In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Lucas Herbert reflects on going from nearly giving up the game to becoming a winner on the European Tour
I had never really looked at the European Tour before I qualified for the Open Championship at the start of 2018. I turned professional when I was 19 and I went to Qualifying School in Asia, Canada twice and China, but my original plan had been to play the Korn Ferry Tour. Then I qualified for the Open and finished top ten on the Australian Order of Merit, and all of a sudden I had five events up my sleeve. I ended up getting a few sponsor invites too. I think I then had around seven top tens, which was getting me in to the following week’s tournament, so I managed to play 18 or 19 events.
Two months before that I’d played in the final two rounds of the Australian Open with Jason Day, and it was a big turning point for me. It was probably the first time I’d been tested at that level and the first time I’d been able to see up close and personal someone of that calibre’s game and how it stacked up against mine. I was nervous but I was so pleased with how I handled myself and how I played, and it was so beneficial because it made me believe I wasn’t that far away. You idolise these guys, and it’s not until you see it in that environment that you realise how close you are.
Getting my card was a funny feeling because it wasn’t a moment where I holed a putt to do it. My last sponsor’s invite was Portugal and I needed to play well, but I was leading heading into Sunday so I had gone from trying to get a tour card to trying to win the tournament. I walked into the scorer’s tent having lost the tournament on the 18th, and by that point it was a bit of a foregone conclusion. Looking back I probably didn’t quite have the right mentality to win, but there was definitely still a feeling of excitement: if that was what I could do with no status and a couple of invites, imagine what I can do when I can plan my schedule and play in these bigger events.
I started my first season well but it was a tough progression from there. I had some changes within my team and then we went on the road on a 10 week stretch, and I just remember every week I started really poorly, got myself back into the tournament and then faded come the weekend. On the surface it looked like my game was good but internally it started feeling so much further away from winning. Eventually it got to the point where I started asking questions about what was going wrong, why I was finishing 50th, and I wasn’t really getting answers. I was getting told it’s just a bit of luck, it was just this shot here or this shot there and I couldn’t accept that I was finishing at the back of the field because of three or four shots when it felt to me like everything was a long way off.
I played Ireland and Scotland and it was the same thing, I didn’t play great again and that was when I started questioning whether this was what I wanted to do. The Irish Open was where it sort of came to a head, it was a bit of a tipping point, where I thought some decisions needed to be made.
Up until that point I didn’t really feel like I had any control over my own game anymore. I’d delegated it off to everyone else, and all of a sudden I wasn’t making decisions. I had a girlfriend at the time who was really supportive, but I was missing her too, and it felt like I was doing everything I could possibly do for myself but wasn’t getting the results. That’s pretty common in professional golf, and all of a sudden I’m questioning is this for me anymore, do I want to go through a lifetime of this, because you’re going to get that feeling more than you’re going to get the winning feeling, so I had to ask those questions within myself as to whether the sacrifice was still worth it anymore.
All of a sudden I’m questioning is this for me anymore, do I want to go through a lifetime of this?
There wasn’t a specific moment when I decided it was. In Ireland I remember having a thousand different thoughts about what I needed to do to get myself back to where I was at the end of 2018, and it felt like I woke up every day with a different idea. I didn’t think that was the right mentality, so I think the first thing I wanted to make sure was that I was in a decent state of mind to make these decisions. I came home and if I came up with an idea one day I’d sit on it and if I was still thinking that two weeks later then maybe there was something in that. I didn’t want to make irrational calls, because other people’s livelihoods at stake as well within the team so I didn’t want to make any silly decisions and burn any bridges. I waited it out until the ideas that I had to get better were consistent and then it was a case of taking it to everyone else.
They weren’t well accepted at the beginning. You’re essentially telling coaching staff you’re going to pay them less and expect less of them which is really hard when it’s their livelihood and their passion and you’re telling them to do less. It was pretty difficult, not everyone was thrilled, and it took until December last year until everyone was on the same page about what we needed to do, what the procedures were to get the most out of me. Fortunately, as soon as it got sorted out we ended up winning in Dubai, and that really showed the importance of getting it all right.
The win was such a good combination of everything. I felt like I won the golf tournament, I didn’t feel like it was handed to me. The fact that I got it up and down on the first play-off hole to keep it alive and make a birdie the second time round was just very good for my self-confidence, and to validate everyone on my team for the decisions we’d made. There was just so much we’d been through with everything that had happened, restructuring the team and people essentially doing things they weren’t necessarily happy with. But they all understood it was the best for me so they did it and they backed me, and it came off in Dubai.
It was funny, I was probably the least stressed out of anyone when I hit that shot in the water on the first play-off hole. I watched quite a lot of replays in the few weeks before, just for my own interest, watching how guys close out tournaments when they win. The one that specifically sticks out is Rory winning the same tournament, his first win as a pro, and he was coasting with a four or five shot lead and then he started making bogeys out of nowhere, giving shots back to the field. He’s so much better than that, but obviously it was his first win so he was pretty nervous, and then on the 18th he hits in to the back bunker and gets it up and down and holes a tricky putt. But no one remembers or cares what happened before that, all people show is the replay of him holing that putt. It stuck with me. When I hit that shot I thought ‘okay that sucks but it’s not the end of the world, it’s not over’. I just had this mentality from watching those replays to just keep going and keep plugging, and you never know what could happen.
I don’t know that there’s a limit to what I can do now if I put my mind to it, but there’s so much in life to enjoy other than just golf. I’m competitive as hell and I definitely want to win more but I’m just not putting a number on it, because I think it’s more important to have a work/life balance – where you’re happy and healthy and when you do win you’ve got a chance to celebrate with your friends. The worst case scenario for me is having a chance to win another tournament and there’s no one to celebrate with, so if it means I’ve got to give up the rest of my life to achieve really lofty goals in golf I don’t know if that’s what I want to do. It’s about balance, which is where I’m at now, and if I can continue on like that whatever happens wins wise or money wise isn’t really the priority, but I think if I get that balance right the wins will stack up higher.
If I was giving advice to any golfer who has been in the same headspace as me, it would be to find within yourself what you want. I think most of us on Tour were born with a gift of being good at golf, and not everyone is lucky enough to have that, but we’re not all given talents that we actually want. It’s very easy for a ten handicap at your home club to tell you not to waste your talent. If you don’t want to be a professional golfer but that’s what you’re good at, you can either continue being unhappy and make a good living or do something you really love and fulfils you. If that’s golf like me, perfect, you’ve found your calling, but if it’s not that’s fine too, and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty.
To find out more about Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the European Tour, visit _www.enterprise.co.uk/europeantour or follow Enterprise Rent-A-Car on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram._
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