No luck needed: Australia's Curtis Luck routs Brad Dalke in U.S. Amateur final

No luck needed: Australia's Curtis Luck routs Brad Dalke in U.S. Amateur final

Amateur

No luck needed: Australia's Curtis Luck routs Brad Dalke in U.S. Amateur final

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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – It was Tuesday afternoon at Oakland Hills, and Curtis Luck had just rallied from a poor start to his second stroke-play round just to make it to match play at the U.S. Amateur. He talked about his plans to turn professional this autumn, how he expected to go to qualifying schools in Japan and Europe, but added a small asterisk: He said a strong run at the 116th U.S. Amateur could alter those plans.

That said, Sunday’s championship final seemed miles away, and Luck didn’t wish to get too far ahead of himself.

Well, now he can. Luck, 20, from Perth, Australia, went on a torrid run to begin the second 18 holes of a scheduled 36-hole final on Sunday at venerable Oakland Hills’ South Course, winning eight consecutive holes to turn a close tussle against Brad Dalke into a rout. Luck made the final turn 7 up, then held off Dalke, 6 and 4, to become the third Australian-born champion in the history of the U.S. Golf Association’s oldest championship, and sixth international champion of the event in the last decade.

“Yeah, it’s definitely sinking in now,” Luck said. “It’s obviously an amazing feeling to be named the U.S. Amateur champion for 2016. It’s something I’ve dreamt of since I was about 16.”

Luck now can fill out his 2017 schedule with starts at the Masters (traditionally, the U.S. Amateur winner and runner-up get invited), U.S. Open and British Open, as well as possibly adding starts at PGA Tour events such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Memorial.

As for holding off on turning pro for nearly a year? As they say back home in Australia, no worries, mate.

“It was something I always was thinking might happen,” Luck said. “I’m very happy with staying amateur.”

Luck, who had his father, Stuart, on the bag this week, joined three-time champion Walter Travis (1900, 1901, 1903) and Nick Flanagan (2003) as Australian-born players to win the U.S. Am.

The week was something of a blur to Luck, who arrived to Oakland Hills after not making it to match play at the Western Amateur, and ranked seventh in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He spent a few holes on the brink of elimination in Saturday’s semifinals against Michigan favorite Nick Carlson, who extended Luck to 21 holes. Carlson had a putt to win the match on the 17th hole and gave away the 18th by making double bogey; Luck had to make a 12-footer at the first extra hole and birdie his next hole from a fairway bunker just to stay alive.

“If someone had come up to me walking from the 17th tee to the green (Saturday) and said, ‘We think you’re going to win,’ I would have laughed at them and said, ‘Nice one, mate.’ So that’s, I think, a pretty good answer in the fact that to be sitting here now with the trophy just . . . it’s kind of a surprise to me, really. But I played some good golf, so that’s I guess what you get.”

Sunday, after Luck and Dalke played the morning 18 holes all-square, Luck got hot just as Dalke cooled off with his ballstriking, struggling mightily with the driver. Luck dropped the first hole of the afternoon session, chopping it up pretty good at the first, then dominated, his run sparked by a 20-foot eagle putt at the par-5 second. From there, he was off and running.

Dalke lost holes after 6-foot misses at Nos. 3 and 4 and Luck piled on by hitting an approach to 2 feet at the par-4 fifth to go 3 up. When Dalke finally gave himself a good birdie look at the seventh, Luck beat him to the hole, making birdie from 20 feet. Dalke then rolled his 6-footer past the right edge. Luck played the final eight holes on the front in 4 under, and with a huge lead heading to the final nine, it wasn’t so much if he would win, but when. Luck, who earlier this year won a pro event (WA Open) at home in Australia, closed Dalke out with a par on the 32nd hole of the match (No. 14).

Dalke had played well through the week, but struggled to hit fairways on the opening nine of his afternoon round, missing on both sides of the fairway. By the time he won a couple of holes to start the back (10 and 11), he was in a hole too deep. By getting to the final, Dalke earned starts at next year’s Masters and the U.S. Open (Erin Hills).

“The driver got a little away from me the second round,” said Dalke, who soon will begin his sophomore year at Oklahoma, a school to which he verbally committed when he was 12. “It didn’t help that Curtis played really well.

“Even when I was hitting it all over the place, I was trying my best. Curtis is a good winner. It was a great week. I wish it could have ended a little better.”

As Luck conducted his winner’s post-tournament conference inside the teaching facility not far from the majestic Oakland Hills clubhouse, his father, Stuart, pridefully stood in the back of the room, a smile seldom leaving his face. Also in the room were Stuart’s parents (Curtis’ grandparents), Graham and Pat Luck, who made the long trip from Down Under. Graham used to coach young Curtis in basketball. Pat was the golfer who would take Curtis and his cousins to the range to hit balls because it was less expensive than taking them all to the movies.

Young Curtis, with the shiny gold Havemeyer Trophy at his side, had come a long way since the first time his dad had looped for him in Australia. Curtis was 12, and got paired with young prodigy Minjee Lee (now ranked No. 17 in the world). Curtis said his parents got lost on the way to the course, and Stuart recalls Curtis, a late-comer who didn’t start playing until age 10, shooting 116 that day.

He’s come a long way. When his son fell 1 down after 19 holes on Sunday, Stuart viewed it as a good thing, really.

“I think putting himself under pressure early on the back (nine) is what made his focus kick in,” Stuart said. “He just didn’t hit a bad shot, really.”

Stuart Luck has a favorite story about his son’s early start in golf.

“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, where Curtis plays today), 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.”

Stuart Luck said his son always has been intense, especially in match play. “He’s very clutch,” he said. “When he gets on the wrong side of the ledger, look out.”

At Oakland Hills, Curtis finished on the right side of the ledger. Champion. There were 312 players to begin the week, 64 advancing to match play, and only one standing at the end.

“Oakland Hills is known as being one of the toughest major venues there is, and it’s one that’s stood up to time,” Curtis Luck said. “To be a champion at such a tremendous golf course, and a golf course that I had so much fun playing just, yeah, it means the world.”

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