THE next generation of Australian golf was the hot topic ahead of the Australian Open and today they showed why at Royal Sydney Golf Club.
Amateur sensation Curtis Luck and Tour rookie Lucas Herbert each fired rounds of 5-under 67 to lead their national Open after the morning field.
Luck has had a phenomenal year winning the US Amateur Championship, Asia-Pacific Championship and the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia's WA Open.
His success was rewarded by a marquee pairing, the 21-year-old West Australian playing alongside Jordan Spieth who opened with a 3-under 69 and Geoff Ogilvy who had one shot more.
"I had two great playing partners in Geoff and Jordan and they made it a lot of fun for me and obviously I played quite well,” said Luck
"Believe it or not, I wasn't actually that nervous and I think it was purely because Geoff and Jordan are so casual and so legitimately nice that we were chatting on the first tee before I'd even teed off.
"So they really settled me down and obviously making a birdie down the first helps a lot. But yeah, they were great and fortunately I was able to go down the 10th feeling pretty good.”
At the other end of the scale, Herbert was saved from having to Monday qualify, given a late tournament invite on Saturday.
"Golf Australia were fortunate enough to give me an invite, which I've really got to thank them for,” said Herbert.
"I was a bit of a cheeky on Twitter, I shared a few tweets on Friday afternoon with them, maybe it helped, I don't really know but all I know is the next day I had an invite.
"I got really fortunate with that, so it's been nice to take advantage of it so far.
"It was pretty solid really, but it didn't feel like that was the round of my life. I still feel like I've got better rounds in me for the weekend.”
However proving that age is no barrier, Peter O'Malley who completed his first full season on the European Seniors Tour, was at the top end of the leaderboard throughout his round.
Teeing off the 18th, tied with Luck and Herbert, O'Malley watched as his tee shot sailed into the left trees. O'Malley managed to walk away with a bogey to post an opening round 4-under 68 on his home course.
"I knew as soon as I hit it, I said, 'That's not going to be too good.' I've hit it in there playing a few comps here before and I just chip it out,” said O'Malley, who took a different approach today.
"I had a swing and I had a gap and I thought I got it through, just caught the last little branch and I made a good 5 in the end.
"So, it's just one bad shot and you just know you can't do it. But anyway, the rest of the day was pretty good.”
Joining O'Malley on the leaderboard are New Zealander Ryan Fox, Ben Clementson, Peter O'Malley and Germany's David Klein.
Tournament drawcard Jordan Spieth wasn't happy with his round, having not mastered the Royal Sydney greens.
He is two shots off the lead after the first round and tied 8th with Jamie Arnold, Dimitrios Papadatos, Mathew Goggin, Lincoln Tighe, Wade Ormsby, Matthew Guyatt and amateur Travis Smyth.
"I think just the putting, it just comes down to that. I really haven't practiced it enough to feel fully comfortable but it takes a few tournament rounds I think, or hopefully just one, to start feeling more comfortable on the greens,” said Spieth, who was glowing in his assessment of tournament leader and playing partner, Luck.
"Really, really, really impressive player, Curtis, real simple golf swing.
"I overheard him say, "Haven't hit a draw in a while”, to his caddy/coach "But I guess we're going to go with it today”, just kind of understands where he's at and how to play different shots, and then around the greens he was spectacular, which is something that you certainly need to take with you up to the next level.
"So, he's certainly got all the tools.”
The World Number 5 didn't stop there with his praise of Luck, Spieth admitting that even he learned something from the amateur who is just two years his junior.
"I thought he was better composed than I was; no doubt. Certainly, I learned a bit from him today on that side of things. He was smiling the whole time, really enjoying himself,” added Spieth.
"I got a little frustrated there when I was hitting it close and just couldn't capitalise and then he got into some trouble with a couple of bogeys in a row - could have really been 4-over on those two holes, and instead he had a birdie on the front end and a birdie on the back end, to only play him at even.
"He could have shot even par for the day and instead he turned that into 5-under there in the middle of the round, so that's the kind of stuff that is un-teachable, and he has that.”
Also unhappy with his opening round of 1-over 73 was Adam Scott who couldn't find any positive in his day.
"It was not very good golf at all. My swing was off, I didn't scramble very well so it wasn't a very good round. Nothing much to please me,” said Scott.
"I think generally I have had pretty slow starts this season. It's something that is frustrating at times. Today wasn't like I could have had a really great score, I didn't play well enough.
"I didn't drive it well, hit the irons well, chip well or putt well ... it was all very average.
"I need to find it on the range in the morning and try and put a good number on the board."
The second round of the Emirates Australian Open tees off at 6.50am with Luck and Herbert on course at 12.10pm off the 1st and 10th respectively.
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