AS FAR as US PGA Tour debuts go, Curtis Luck couldn’t have been any unluckier.
Food poisoning in Los Angeles en route to Orlando, Florida, forced the former US Amateur champion into barely touching a club in the lead-up to his maiden tour start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. Two subsequent horror rounds at the famed Bay Hill Club & Lodge saw the Perth youngster limp off with a 17-over par total and a severely missed cut.
To rub salt into the wound, Luck made an uncharacteristically shortsighted error – signing for a scorecard indicating he’d made par on the last hole when a bogey was the reality – for an unwanted first disqualification from a tournament.
Aside from ascending to a maiden stint as the world No.1 amateur on tournament eve, this was certainly not how Luck had envisioned his initiation to the US Tour. Rather, this resembled a college hazing that Americans in his age bracket were undergoing.
But a barbecue at English star Ian Poulter’s house later that night, in the company of four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy and volatile American Pat Perez, would set Luck on a path to make the daunting transition from Australian golf’s next big thing to finding his feet on the game’s toughest circuit.
“I invited him around for a barbecue just to relax him,” Poulter told Australian Golf Digest. “It’s stressful on the road, especially playing in the status that he has. He has to play well, so anything you can do to deflect some of the stresses and pressures of that, then I’m happy to do that.”
Aside from helping Luck collect his thoughts, the barbecue at the Poulters’ US residence in Orlando would equip the Australian youngster for his next big debut: the Masters. Luck’s US Amateur victory came with an invitation to make his Major championship debut on the hallowed turf of Augusta National in April.
“I had a practice round with Rory at Augusta and we set that up at the barbecue. You just can’t put a value on something like that,” Luck says.
How valuable? Along with a practice round alongside countryman and 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott, Luck’s dream preparation would see him make the cut on the number at the year’s first Major and sign off on his amateur career in style.
Meeting in Macau
Ryder Cup hero Poulter and Luck kick-started their friendship when they played together in the opening two rounds of the Venetian Macao Open [above]. Luck would miss the cut, but gained a valuable mentor in Poulter in an alliance that continued when the pair contested the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and Dubai Desert Classic a few months later.
“The kid, and I’m calling him a kid because I’m almost old enough to be his dad, right? He’s a good player and nice young lad,” Poulter says.
“I know what it’s like to be on the road. I know what it’s like to try and find your way out here. It’s not easy and it can be lonely. If I can give a few younger players an upper hand, a little insight and a boost of confidence when they need it, then I should and I’m happy to help.”
“I know what it’s like to be on the road. I know what it’s like
to try and find your way out here. It’s not easy and it can be lonely”
– Ian Poulter
Inspired, Luck would make the cut in Abu Dhabi before a tie for 23rd at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai.
“I was really lucky. He was so good to me in terms of helping me out and feeling comfortable out here,” Luck recalls. “Sometimes having someone to talk to is what counts the most. We hung out a lot in Dubai and I started to feel comfortable competing with some of the world’s best golfers.”
Luck turned pro and made his debut at the Valero Texas Open, missing the cut there while struggling in his first few events in the paid ranks as he played on sponsor invitations secured by management company IMG.
He hit his straps at the Quicken Loans National in June, contending for the entire US Tour event in Maryland en route to a tie for fifth. It included a gutsy, journeyman-like bogey at TPC Potomac’s par-4 11th, which is statistically the tour’s hardest hole. The high finish set up Luck for an unlikely run at securing a US PGA Tour card from 12 rookie starts.
Unable to secure that elusive US Tour card, Luck would drop down to the secondary Web.com Tour finals where 25 tickets back to the top tier were on offer. He started positively with two top-30 results, but a missed cut at the third tournament would place enormous importance on the Web.com Tour Championship. Best-case scenario was Luck finishing inside the top-10 and sneaking inside the top-25 on the finals moneylist to secure main tour status. Worst-case scenario was he could fall off the map and not have even a Web.com card for 2018.
“I think in a sense there is just as much on the line at these events than the FedEx Cup because guys out here are playing for their jobs and their careers,” Luck says. “I definitely had some rough patches out there this year. I missed a few cuts by one shot, but that tells me when I’m having a bad week my game is still good enough to compete and hopefully with some maturity and experience to turn those bad weeks into cuts made.
“It’s definitely a big advantage to know all the courses like the other guys do. For me, I’m seeing them all for the first time and there’s no way you can play a course for the first time in a tournament and not make a few mistakes. This year was about taking advantage of experience and learning opportunities and not necessarily focusing on results.”
“I was really lucky. He was so good to me in terms of helping
me out and feeling comfortable out here. Sometimes having
someone to talk to is what counts the most”– Curtis Luck
After missing the cut at the Web.com finale, Luck knew PGA Tour status was off the table, but faced a nervous wait to see where he’d finish on the finals moneylist. A weather delay made the wait more anxious as the tournament moved to a Monday finish. But as luck would have it, he fell to 49th – scraping through to earn one of the last two Web.com Tour cards for 2018.
“The secondary goal was to get status on any tour and have a tour to play on somewhere for 2018,” Luck said. “Having somewhere to play next year would take a lot of stress off my shoulders. This game is cutthroat and so competitive; in my mind not having to worry about somewhere to play is a big goal kicked.”