Every week is an opportunity in professional golf, though some weeks are bigger opportunities than others. For Lucas Herbert, the Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways is one of those weeks.
It’s been a hectic 2018 season for the 22-year-old Victorian, who began the year with no playing status outside Australia but by the mid-point of July has played two majors and earned cards on two international Tours.
A promising amateur who was ranked as high as third in the world before turning professional in late 2015, Herbert really began to come into his own at the back end of 2017.
He parlayed a runner-up finish to Jason Scrivener at the NSW Open into a T6 result at the Australian Open where he played both Saturday and Sunday alongside Jason Day, an experience he says has been a huge help in 2018.
“I was pretty nervous going into that Saturday round,” he says. “We spoke about it amongst my team and it probably matured me about three years that weekend.
“The exposure to him and then playing well…I felt like I belonged and if he’s top 10 in the world then I know I can be right there and I got a lot out of that.
“Going forward with that knowledge has been so helpful this year in getting up around the lead and helping me feel like I belong out there.”
That feeling of belonging can be one of the most difficult transitions to make going from the top of the amateur game to the bottom of the professional game and more than one promising career has faltered at this hurdle.
Herbert, though, is embracing the challenge that is week-to-week professional play and the bigger the stage the more he enjoys it.
He even had the bravado to barge his way into a practice round with Tiger Woods at The Open at Carnoustie.
“I was expecting to get brushed, to be honest, because I’d already been brushed by a couple of others,” he says with a laugh.
“I put my name down with Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka but they moved to a different time so they could play with another couple of their regular practise guys.
“Then I put my name down next to Rory but he moved his name as well so I was onto my third top player to try and get a round with.
“I put my name down next to Tiger and I was stoked that it actually happened. I went up to him on the practise green and introduced myself and shook his hand, told him what I’d done and said if he didn’t want to play with me it would be no drama.
“I put my name down next to Tiger (for a practice round) and I was stoked that it actually happened." – Lucas Herbert
“But he was great about it. He turned up about 15 minutes late to the tee so even at that stage I wasn’t really expecting to play with him but it did happen and it was great.”
Herbert said he learned a lot from the 14-time major winner, particularly about preparing for big events, but came away most impressed by one of Woods’ most famous attributes: his iron-clad belief in himself.
“It was pretty amazing to see up close,” he says. “We were getting ready to hit off one of the tees there on the Tuesday and a guy from the crowd yelled out ‘Tiger, what are your chances this week?’ and without blinking an eye he just said ‘I’m going to win.’
“He didn’t even turn around. It was almost as if he was thinking ‘What did you think I would say?’
“He didn’t say it the way some 15-year-old kid might say it if they just got just got their first start in a pro tournament and they were asked what they thought their chances were. He believed it, genuinely and 100 per cent.
“It was…I don’t know, there was just something about the way he said it. And then of course, he nearly did win so it worked.”
Herbert, too, has great – and growing – confidence in his abilities and knows some people find that off putting.
But he says he is driven by the desire to succeed and if that sometimes comes off as cocky then so be it.
“I’d like to think I’m maturing as a person,” he says, somewhat reflectively. “Not too many people seem to dislike me a lot.
“I understand that my personality is what it is and there will be some people who don’t like me and some will think I’m cocky.
“But I don’t know that cocky is a bad personality trait to have in people and I quite admire it. People who are cocky and who will go to the next level in their field are people I admire because not everybody is prepared to do that.”
All of which points to a potentially big week for Herbert at Natadola Bay as he looks to parlay some good results from limited starts in Europe into a full-fledged card for next season.
“I understand that my personality is what it is and there will be some people who don’t like me and some will think I’m cocky." – Lucas Herbert
One of the biggest disappointments of finishing bogey, double bogey at Carnoustie was the Race to Dubai points it cost him – and with uncertainty about how many more starts he will get in 2018, the week in Fiji looms large in his plans for next year.
“I need to get into the top 110 (he’s currently 122nd) but I’m not sure how many starts I’ll have to do it,” he says.
“I will get to play the Dunhill Links because of my position on the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit but there are no guarantees beyond that.
“So the Fiji International is a pretty important week for me in the big picture and I’m really looking forward to the chance to perform.”
Herbert has played the tournament twice previously though never made the cut, a statistic he finds a little surprising.
“I really like the golf course and I feel like it sets up well for my game,” he says. “The fairways are quite wide and there are two driveable par-4s and the par-5s are in reach for me.
“I haven’t played my best there before but everything feels a bit different this year. I’ve played a lot more tournament golf for a start and have a lot more experience than before.
“In the past I’ve arrived with not a lot of tournament play under my belt and some financial pressure to perform as well but that’s all different this year so hopefully the result will be different as well.”
There’s no question Herbert has the physical tools to contend and after what he’s already achieved in 2018 there’s no reason he can’t be at the business end of the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.
That is certainly his intention and despite the high stakes nature of the week, he is embracing the challenge.
“This is what professional golf is,” he says. “Everyone experiences pressure in their jobs, whether it be an important meeting they have to go to or project they’ve got to manage.
“It’s the same for me. I’ve got a pretty important three months coming up for me and I’ve just got to nail it.”
In its short history, the Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways has had a knack for identifying winners with great stories to tell, from Steven Jeffress in 2014 to perhaps Australian golf’s most popular victory with Jason Norris last year.
If Herbert’s name were to find its way onto the trophy it would fit nicely in that category, the maiden win of a player who seems destined for the world stage.
“Lucas is a great example of the extraordinarily talented young players Australia is producing at the moment,” says Gavin Kirkman, CEO of the PGA of Australia which owns the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.
“I think all of us are looking forward to watching his career unfold and it’s exciting to have him back in Fiji.
“He’s fantastic with the media and the fans and he proved he can do all of that and still produce top class golf when he went close at the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth, so it will be exciting to see what he does at Natadola Bay.”