Curtis Luck is among the 32 golfers left standing at the US Amateur after advancing through the opening round of matchplay at Oakland Hills’ South Course.
Luck battled early with American opponent Andrew Huseman, however it was the Australian that cruised home to win 4&3.
The Cottesloe member sat out a marathon 23 for eight playoff that morning, which saw world number 1 Maverick McNealy bow out with a bogey on the fifth playoff hole.
After eventually drawing Huseman it was Luck who started on the front foot, taking a hybrid from a bunker on the par-5 second to set up an eagle chance from 12 feet.
Yet Luck let Huseman off the hook with his firm with his downhill putt, and the world number 7 walked off the green 1-down after missing the four footer coming back as Huseman birdied to take the lead.
If nerves were affecting Luck’s first US Amateur matchplay appearance in three attempts, they didn’t last. Luck won the next three holes on a strong front nine, with a double bogey on the par-4 seventh his only blemish.
Leading 1-up at the turn, Luck turned the screws on the back nine winning the opening three holes with par, birdie and par. The run saw Luck 4-up with six to play, a margin he maintained until closing out the match with a par on the 15th.
Safely through to the Round of 32, Luck now faces a tough task in Number 5 seed Davis Riley.
Riley set the tournament alight with an incredible second round of 63, equalling the course record on the North Course. Luck finished three back of Riley in qualifying, however the numbers almost stack in Luck’s favour on the statistically harder South Course, which exclusively hosts the matchplay rounds.
While a small sample size, Luck’s 1-over par 71 on the South Course was one of the strongest in the field. Riley, who shot 73 in his opening round, was pushed to extra holes on his return to the South Course by number 60 seed Matthew Wolff.
Riley held a 4-up lead through nine holes but endured a post-suspension rally by Wolf. Over a six-hole stretch, Wolf erased the deficit, punctuated by a birdie on the 15th hole to square the match. Riley won the match with a par on the first extra hole.
The USGA has lived up to their reputation with the South Course set-up, with the high and thick rough even harder to handle in the damp conditions.
“[The rough] is so different to what we have back home,” Luck said of the South Course to GolfWeek.
“We don’t have anything like it. When it gets wet like when you play in the morning, with the dew, or when it’s raining, it’s completely different. I’ve struggled to get my head around that. I’m slowly getting there.”
Yet Luck also stated he was a “massive” fan of the South Course, as well as the matchplay format. There are still five more rounds to navigate for the eventual champion, but with starts at the US Masters and US Open on offer to both finalists, there are just four rounds left to make the coveted final two.
The dangling carrot of Augusta National may too good to ignore for Luck, who has just over 20 months left to claim a full card on the PGA Tour of Australasia as the winner of May’s WA Open.
2012 WA Open champion Oliver Goss enjoyed a similar embarrassment of riches, choosing to stay in the Amateur game – which paid off by earning a Masters exemption as the 2013 US Amateur finalist, eventually becoming Australia’s lone winner of the Silver Cup as the 2014 US Masters low amateur.
“It wouldn’t be an issue,” said Luck about staying an amateur for another year if a Masters invite came his way.
“A bucket-list thing for me would be to come out on top of a field like this,” said Luck.
“Obviously there are some pretty nice trophies at the end and the things that come with winning. I’m not really going to think about that yet, but sure, that’s something that could postpone what I was thinking of doing.”