Australian men’s amateur golf reached an all-time high last year, with Curtis Luck winning both the US and Asia Pacific Amateur titles in addition to the PGA Tour of Australasia’s West Australian Open, their World Amateur Team (Eisenhower Trophy) success in Mexico and Brett Coletta’s win at the Queensland Open and his runner-up finish at the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship.
Such amazing success is a tough act to follow but already there are signs that the next wave of Australian stars could continue this trend at least and there are one or two who might just walk in the footsteps of Luck in the immediate and foreseeable future despite the giddy heights he achieved.
Curtis Luck with one of several trophies he won in 2016 - The Asia Pacific Amateur Championship
The obvious candidate is Luck’s fellow West Australian Minwoo Lee who captured the junior equivalent of Luck’s US Amateur success in 2016 when he took out the US Junior Amateur title, following the lead of his older sister, Minjee, who won the female equivalent four years earlier and who is now Australia’s leading female golfer with three LPGA Tour titles to her name.
Brad James is the High-Performance Director at Golf Australia and while he is keen, in his position, not to favour one over another he is a great fan of Minwoo Lee. “He has all the tools to be very good,” said James. “He loves playing at the International level, being in that environment and being in the heat of the moment.
“He hits the ball a long way, works hard in the gym, has all the physical, technical and emotional attributes but I think one of the big improvements for him has been his organisational skills. For example, this year he has been organising all his own schedule which is so important whereas in the past he perhaps would not have had the skills to do that.”
Canberra’s Josh Armstrong was another of the first few names mentioned by James. “Josh has some great physical attributes but probably more impressive are his emotional capabilities and how he can handle the pressures. He has proven himself at the international level – the junior level at least and he has the shots that will allow him to compete at the highest level.
“He is a big strong lad who can handle the pressure very well and is starting to work hard in the gym which will help him to make the technical improvements he is currently working towards.
“He has a bit of fire in the belly which is a good thing to have in a youngster and he will eventually learn to harness that in the right manner and use it to his advantage.”
The next player we discussed was the recent Australian Junior Champion, Cameron John, who currently plays pennant golf for the Commonwealth Golf Club. “I definitely see him up there amongst the top ten or so guys coming through in amateur golf.
“He has proven himself with some really good wins in Argentina and Scotland last year and of course he won the Australian Junior Championship. If there was improvement for him it would be in his consistency but we have to realise he is still very young and I know he is still working with his coach Tim Wendel in that regard.
Cameron John with his recent Australian Junior trophy
Another player discussed was the brilliant Brisbane youngster, Louis Dobbelaar, who late last year won the New Zealand Amateur Championship at the age of 15 becoming the youngest ever to do so. Still only 15, Dobbelaar is clearly a youngster with a great future.
“We’ve been watching Louis since he was 11 years old,” said James. “He had that nice win in New Zealand (a match play event) but he needs to be a lot more consistent. That’s probably the red flag for him now and he has had some good professional event experience. He does seem to play better on the bigger stage although we are looking for more consistency.”
Louis Dobbelaar the NZ Amateur Champion at the age of just 15 - seen here with Women's Champion Rose Zheng
17 year old Fred Lee from Western Australia is a member of the Royal Perth Golf Club and, although flying under the radar a little, James sees a good future for him.
“Freddie is a very, very good player but perhaps an underrated player. I watched him play at the Australian Junior last week and I know he has been concentrating on his Grade 12 year at present but he has grown a lot over the last twelve months and he is hitting the ball of a lot higher and a lot further.
“I think those attributes will come to fruition in the next couple of months and then with time in significant events in the US this year and then in the Australian summer later in the year the improvement will come.”
These were discussions on the junior players but there were also several others at a more senior level (age wise) who were also mentioned and raised by James such as Harrison Endycott, who was one of the successful Eisenhower Team, Travis Smyth, Charlie Dann and Dylan Perry who could well build on their already successful amateur careers before facing the prospect of turning professional.
Through Golf Australia’s ‘Rookie Programme’, James also keeps an eye on how the recently turned professionals Ryan Ruffels and Brett Coletta, amongst others, are coping in the paid ranks.
Ruffels, one of the world’s leading amateurs prior to turning professional turning professional early in 2016, is now playing the LatinoAmerica Tour where is producing several good finishes and he did make the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the PGA Tour last month.
“I think Ryan is doing very, very well,” added James. “I know there had been a little bit of negative feedback about him turning professional too early but I think he is doing extremely well and we are very happy with the way he is going.
“For Brett it is a case of him getting starts and the opportunities. Through his agent he is promised getting seven PGA Tour starts this year, one of which he has already had although the others will likely come later in the season and the issue for him is to keep himself motivated while waiting for those and other starts to come along.”
Brett Coletta wins QLD Open
Clearly Curtis Luck is a hard act to follow, in fact such was the magnitude of his deeds in 2016 that his combined success at the US and Asia Pacific Amateur Championships and his win at the WA Open may never be emulated.
Despite the departure of so many who are now chasing professional success however there appears enough talent and potential remaining in Australia's temporarily depleted amateur ranks that such a feat is not altogether beyond the realms of possibility.