Exactly 100 days after boarding a flight leaving Melbourne, 22-year-old Lucas Herbert touched down in Fiji for the final leg of a global tour that may one day be credited for shaping the young Victorian’s pro career.
Herbert hits the 2018 Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways as one of the favourites to win and after an impressive sojourn overseas, he’ll return to Australia next week a considerably more rounded touring pro.
In his four-month overseas campaign, Herbert has teed it up in China, Italy, Belgium, Canada, his first major at the US Open, Germany, the Open Championship and in Germany again.
Now in the pacific paradise of Fiji, it’s not time to completely unwind – but Herbert’s had plenty of chances to reflect on the growth of his game in 2018.
“Just like the US. Open at Shinnecock, obviously I think it's the hardest US Open they've had in a long time, and then Carnoustie being one of the hardest Open Championship courses they have,” Herbert said on Wednesday.
“I think it just really magnified my game, magnified where the weaknesses were, magnified obviously some strengths as well. That was a really good experience to sort of see where the weaknesses were and see what broke down and see what needs improving.
“I think we really found some areas that probably wouldn't have been found otherwise, a couple mentally and a few just through my game that need to get better.
“And that's a good sign when you're sort of qualifying and playing in majors and still have a lot of things to get better. I think that can only be a good thing.”
Peaking at a career-high of 143rd in the world rankings on the back of a European Tour top-three finish in May, Herbert rightfully hits Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course as one to watch.
After 100 days of mixing it with the world’s best, he’s got his eyes set on silverware in Fiji and not just personal improvement.
“I think definitely with the experience of playing majors and playing a lot of those European Tour events and doing well, you sort of feel like you belong a lot more,” Herbert said.
“You stand on the range next to a few guys hitting some shots and feeling like you match up just as well against them, if not better.
“I definitely feel like I’m coming here this week probably as one of the favourites, obviously there’s some other good players in the field, Ernie and the likes. But personally, I feel like I have a good chance to win and if I can manage my game well, there's no reason why Sunday afternoon we’re not in with a look.”
One way of fast-tracking any player’s improvement is by teeing it up alongside Tiger Woods.
Herbert leapt at that opportunity by signing up for a practice round with the 14-time major champion at Carnoustie last month.
“I definitely feel like I’m coming here this week probably as one of the favourites.” – Lucas Herbert
He’ll get another chance to learn from one of the all-time greats after being paired with Els for the first two rounds this week.
“Yeah, sort of checking off the Presidents Cup captains there, aren't I?” laughed Herbert.
“I played with some other really good players the week of The Open as well, played a practice round with Justin Rose.
“I’m playing with Ernie this week, it's good to see how they go about things. Even if you learn one or two things off them, it can be really beneficial.
“I think that probably comes back to that question around feeling like I belong. If you can perform around those guys, there's no reason why you can't do it anywhere else.”
Performing in front of Els might pay dividends in 12 months’ time, with a strong showing from Herbert likely to grab the attention of the Internationals’ captain ahead of next year’s Presidents Cup.
“I think I'd look pretty silly right now if I said I thought I was a firm favourite to make the team as a captain's pick or as a qualifier. My results at the moment don't really sort of indicate that,” Herbert said.
“I listened to a podcast that Ernie was on three or four weeks ago and he spoke about the chance if there was a local player that was kind of playing really well, and knew Royal Melbourne really well, that he would consider picking him.
“I was sort of sitting there thinking, ‘Well, I grew up around that Sandbelt area, I know Royal Melbourne like the back of my hand’.
“I think if I put the results in over the next 12 months, there's no reason why I can't be a good look in for that team.”
The fact that he’s legitimately in the conversation proves – even with one stop left on this trip around the world – that Bendigo’s Lucas Herbert has come a long way.
Justin Falconer, PGA of Australia