Date: October 15, 2018
Author: Mark Hayes

The rise and rise of Lucas Herbert

Goal mapping is a big thing for many golfers, not least Lucas Herbert.

Many stay within the player's camp, but some become public and generate predictably mixed responses from an Australian public still too often afflicted by tall poppy syndrome.

Yet so strong is Herbert's belief – and almost peerless ability to engage and take people on his golfing journey with him – he had no fear mentioning the words "Presidents Cup" at the start of 2018.

Some sniggered, some audibly guffawed.

But, as many of us have in other spheres (yes, including me with Tiger Woods!!), those people will now be chowing down on a MASSIVE helping of humble pie.

As it stands today, Herbert, the knockabout 22-year-old from Bendigo, is sixth in the Presidents Cup International team list of direct qualifiers.

For reference, only Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Cameron Smith, Yuki Inamori and Emiliano Grillo are above him. Yep, he's comfortably clear of Jason Day, Adam Scott, Li Haotong and, remarkably, any South African or Korean that crosses your mind.

When the world rankings are updated, he'll be No.78 with a bullet – immediately on the back of another gutsy result on the European Tour, this time a share of third at the British Masters.

So Herbert must have done something breathtaking to achieve this, surely?

Well he has, but not in the way you're likely thinking.

The Golf Australia rookie squad member arrived at the New South Wales Open last year sitting just outside 700th in the world rankings and with little more than strong domestic form to help predict what would unfold in the subsequent 12 months.

In early January, with only his ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia card to fall back on, Herbert told his hometown Bendigo Advertiser that he would forego the last stage of Asian Tour Q-school for a start in the Singapore Open.

He told the newspaper that he would likely play China, or possibly Canada, as the third tier options in a presumably long path towards the US PGA Tour.

Admittedly, he hit Singapore with confidence after a runner-up finish at the NSW Open, then a T6 at the national championship after playing the weekend with major champion Jason Day and a T7 result at the Australian PGA Championship.

But after that, Boy's Own Annual would have trouble keeping up.

Eighth in Singapore earnt him a start in The Open, the Carnoustie version.

Third in the World Super 6 Perth gave him a better platform into Europe and a bank to fund his 2018 dream.

Another third in the Sicilian Open and by now his world ranking had reached No.143 and, for the first time, chasing down a 2019 European Tour card was becoming viable.

He qualified for and played in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills, although didn't make the cut in his first major championship.

A few dropped shots late made his T51 at The Open appear not as meritorious as it should sound, but still a fantastic achievement.

A 29th in the European Open was then followed by a couple of rounds with Ernie Els and a T18 in the Fiji International – another important result using his domestic card as Herbert began to try to budget what he thought were his few remaining starts on invite in Europe, still with a 2019 card his focus and now with Chinese and Canadian plans well in the rear-view mirror.

Fifth in the Nordea Masters in Sweden gave him a bonus start in the Czech Republic, but a T44 finish there and a missed cut on a course that didn’t suit his eye in Denmark seemed to have thrown up a big roadblock.

A last-minute call-up into the KLM Open in the Netherlands became a T28, then it was off to Portugal for that nation’s Masters – and that’s where the floodgates really opened.

A T2 there gave him security of his 2019 card, but also another start which became a T7 at St Andrews in the Dunhill Links and that ultimately became this week’s stunning third at Walton Heath.

Herbert was actually staring down the barrel of a rare weekend off until he birdied his 36th hole in southern England to make the Masters cut on the number. And the resultant freedom was a sight to behold, especially in the foul Sunday weather that brought lesser players to their knees.

The Victorian roared up the leaderboard with four birdies in six holes to start his final round, then hung on through a cold and waterlogged back nine as his three-under 69 took ground off almost every player in the field, even though he couldn’t quite run down eventual champion Eddie Pepperell.

“That was a totally different course today. Yesterday (in my third round), I drove over the back of the 10th green and today I hit a five-iron in for my second shot … so I was happy to hold strong,” Herbert said.

“The last nine holes, I hit 4-5 irons in (to the green) plenty of times, so I knew no one would likely go anywhere (up the leaderboard) … so that was the plan, to grind it out and fortunately I've been able to reap the benefits now.”

Those benefits also include a Race To Dubai standing of 38th, well inside the top 60 who will compete for the big bucks in the season-ending tournament next month.

Which brings us all the way back to goals.

What now for Herbert, who has been so incredibly consistent that he has made an almost unprecedented run through the rankings without a victory?

“It's been a little purple patch, it's been a long year and we've spent a long time out on the road, so to get results and tick goals off has been rewarding,” said Herbert, who has surrounded himself with a strong team, including his childhood coach Dominic Azzopardi.

“We've reset goals and found some new things to strive for so that's been the reason we've got the results we have.

“Since pretty much the start of the year, it's just been trying to get my European Tour card.

“So I've worked harder and harder and stressed about that forever and ever, and finally once I hit that goal, it would have been very easy for me to just relax and maybe just settle a little bit on it.

“But we’ve probably set some `out-there’ world ranking goals to finish the end of the year by, and we're sort of making a bit of a start on that, but I think that's probably really kept my head in and kept the motivation going these last two weeks.”

And right now, there’s not one person in the world of golf who’d bet against whatever those goals are becoming a reality.

The only bet you’d be wise to take is that Presidents Cup captain Els is relieved to have bumped into Herbert in Fiji, because there’s every chance he’ll need to call that name a lot at Royal Melbourne next year.