9-years old and I&aposve been hooked ever since.” Kulacz&aposs breakthrough year has elevated the rookie to new heights but he doesn&apost have any plans to relinquish his amateur status, just yet. “At the moment I think I will stay as an amateur for one more year and play overseas in Europe, USA and Asia hopefully and then assess my options later in the year, but you never know what&aposs lurking around the corner.” While his ball striking and mental game have improved decidedly, the 21-year-old realises he needs to remain constantly focused on upping the ante every time he sets foot on the course. “You can never just sit back and say &aposyep, that&aposs it for me, I can&apost get any better&apos. “You&aposre always trying to constantly get better at what you do.”