AUGUSTA, Ga. – It would’ve be hard to fault Curtis Luck for jumping at every opportunity to play Augusta National after qualifying for his first Masters. But unlike some 20-year-olds who have earned invites before him, Luck remained patient.
After winning the U.S. Amateur and Asia-Pacific Amateur last year, Luck didn’t make any early trips to Augusta, instead opting to first step on the property last Wednesday. He knew the course transforms the night before Thursday’s first round, and there was no need to prepare on a course that will be somewhat foreign, conditions-wise, come Masters week. He meticulously navigated the layout with local caddie Brian Tam Wednesday-Friday,
I’ve kind of made all my notes in my head and I’m ready to go,” Luck said, “so I’ve just kind of been trying to ease off the amount of shots I’m hitting out there and try and actually hit some properly good golf shots at some flags and, yeah, hole out some putts.”
He then got sage advice from fellow countrymen Jason Day and Adam Scott during weekend practice rounds (Day on Saturday, Scott on Sunday) and pegged it with Rory McIlroy on Tuesday.
“I kind of got a really good idea of what the course is playing like and how to play it before I got to the practice rounds with those guys,” Luck said. “But you know, they just pointed out a few things, a few pin locations to be wary of, a few putts to try not to leave yourself. But really, the best thing about playing with those guys is watching how they do it; the lines they take off the tees are always interesting.”
Smart kid, that Curtis. Of course, that should surprise no one. Pros who have teed it with Luck have raved about the kid from Perth.
“He’s obviously won big tournaments before, so he has the gut to do that,” Day said. “… He’s definitely got the short game. He’s not afraid, which is a good thing. And at such a young age, to have maturity and not be afraid is a lethal combination.”
Said Scott: “I think a lot of Curtis’s game. It’s time now for him to move on and challenge himself (at) the next level. This is going to be a great experience for him, another good test to see at the absolute highest level where his game is at. … I really feel he’s got the opportunity, if he just ticks a few of the right boxes in the next few months, he can be another breakout star, just like a Jon Rahm or any of these (young players), Jordan Spieth.”
Luck will get opportunities once he turns pro after this week. He’s hoping for a start next week at the RBC Heritage, but he definitely has spots in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, Memorial and Quicken Loans National. Luck, whose goal is earning his PGA Tour card via sponsor invites this year, is determined to make up for his Tour debut, too.
Last month at Bay Hill, Luck struggled. His ballstriking was tad off and he four-putted the 18th green in the second round. The poor play bugged Luck, but not as much as the mistake he made in the scoring tent. He rushed while signing an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified, the first time that’s happened to him ever.
“Nothing’s changed. I’ve been playing good golf and I’ve done everything right up until here,” Luck said. “That’s just one mistake and I’ve learned from it.
“I can assure you I won’t do it again.”
Normally, Luck’s attention to detail is spot-on. His father, Stuart Luck, loves to tell this story about his son as a kid.
“He showed a lot of potential very early because his hand-eye (coordination) was so good,” Stuart said. “The head pro’s name was Bruce Hay (at their local club outside Perth, Cottesloe Golf Club), and he said to Curtis, ‘I want you to hit the ‘0’ in the 100 sign.’
“Curtis’ answer back to him was ‘Which one?’ That typifies his golf.”
That kind of astuteness will certainly come in handy for Luck this week. Augusta National is a course with many intricacies, and learning them is a challenge. Luck knows he can’t possibly master the Masters course in his first year. He’s more focused on staying in the moment, controlling his nerves and just hitting golf shots.
“I can’t really predict how it’s going to be Thursday, (but) it’s going to be an experience of a lifetime,” Luck said. “So I guess just focusing on the little things is going to be important, and yes, I’ve got my coach, Craig (Bishop), on the bag, and he’s going to do a great job of settling me down out there, which will allow me to just focus on the golf hopefully.”
Luck remembers being too excited at the 2015 Western Australian Open, a pro event.
“I was so nervous coming down the stretch, I let it get the better of me and I probably got a little bit ahead of myself and I let that championship go,” Luck said.
The next year, Luck won. He doesn’t expect to win this week. When asked about his Masters’ goals, Luck said he just wants to have fun and gain experience. That attitude will come in handy should Luck run into a bit of trouble this week around Augusta National.
Spieth, who played with Luck at the Australian Open last year, was impressed with Luck’s ability to get the most out of rounds when everything doesn’t go his way.
“I thought he was better composed than I was, no doubt; certainly I learned a bit from him on that side of things,” Spieth, who won the event, said of Luck, who bested Spieth by two shots with an opening 67 that week. “He was smiling the whole time, just enjoying himself. … He could have shot even par for the day and instead he turned that into 5 under there in the middle of the round. That’s the kind of stuff that is unteachable, and he has that.”
Said Luck: “I think that’s one of my strong points is I’m pretty mentally tough out there, and I’ll always find the ways to dig deep and finish it off.”
Luck has an uncanny ability to stay in the moment. At his first Masters, that will be especially important.