While Jordan Spieth and Jason Day deservedly court the limelight at this week’s Emirates Australian Open a troupe of Western Australians will bid to add to the noise of talent coming out of this state.
Western Australia has developed a reputation as a conveyor belt for golfing talent in recent years with the likes of Curtis Luck, Hannah Green and Min Woo Lee the latest wave to hit the world stage.
Earlier this year Luck became the third West Aussie in the past four years to reach the status as world number one ranked amateur – after Minjee Lee and Brady Watt – and returns to the Australian Open where last year he overshadowed playing partner Spieth during the opening round to share the lead.
A lot has happened since for the 21-year-old Cottesloe member, having made his major debut at The Masters before being cast into life as a professional in the unyielding surrounds of the PGA Tour.
Luck admits the lessons have come thick and fast in that time and, after spending the past five weeks since the Nexus Risk TSA Group WA Open to recharge his batteries, he is ready to reload for a busy month when he will travel back to America to build on his Web.com Tour status.
“I’m raring to go,” Luck told a press conference at The Australian Golf Club, where Spieth will bid to defend the title he won last year.
“Now that I’ve had five weeks back home it’s been great. I’ve been able to be at home, steal some food off my parents and get to see my coach and friends and all that contributes to feeling good this week.”
It is perhaps significant that Luck’s best performance on the PGA Tour this year arrived immediately after a two-week break back in Perth, when he tied for fifth at the Quicken Loans National in July.
The following grind of living away from home for the first time – Luck started renting an Orlando home with with fellow Aussie young gun Ryan Ruffels – and playing for a cheque each week was eye-opening but Luck has emerged focused and determined to showcase his talent in front of a home audience this week.
“I’m a bit of a realist, I think everything can always get better, whether it’s off course, on course, I think everything still needs work,” he said.
“I feel a little bit more comfortable out here, but, I’ve yet again had a great year of playing really great events, so I should be ready to go and hopefully my game keeps going in the direction it feels it is this week and I can post some low numbers.”
Luck will be just one in a long line of West Aussies in action and if form on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia is anything to go by then we should expect a winner from the west coast winner this week, with the past three events having all been won by Sandgropers.
That run began with Stephen Leaney’s drought-breaking success at the Nexus Risk TSA Group WA Open last month.
Michael Sim followed it with his only long-awaited success at the Queensland Open before Jason Scrivener notched a maiden professional win in emphatic style at last week’s NSW Open, when the 28-year-old won by six strokes.
Scrivener’s success catapulted him up to fifth place on the PGA Tour of Australasia’s Order of Merit to fifth place – some $130,000 behind fellow West Aussie and leader Brett Rumford – with both set to be in action this week.
Scrivener had planned to return to the European Tour – where he has three top-five finishes this season – but has decided to remain in Sydney for this week’s showpiece event.
“I think after winning [on Sunday] it’s probably helped my chances of finishing high up the money list or Order Of Merit here and there’s a lot of perks that come with that,” Scrivener said after his win.
A place at next year’s Open Championship awaits the winner of the Order of Merit while the top-three non-exempt players at this week’s Open will also earn their place at Carnoustie.
That will, however, be seen by most red-blooded Australians as simply a significant bonus to the grand prize of etching their names on the Stonehaven Cup, and alongside some of the world’s great players.
It is a prospect that has lured Day back to his homeland to play in the event for the first time in four years.
In the interim the 30-year-old Queenslander has seen fellow former world number one Spieth raise the trophy twice and, after establishing a healthy rivalry in recent years, is determined to be there when the silverware is being fought over this weekend.
“I would love to play with Spieth on Sunday, (in the) last group on Sunday, that would be the greatest thing,” said Day, who is yet to win during a tough year overshadowed by injury and off-course matters.
“My goal is to keep pushing and not let him in, and the biggest thing with Jordan is that he’s a competitor.
“His mental game is just of the charts.”
If Day and Spieth are set to renew that mental battle then one interested onlooker is set to be 19-year-old Lee, who admitted “mental toughness” was a key area he has been working on since he played this event last year.
The Royal Fremantle amateur’s rising status was underlined by the fact he was given the opportunity to front the press alongside Yuxin Lin, who beat him to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur title in Wellington last month.
Asked what area of his game he felt he needed to improve the most, Lee said: “At the moment mental toughness. Obviously that comes with playing these big events and what you learn after a round and taking it on to the next tournament.
“I know the top players in the world have that especially Jordan. Every aspect of my game has improved since last year and also my mental ability.”
Lee, who finished in a tie for sixth alongside Jarryd Felton at the NSW Open last week, is unlikely to be daunted by the big names and even recalled out-driving Day at a clinch during the Sage Valley International last year to the press.
“All the juniors told me to step up so I did,” Lee said with a grin.
“He hit his about 285 yards and then I hit it about 300. I ended up beating him and there was a big roar at the end. It was fun.”
He added: “I’m just riding the attention. I love it but I don’t think it’s affecting my golf. There’s a lot of fans out there already getting my autograph and stuff.”
The Western Australian contingent will be further fattened by the likes of former champion Greg Chalmers as well as Rumford, who won the inaugural World Super 6 Perth this year.
Recent winners Leaney and Sim will also peg it up alongside Felton – another West Aussie winner of Tour this year – in addition to the likes of Ollie Goss, Nick O’Hern, Daniel Fox, Rick Kulacz and Stephen Dartnall. Amateurs Kiran Day and Haydn Barron qualified earlier this week.
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