TEEING-OFF in the US Masters has always been a distant dream for Lucas Herbert, but not any longer.
Such has been the 17-year-old sensation’s meteoric rise that, suddenly, the pinnacle of world golf at Augusta seems tangible.
By breaking into the world’s top 100 men’s amateur rankings – to 85th – Herbert has achieved a long-term goal and earned an invitation to the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in China in October.
The Asia-Pacific champion wins a spot at the Masters in April.
“You always think the Masters or the PGA Tour events seem so far away, you’ve got to work for them, but to get an exemption into an event like this it feels like four good rounds away,” Herbert said.
“But in saying that I’m a long way off winning it…I can’t just go over there expecting it, I’ve got to do a lot of hard work. But it is pretty unreal when you talk about it like that.”
Daring to dream hasn’t restricted Herbert in the past.
At his first pro event in January – the Heritage Classic – Herbert forced a play-off hole and finished runner-up.
He then led Australia’s junior team to Ten Nations Cup glory in South Africa and, in a three-week trip to the US last month, Herbert was again runner-up, this time at the Callaway Junior World Championship at Torrey Pines.
“It’s been good, I’ve been travelling a lot and playing some really good tournaments and some good golf – which has been nice,” the Neangar Park member said.
While he takes a break from tournaments in the next few weeks, Herbert will continue working on his game with Ballarat-based coach Dominic Azzopardi.
In the back of his mind will be the name Guan Tianlang – the 14-year-old who created a buzz at the Masters after winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur last year.
Two years ago, China’s Tianlang beat Herbert by two strokes to win the Aaron Baddeley International Junior Championship.
Tianlang’s success is a good reason for Herbert to feel confident, as is his string of impressive performances.
Since Heritage, Herbert has played two more pro events – the Victorian Open and last week’s Queensland Open – and made the cut at both.
“Obviously Heritage gave me a lot of confidence; you don’t go into any event just hoping to make the cut or just to make up the numbers,” he said.
“The big hype around pro tournaments is you’ve got to be so on top of your game. I think you can get caught up in your head that you have to be a lot better than what you are.
“For me, if I relax and play my normal game I’m usually up there or thereabouts.”
It’s easy to forget Herbert is still juggling schoolwork at Bendigo Senior Secondary College with his golf commitments. But while he’s got one eye on his studies, he’ll have the other on the Asia-Pacific and, hopefully, a few more pro events this Australian season through sponsor exemptions or qualifying.
“The Australian summer is really good, the events are really high quality,” he said.
“The Australian Open’s going to have Matt Kuchar and Rory McIlroy out there this year – that’s a really big card for a golfer in Australia.
“Getting into an event like that gives you so much experience, if I got a chance to play in that it would be so unreal.”