05 Apr 2022 | Professional golf |

Why Herbert thinks he can win the Masters

by PGA of Australia

Lucas Herbert Augusta preview image
Lucas Herbert is making his Augusta National debut. Photo: Getty

By Tony Webeck

Supreme self confidence is a coveted – if not essential – personality trait within elite athletes.

The wildest dreams will remain within the realm of the subconscious without an unfailing self-belief that the ridiculous is indeed possible.

How else can you explain 26-year-old Lucas Herbert’s proclamation that he is going to Augusta National for the first time not merely to smell the magnolias and azaleas but to leave with a Green Jacket.

Only three times in the history of The Masters has a debutant emerged triumphant, and two of those were in the championship’s first two stagings in 1934 (Horton Smith) and 1935 (Gene Sarazen).

Fuzzy Zoeller (1979) is the only player since Sarazen to win The Masters on debut at Augusta National Golf Club yet Herbert, after a two-round reconnaissance mission two weeks ago, believes he can be the next.

“I think I have a lot of things going for me and a lot of assets to my game that I could potentially be a first-time winner there,” Herbert says, without a hint of intimidation about what that might entail.

“I’m not just there to accept my green envelope and say that I’ve played. I actually want to go there and play well and have a chance to contend. Feel what those Sunday feelings are like when you’re up somewhere near the lead and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on at all different corners of the golf course and there are roars happening and everything like that.”

Confidence is a quality in which Herbert has never been lacking.

His golf swing honed for a decade with long-time coach Dom Azzopardi does not draw comparisons with the majesty of an Adam Scott but his self-belief is up there with the best in the world.

His victory at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship last October brought to life that dream he had from a young age of winning on the PGA TOUR, an appropriate addendum to victories in consecutive years on the DP World Tour.

Now entrenched inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Herbert’s results in recent years have transformed a belief that he can beat the best in the world to concrete proof that he can.

Prior to his win at the 2020 Omega Dubai Desert Classic Herbert was ranked 223rd in the world; little more than 18 months later he’d reached No.43 and set his sights on even greater targets.

Out to impress International team Presidents Cup captain Trevor Immelman, Herbert got the better of both Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele at the recent WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play but says it was a Sunday best 68 to finish tied for seventh at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at a brutal Bay Hill that elevated his confidence levels just that little bit more.

“Finishing seventh at the Arnold Palmer felt like a massive step for me,” adds Herbert, who points to his wire-to-wire win at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open last year as another important marker in his growing reputation.

“I knew I had the ability to play that golf but actually being able to do it on Sunday when it meant something in conditions that were really hard, playing with Adam Scott… I played really nicely on a day where I kind of needed to play well.

“I felt like I proved something to others and something to myself that I belong there in a lot of ways.”

His first foray to Augusta National also instilled a sense of belonging, of a connection to a golf course that he imagined through 20 years of watching on TV might not suit the way he plays the game.

Yet in two rain-interrupted rounds with fellow Masters debutant Min Woo Lee and with New South Welshman Cameron Davis also on the property, Herbert found more reasons to believe he can create history.

“I felt like the golf course actually suited me more than I expected it to,” says Herbert, who estimates he shot “two or three-under” in his pre-tournament week practice rounds.

“I was concerned for a few shots there that probably didn’t suit the strengths of my game but it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be for me.

“One of the biggest things that everyone talks about is that the greens will be running at 10 or 11 through the practice rounds and then come Thursday they’re running at 14. All of a sudden the breaks on putts and where you’ve got to hit putts to get them to fall down to the hole is just so different and you need so much imagination to do that. It’s something that I feel like is a strength of mine. I’m quite imaginative on the greens. Short game-wise around the greens I feel like that’s a real strength of mine.

“And the greens have a very Royal Melbourne feel about them, which is frustrating because everyone said that and I just couldn’t believe it. And then I got there and you’re looking at the greens and the complexes and the way they are set up for the different pin positions and it’s like, This is exactly like Royal Melbourne in so many ways.

“I can hit pretty high long irons so if you look at holes like 13 and 15, par 5s where you’re going to be coming in with long irons for your second shot – generally off a down-slope – that’s where it’s going to be quite an advantage to me because that feels like a strength to me.

“I don’t see any reason why I can’t be contending throughout the week.”

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