BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — In the span of 4½ hours, Curtis Luck saw his next 10 months become radically altered. And he couldn’t have been more happy.
Had he let his Saturday morning semifinal match against local favorite Nick Carlson slip away at the 116th U.S. Amateur—as it looked like would be the case on several occasions—the 20-year-old from Perth, Australia would have returned home with his caddie/father, Stuart, his mom and his grandparents, and prepared to turn pro this fall, having already signed up for qualifying school on both the Japan and European tours.
But with a 21-hole win over Carlson—a match Luck never led until the final hole—his plans will change. It starts with hanging around one more day at Oakland Hills Country Club to play the 36-hole finale against Brad Dalke, a University of Oklahoma sophomore who beat USC junior Jonah Texeira, 3 and 2, in the other semifinal.
Meanwhile, Luck will be putting the pro plans on hold as he now is likely headed to Mexico next month to play for Australia at the World Amateur Team Championship. He is also expected to receive an invitation to play in the Masters next April, the club traditionally giving one out to the U.S. Amateur finalists. And then there’s a spot in the field next June at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills that he’s locked up.
“Yeah, it’s all pretty crazy,” Luck says. “But it’s a good crazy. The kind of crazy you dream of.”
Luck admitted that mid-way through his semifinal match, he wasn’t sure if the day would provide him with a happy ending. Specifically, he struggled with his driver on Saturday as he faced Carlson, a University of Michigan sophomore who had become the Cinderella story of the week. Carlson sat 1,981st on the World Amateur Ranking compared to Luck’s No. 7 spot, but had knocked off British Amateur champ Scott Gregory and Western Amateur winner Dylan Meyer en route to the semifinal.
“I saw him hitting it on the range the other day, and I was so impressed with his swing,” Luck said of Carlson. “And he’s a fierce competitor. You can never underestimate competitiveness in any sport.
Two down after nine holes, Luck won Nos. 10 and 11 with a par and birdie to square the match. Carlson won the 13th hole, only for Luck to square it again on the 14th, only for Carlson to go back 1-up with a two-foot birdie on the 15th.
As Carlson clung to the lead—and the several thousand Michigan faithful anxiously rooted him on—Luck faced must-make situations on each of the next five holes that he impressively converted.
• On the par-3 17th hole, after both players missed the green right with their tee balls, Luck watched Carlson miss a six-foot par putt that would have won him the match. Luck then rolled in a five-foot bogey effort to halve the hole.
• On the par-4 18th hole, after both players missed the fairway left, Carlson putting his ball under a tree and Luck leaving his drive in rough on the tongue of a fairway bunker, Luck scrambled for a bogey to extend the match to extra holes.
• Returning to the par-4 10th, Luck was short of the green with his second shot and chipped to 12 feet with his third. With Carlson already in with a par, Luck rolled in his to keep things going.
• On the par-4 11th hole, with Carlson’s approach shot having settled 14 inches from the hole, Luck hit his second from a fairway bunker to five feet above the hole, then rolled in the birdie, before Carlson made his.
Finally, on the par-5 12th hole, Luck was the one in control, reaching the green in two and then lagging a 45-foot eagle try to within two feet for a conceded birdie. After finding a greenside bunker with his second shot, Carlson hit his third to 35 feet. Needing to make the bomb, Carlson burned the left edge and saw his impressive week come to an end.
“The kid is just good,” Carlson said of Luck. “He’s just good. I mean, he manages mistakes well, and I certainly learned from that today.”
So where did Luck’s steely nerves come from? The Aussie, who the past two summers has played in a handful of amateur events in the United States, says that he gained valuable experience in a pair of professional tournaments he competed in earlier this year. In May, he won the WA Open on the Australasian Tour. And in June, he finished fifth at the Japan Tour’s ISPS Handa Global Cup, tying Charl Schwartzel and beating Padraig Harrington and Victor Dubuisson.
After a four-week break at home, Luck came to the U.S. prior to the Western Amateur, where he missed the cut but knocked off some rust. Even though he felt comfortable with his game, he also knows there’s better golf in him.
“I’m not hitting it that good, but I’m scrambling well,” Luck said. “That’s saving me.”
Aware of what was on the line on Saturday, Luck admitted he struggled getting any rest on Friday night, sleeping about an hour. He hopes he’ll get more shut-eye Saturday night with the 36-hole finale on tap. Should he beat Dalke and claim the Havemeyer Trophy, the pro plans might be delayed yet again as an exemption into the Open Championship awaits.
Another day, another possible life-changing event.
Curtis Luck, Australia, df. Nick Carlson, Hamilton, Mich., 21 holes
Brad Dalke, Norman, Okla., df. Jonah Texeira, Porter Ranch, Calif., 3 and 2
Sunday 36-Hole Championship Match
9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. - Luck vs. Dalke