27 Jan 2020 | Professional golf |
Herbert conjures Dubai miracle
by Mark Hayes
Lucas Herbert has been threatening victory on the European Tour for a couple of seasons, but his magical breakthrough has come in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
The Australian, 24, put aside the “worst shot of my career” on the first hole of playoff to fire his next six with near perfection to birdie the second decider and topple Christiaan Bezuidenhout at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic for his first professional victory.
The win moved the Victorian, a member of Golf Australia's Rookie Squad, to second on the Race To Dubai season rankings, ensured his European Tour card through 2022 and will likely move him close to the world’s top 80 players.
But for a few fleeting moments, after Herbert flared his second shot in the playoff opener to the par-5 18th almost 70m right of his target line and into the water, such heady figures seemed a pipedream.
But he took stock quickly, and after taking a penalty drop, nipped his fourth almost kick-in range as Bezuidenhout missed his curling 12m chance to win the tournament.
Almost playing with house money, Herbert smashed an imperious drive around the corner when the pair went back to the 18th tee again, then calmly two-putted for birdie after Bezuidenhout’s try slid by after his approach went long into deep rough.
“The last 10 minutes feel like I’ve been dreaming,” Herbert said on the final green at the Emirates Golf Club.
“It’s so weird ... it’s the best thing ever, so good.”
Herbert has finished second three times in his professional career, third another three and had 10 additional top-10 finishes. He even had a tough time finding motivation last year and questioned his future in the sport.
But after some soul searching and with a newfound mental approach, all the former Neangar Park junior’s travails suddenly seem secondary.
“Last week I was 20th going into the weekend and for about the 10th time in the past 12 months I just backed it out and finish at the back of the field,” he said.
“I got really frustrated, so we put in some really good tactics this week with my mental coach Jamie Glazier just trying to be positive, just writing down positive stuff.
“It’s so cliché, but it worked so much and I just felt so confident out there and if good golf was going to come.
“I spoke to (Jamie) just before the playoff and talked about the fact that I hit some really poor shots out there today, including that second shot on the first playoff hole (which) was not one of my best.
“But if you look at many winners’ final rounds, final nines or playoff holes … everyone hits bad shots.
“But everyone will probably forget about that (bad one) now that I got up and down and won the tournament.”
Asked what he thought he was capable of in light of his breakthrough, though, the fun-loving Herbert was quick to narrow his focus to post-round celebrations ahead.
“A hangover tomorrow,” he quipped.
Herbert paid tribute to his supporters at home and reiterated the thoughts of Cam Smith when he, too, had a breakthrough win in Hawaii earlier this month and turned attention back on those fighting the horrific bushfires around Australia.
“Hopefully they can keep fighting harder than I did on that first playoff hole because that’s nothing compared to the firefighters and volunteers putting out the fires,” Herbert said.
“I’m sending all my love back home and hope everyone is well.”
Having begun the final round six shots in arrears, Herbert first matched South African Bezuidenhout to shoot 68 on a day of high drama and scores.
The young Victorian then watched as the pair’s nine-under total went from a nice cheque, through vaguely into consideration and then all the way to a playoff against the South African as Ashun Wu, defending champion Bryson DeChambeau and Kurt Kitayama sensationally fell away.
Herbert became only the second Australian to win the Dubai crown, following fellow Victorian Richard Green who won in 1997.
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