It was Australia Day 2020 that transformed Lucas Herbert’s golf career – and being back at the the scene of his Dubai Desert Classic triumph a year on has given the man from Bendigo an extra spring in his step in the desert this week.
On a remarkable January 26 for Australian golf last year, Herbert won a playoff in the Classic Dubai for his breakthrough maiden European Tour title before Marc Leishman won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on the PGA Tour in the US to seal a fantastic double.
It was the day that changed Herbert’s golfing life, the 25-year-old reflected this week as he prepared to start the defence of his title in one of the European Tour’s flagship events on Thursday.
Going down to practice on the range at the Emirates GC, Herbert was able to see his picture alongside all the event’s previous winners, including Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy.
“It’s a bit disappointing looking the way I did in the photos,” joked Herbert in an interview at the course with the European Tour.
“No, to get your name on the trophy with those others and see all those photos, it’s pretty cool to add to that list.
“It almost feels like it was a European Tour ‘major’ I’ve won, it’s such an iconic event.”
The Victorian reckoned that just being back, recalling memories of his breakthrough win when he outduelled South African Christian Bezuidenhout in a dramatic playoff, had given him a new lease of life.
“For sure. The fact that I’m defending champion, it’s just good vibes at this place. I played well here in years gone by and I feel like it’s a golf course that sets up really well for me,” said Herbert.
In 2020, he birdied the second extra hole to clinch the title just minutes after hitting “maybe the worst shot I’ve ever hit in my life” on the first playoff hole.
“It wasn’t one to remember but to follow it up the way I did with the next shot (a wedge from the drop zone to save par) was very pleasing,” he recalled.
Winning changed much for the player who, in 2019 in the same tournament was embroiled in a rules controversy for removing loose impediments with his club in a waste bunker en route to a seventh-placed finish.
“It’s done a lot for my career. My confidence has gone sky high since I won here last year. It felt like it helped me through the rest of the year,” said Herbert, who enjoyed three more top-10 finishes in 2020 and is now world No.68.
“I just felt like I was a different golfer after winning here. Financially, it was a great help and obviously with some starts you get off the back of winning it, I’m still feeling the follow-up effects of it now which is great.
“I feel like now when I’ve come out here in Europe that I’m definitely a good enough player to be able to win any week.
“I’ve got that inner confidence to know that’s where I deserve to be every week.”