A couple of things set Lukas Michel apart from the other 119 competitors in this week’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. In an event that offers the winner a place in the 2023 Masters and Open Championship, the 28-year-old Australian is the only member of the field who has already played at Augusta, courtesy of his 2019 US Mid-Amateur victory. And the mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Melbourne is also the one player at the Amata Spring Country Club outside Bangkok who has spent much of the past few months driving a bulldozer.
That second part was one of Michel’s duties in the employ of the course design partnership of Mike Clayton, Mike DeVries and Frank Post (CDP) during construction of the Seven Mile Beach project in Hobart. And it is that opportunity that sees Michel sitting at one of life’s crossroads.
Does he turn professional and pursue a career inside the ropes? Or does he follow his undoubted passion for course architecture?
While no definite decision has yet been made, the current signs are that design is winning the internal debate. Under occupation in his latest tax return, Michel wrote engineering consultant. While not a full-time employee of CDP, his job title is design associate.
“Playing professional golf is not something you can ever do half-heartedly,” Michel says. “I found that out this year. I was in Tasmania for almost eight months and hardly played. It was all moving dirt and building fairways rather than finding them. At the end of all that I was actually playing what I thought was fine. I hadn’t been practicing though. And when I went to the Mid-Am at Erin Hills in Wisconsin [in September], I really struggled, especially in the first round.”
Indeed, Michel’s opening 87 was a shock to both his system and his ego – and a score from which there was never going to be any chance of recovery. Not surprisingly, he failed to qualify for matchplay.
“It was just one of those days where nothing went my way,” he says. “At the end I was like, How the hell did I shoot that?”
One day earlier, Michel had actually been checking out the dates for the Asian Tour Qualifying School, which is understandable. Courtesy of the injection of LIV Golf money, prizemoney on that long-established circuit is going to be much enhanced moving forward. Or “well-funded” as Michel called it, a broad smile across his face.
“My thinking was that, if I’m going to sign up for the school, I had to do it now,” he says. “But I left it a day, which turned out to be a good decision. I wouldn’t say my play at the Mid-Am was a turning point, but it stopped me from registering. It confirmed what I already knew: you can’t be a success in pro golf without 100 percent commitment.”
Still, for all the undoubted truth in that last statement, Michel will always have the memories of his appearance in the 2020 November Masters (where he shot 74-76, to miss the cut by six shots). The pandemic and the subsequent lack of crowds did take away the chance for family and friends to make the trip to Augusta National, but his time in Georgia provided the opportunity to compete alongside one or two more than familiar names.
“The Masters is incredible,” he says. “It is every kid’s dream to play in it. And I got to live that dream. Even if it was played in November, there were many cool aspects to the week. Access to the top players was a lot easier than it would have been normally. They were really friendly. I played practice rounds with Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Max Homa and Collin Morikawa. It was amazing. Whoever wins this week will have a great time, probably a better time than I had. They will get the whole experience, one I never really got. I was a little bit cheated by COVID.”
Ah, but that delve into the memory bank, is brief. Again, Michel’s active mind returns to the career choices that clearly continue to occupy much of his thoughts.
“I haven’t completely given up on playing for a living, but I know that time is getting short,” he says. “Maybe the only way it will happen is if I play incredibly well over the coming Australian summer. So the next three or four months are going to be a key part of any decision I make. Although I have to admit it is pretty unlikely I will turn pro. I am pretty committed to CDP. I’ve gone quite a way down that path, and I’m really enjoying the work.
“If I think about it, my true passion is working in golf course design and construction,” he continues. “Even on the plane here I was working on my computer. Three hours of the flight are a blur because I was so engrossed in what I was doing. Work making a flight go faster is a pretty big hint. I was lost in the job.”
Ah, but there remains much to learn, not the least in the area of earth-moving that is such a vital component of course building. As Michel is quick to acknowledge, the “shapers” are amongst the most important members of any design team.
“I reckon Mike DeVries is a plus-seven on a bulldozer,” says Michel with a smile. “Right now, I might be in single-figures, but with aspirations to get to scratch. So I need to spend more time building greens to get to even that point. That is a big priority for me. And if I do reach that target and beyond, I’m not sure if I will have any regrets if I don’t turn pro. Ask me again in 20 years time.”
Just before the senior tour then. Yet another decision.