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  • Mike Clayton

A new star born at Royal Melbourne

Curtis Luck, the talented 23-year-old from Perth, won the US Amateur in 2016 and found himself playing on the PGA Tour this year. He didn’t play well enough to keep his job at the top level but he’s at Royal Melbourne watching the very best of the guys he was playing against all year.

Earlier in 2019 he played with the even younger man, the Korean, Sungjae Im.

“Let’s go and watch this bloke play,” he told me on Friday afternoon. “He never misses a shot.”

That is always something of an exaggeration, but it turned out to be not much of one.

Watching golf is difficult this week such is the size of the crowds and not even Greg Norman at his flying best brought so many to the golf course. How many watch much, or any, golf is one question and how many are just here to see Tiger Woods would be an interesting study.

We can hope half as many come to Kingston Heath in a year to watch the first Australian Open in Melbourne since Victoria in 2002.

Still, Curtis and I managed half a dozen holes of Im’s Friday afternoon pairing with Cameron Smith against U.S Open champion Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler.

Luck’s assessment of the bulky Korean’s hitting was as accurate as the stream of perfect shots coming off Im’s clubs.

“I played with him early in the season in Tampa. It was windy and he was hitting these tee shots dead straight through the wind. I soon realised at the cross wind holes he was spinning it from left to right in the right to left wind and the opposite going the other way. It was incredibly impressive.”

His shots are reminiscent of Bernhard Langer, another brilliant iron player. “Everything just goes up and down the flag”, said Luck.

Im is the Bruce Crampton of his generation, playing 35 tournaments in America and finishing just inside the top 20 on the money list.

He is likely to win a lot in the coming seasons and the Australian Open could do worse than enticing him to play at Kingston Heath a year from now.

Winning for what is loosely described, as the ‘home team’ is now realistic - certainly more so than anyone thought on Thursday morning. Late into the afternoon it looked as though the Americans would even the contest up by winning all four matches but Marc Leishman and Abraham Ancer won five of the last eight holes to scrape out an extraordinary half against Thomas and Fowler.

Thomas’ wild hook off the final tee into the ti-tree helped and all but handed a final hole win to the Australian-Mexican combination.

It might have been even better had Ben An holed from six feet across the hill for a three at the last after a brilliant approach from the rough by Joaquin Niemann. Two points ahead now with 12 singles matches to play well represents the efforts of a team few gave any hope of winning at the start of the week.

This is the most interesting golf we have watched all year and it’s made so by the star of the whole show. Royal Melbourne is a great course, the finest in the country, as no other shows off as many world-class holes. Despite its relative lack of length, it torments and rewards in equal measure the shots of these wonderful players by forcing them to think on a level noticeably exceeding the demands of the average tour course.

There are lessons for everyone here and whilst there are very few courses equal to Royal Melbourne its principles are simple and on show for all to study and learn.


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