IMPATIENCE is never a good quality in golf, nor in life, which is why Curtis Luck should have been automatically in the field for this month’s US Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
Last August, the Perth golfer became just the third Australian to claim the United States Amateur Championship after authoring a demolition job of American Brad Dalke in the final match, winning eight consecutive holes in a 6&4 rout. The victory began a stretch of golf that made Luck one of this country’s most successful amateurs ever – and based purely on a 49-day run, let alone anything else he achieved before or after, as Luck went on to clinch the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship and help Australia hoist the Eisenhower Trophy.
Winning the Havemeyer Trophy as the US Amateur champion gifted the 20-year-old automatic starts in the 2017 Masters, US Open and British Open, yet he’s opted to take up only one as the proviso for these exemptions is that the recipient remains an amateur.
Instead, Luck turned pro within hours of finishing equal 46th at Augusta National, in a way ‘sticking it to’ the USGA and R&A’s largesse. He’s not the first to do so, of course, and there’s nothing that says Luck can’t find another way to still qualify for the year’s second and third Majors. It says here, however, he could have – and should have – waited.
Of course, there are other pressures on players in Luck’s situation. He signed with global management company IMG earlier this year and with that comes sponsorship endorsement opportunities – particularly in the time before a new US Amateur champion is crowned. Exemptions into multiple US PGA Tour tournaments this northern summer also await. Who wouldn’t want to cash in?
One hundred and five days separate April 10, when Luck officially turned professional, and the Monday after the British Open finishes on July 23. In the grand scheme of a potentially lengthy pro career, 15 weeks doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice when an apparent pot of gold awaits anyway.
And if no US Open or British Open starts ever materialise farther down the track, it’s hard to imagine forfeiting a pair of gifted opportunities was the correct call. Furthermore, Luck’s decision in April to forgo the rest of his amateur career at the expense of the two Opens represents a change in heart from last August.
“They’re just too big opportunities to miss out on next year,” Luck told me shortly after clinching the US Amateur. “It was not even a decision [to delay turning pro]. It was automatic.”
Bryson DeChambeau, the eccentric US Amateur winner a year prior to Luck, did likewise and turned pro immediately after the 2016 Masters and finished fourth on his US PGA Tour debut. He managed to qualify for last year’s US Open on merit (finishing equal 15th) but not the British Open at Royal Troon.
While the ‘conversion rate’ of Havemeyer Trophy winners into productive pro careers is arguably as strong as ever, there remain no guarantees in this most fickle of sports.
Nick Flanagan, who along with Luck and Walter Travis are the only Australian-born winners of the US Amateur, did wait to turn pro until after playing the three Majors for which he was exempt. The 2003 US Amateur champ missed the cut at each of the 2004 Masters, US Open and British Open and would play only one more Major – the 2005 Open at St Andrews – before slipping into the same oblivion that claims so many fledgling pro careers.
Professional golf takes far more than it gives. Hopefully Luck doesn’t come to regret this decision.