Nick O’Hern believes young Australian talent such as Curtis Luck could be better off learning their trade in the pro ranks of Europe rather than the United States.
O’Hern recently met Luck for the first time, after the 20-year-old joined his same golf club in Orlando, and admits he was blown away by a player he thinks has the “whole package”.
But the former world top-20 player has warned against solely focusing on chasing the American dream, as Luck looks to further establish his growing reputation after turning professional following his successful first major at The Masters in April.
O’Hern points to his own apprenticeship in Europe where he learned valuable lessons – both on and off the course – after initially failing to qualify for the PGA Tour.
The 45-year-old West Aussie believes it was a blessing in disguise as he gained life experiences to set the foundations for a career highlighted by winning the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit in 2006 and which also saw him play 19 majors and become the only player to beat Tiger Woods in matchplay more than once.
“The best thing that happened to me was that in ’98 I went to the second stage of the US Q-School and I missed,” O’Hern told the ‘Inside The Ropes’ podcast.
“If I had of got through that and started playing what is now the Web.com (Tour), at worst, I think that would have been a big mistake.
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“It made me go to the European Q-School and I got my card there and the rest is history.
“Europe I think helps develop your game a lot more than in the US, which is not one dimensional, but very much more so than the European Tour because you learn how to do a variety of things in Europe.
“The travel, the language and culture that you experience and the life experiences, that was some of the best things that could have ever happened to me at that stage.
“I grew more as a human being as well as a golfer when I was travelling throughout Europe and I think that could be such a good thing for the young guys to go and do.
“People like Ryan (Ruffels) and Curtis – I think that would be a great experience for them.
“They’re so young anyway. They can always come to the US at some stage and that’s kind of what happened to me. I came to the US when I was in my early to mid-thirties.”
O’Hern has already counselled Luck on such matters, after meeting the young West Aussie joined the Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Florida, but admits the 20-year-old should first be given time to find his feet at the next level before setting down any future plans.
Luck has already tasted life on the European Tour, albeit during the desert swing in the United Arab Emirates and also Malaysia, before appearing on home turf at the World Super 6 Perth earlier this year.
That followed his breakthrough year as an amateur, when his US Amateur Championship success in Michigan catapulted him into the conversation of upcoming worldwide talent, and which earned him his place at The Masters.
And while O’Hern said he has spoken to Luck about the virtues of Europe, for now he is happy to admire the latest in the line of talent coming out of his home state.
“I really didn’t know Curtis until he started coming over (to Orlando). He was a member at Cottesloe where my brother was the GM and I tell you what, this kid has got some talent,” O’Hern added.
“Like most of the (young players) he’s about 40-50 metres longer off the tee but he’s got a really good head on his shoulders, he’s very calm and has that kind of demeanour about him on the golf course.
“When I played with him I was really impressed and I thought: ‘Wow if I had of had his talent it would have been fantastic’.
“I think he has the whole package but it’s a tough deal trying to get in on invites and make a career of it straight away in the US.
“Curtis is making cuts but he’s not really getting up there but give him time. Whether a year on the Web.com, or maybe if they make the decision to go to Europe and play over there, or in Asia – just to get some world experience. I think that would be the best thing for them.
“I’m always around for a chat if these guys ever want to talk and that’s kind of a role that I’ve started to switch into with some young college players in the US now.”
O’Hern has a long-established reputation as one of the modern-day thinkers of the game with his recently-release book ‘Tour mentality: Inside the Mind of a Tour Pro’ regarded as a must-read for golf pros, let alone fans of the game.
Back in Perth for a short while he took time out to speak with Mount Lawley’s men’s pennants team earlier this week, after they began the season at the weekend.
O’Hern could make the move to WA permanent, after revealing on ‘Inside The Ropes’ that he and his family are considering the switch, and should that happen he could even play in some Australian events on the PGA Tour of Australasia at the end of the year.
For now he is looking forward to putting the feet up and watching the US Open – the tournament he recorded his best finish at in a major when he was tied for sixth at Winged Foot in 2006.
That tournament will forever be remembered for the carnage of the final day – most significantly Phil Mickelson’s collapse down the last – that handed Aussie Geoff Ogilvy victory with a score of six-over-par.
Lost in the narrative was O’Hern’s final round, when he defied the conditions to climb up the leaderboard before eventually finishing two stroke off the Ogilvy.
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“I got to the winning score during that day,” he said.
“I started the day at nine-over at Winged Foot and I was running maybe 30th or something like that and the leaders were about one-over and my caddie and I said: ‘Look if we can get to five-over-par then we might be a chance.
“I almost said to him: ‘Mate you’re dreaming, I’m nine-over-par for a reason’.
“I was playing with Fred Funk and through nine holes I was four-under, so five-over-par, and Fred was looking at me going: ‘What the heck are you doing – this is incredible’.
“I was just having a dream nine holes and standing on 10 I was thinking just par in and see what happens, and sure enough I three-putted the 10th.
“I think I shot three-over on the back to finish eight-over and watched the carnage unfold.
“I think it was (Padraig) Harrington first and then Monty (Colin Montgomerie) and then Geoff did a great job getting up and down on the last.
“Then obviously everyone knows what happened with Phil.”