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Lucas Herbert's mental resurgence leads to first-round 63 at the Fortinet Championship

4 Min Read



    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    NAPA, Calif. – Lucas Herbert couldn’t convince himself to set any goals. He was too worried about how he would react if he failed.

    The Australian had expected things would only get better. He won for the first time on TOUR at the 2021 Butterfield Bermuda Championship, only his third start as a member. Suddenly, he was in the biggest tournaments with the best fields. He felt like he belonged, but the results didn’t follow.

    It quickly wore on him. So much so that after a missed cut at this year’s Open Championship, his sixth in his last 11 starts, he forced himself to take a break. He was outside the top 100 in the FedExCup with only a remote chance to make the Playoffs, especially considering his mental state. He didn’t like the person he was becoming and he needed to get away from the game.

    “I think I'd become probably a bitter and spiteful person,” Herbert said. “... I was wound up pretty tight and kind of lashed out at people around me too quickly, too easily.”

    He can reflect on it now, grateful he took the time when he did. After seven weeks off and more than a month without touching his clubs, Herbert returned to the Fortinet Championship with a new energy and low expectations. It was a good recipe for Thursday. He shot 9-under 63, including a run of six straight birdies. He leads the field by two shots.

    It was a round he was likely incapable of stringing together two months ago. The first sign of lousy play would quickly derail him. And despite what the scorecard shows, Herbert still thought he only played “OK” on Thursday. He just “got a lot of good breaks.” But he was in a strong mental position to capitalize on them.

    He rolled in 144 feet of putts, gaining more than five strokes on greens. He made the turn in 2-under 33, then birdied seven holes on the back nine. His only pars were on 11 and 18. He made just one bogey. Critically, he “felt free” during the round for the first time in a long time.

    “It doesn't take much for you to be off out here,” he said. “When you don't get a few of those results, it just compounds and it compounds and you put more pressure on yourself, and it gets worse and very quickly you can go down a slippery slope.

    “It's pretty hard to take any time off in the middle of the season. Go and tell me to miss Memorial, I'm never going to do that, it's such an amazing event, but it was probably what I needed at the time. I just didn't have the ability to go and do that. It sort of got to a point, a sort of breaking point, I just had to do it.”

    Herbert hardly thought about golf during his time away. He watched nearly no PGA TOUR golf, only tuning in for the playoff hole between Lucas Glover and Patrick Cantlay at the FedEx St. Jude Championship and the last few holes of Viktor Hovland’s TOUR Championship win. He picked his clubs back up just two weeks ago.

    Instead, he spent time with his girlfriend’s family up in Maine, most of whom he had not met. He had the chance to play guitar, a hobby he doesn’t find much time for during the TOUR season. And, after buying a home in Orlando in March, he finally had time to do various projects around the house.

    “I went and spent some time around people where I wasn't the main focus of everyone's life for the day. I was able to go and be a part of other people's lives, which is something we don't get to do as golfers,” he said.

    During most of the last year, Herbert wouldn’t have cared if his flights got canceled to a tournament and there was no way to get there. He would have been happy to go home and call it an off week. If that happened this week, he would have been upset, he said. That told him he was in the right headspace to return.

    With his tournament winner’s exemption running through next season, he’s not feeling the pressure of keeping his card. His goal is to win and return to the best fields in next year’s Signature Events. At 153rd in the FedExCup, he has work to do. This week, more than anything, he’s focused on himself.

    “I felt like if I could just come out here and be like a better person, the golf game's kind of the next thing, but like just being a better person I think to the people around me, my relationships, you know, family, friends, that only benefits. And yeah, that was sort of maybe all I cared about coming here this week. And it's really nice to shoot 63, but I'm going to do my best to go out there with the same attitude tomorrow and that is the main focus of the week.”

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