Long-time coach Dom Azzopardi didn’t dare suggest it yet two years of struggles off the tee has convinced Lucas Herbert to make a major change ahead of his first start for 2023 at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.
The champion at Emirates Golf Club three years ago, Herbert has been plagued by driver troubles on both the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour the past two seasons.
Last year in the US he ranked 188th in driving accuracy (50.78 per cent of fairways) and his misses were happening on both sides.
He was 127th in left rough tendency (14.06 per cent) and 178th in right rough tendency (19.51 per cent), putting pressure on his approach play that saw him rank 193rd in greens in regulation percentage.
It has been a similar story in Europe.
Since his breakthrough year in 2020 where he hit 55.77 per cent of fairways (82nd), Herbert has fallen away to hitting 46.08 per cent of fairways (171st) in 2021 and 49.22 per cent (156th) in 2022.
The 27-year-old defied those stats somewhat by ranking as the No.1 in Strokes Gained: Putting on the PGA TOUR last season but ultimately recognised that his favoured draw shape would need to become a fade to achieve greater consistency off the tee.
“I’ve never tried to get him to hit a fade off the tee because I never thought I’d get him to buy into that,” Azzopardi explained.
“He said, ‘What if I try to work it left to right? Maybe I can hit a lot more fairways doing that.’
“I nearly fell over.
“When he said he wanted to hit a fade I told him that it was going to be so good for him because his bad is going to be so much better.
“I was rapt, because I didn’t think he needed to do too much fundamentally to be able to do it consistently.”
Work on the shape shift didn’t begin until after Christmas and it took next to no time to bed down.
He had seven birdies and an eagle in earning a share of victory at Neangar Park in his first start since making the change, the process so seamless that both he and Azzopardi were waiting for the catch.
“It was funny because after about a week he looked at me and said, ‘This all seems too easy, too good. Are we going to find a roadblock here? It seems like we should have done this years ago’,” Azzopardi revealed.
“I’ve stayed awake the last three nights thinking the same thing.
“He’s a freak. He picks things up so quickly that it seems, at this stage, too good to be true.”
Integral to the change is a slight adjustment to his set-up and an understanding of what he needs to do to deliver the clubface on the ideal path for the shot he is trying to hit.
“He’s not relying on his hands so much to create a square clubface,” Azzopardi explained.
“His bad swing with driver, it just gets stuck behind him. Because he creates so much lag it’s just horrible.
“With this, he’s not creating as much lag and it’s not getting stuck behind him; it’s out in front of him so much more.
“We know that when he drives it 300 in the air – which he does – if he can hit 60 per cent of fairways he’s going to compete week in and week out.
“He just misses too many fairways and hasn’t driven it good enough the past couple of years.
“If we can get that driver in play so much more he’s going to have a really good year.
“I’m very confident with what we’ve done that he’s going to be able to do that.”
Buoyed by a top-20 finish at The American Express, Jason Day returns to Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open in California.
Champion in 2015 and 2018, Day is third in career winnings at Torrey Pines behind Tiger Woods ($7,177,379) and Brandt Snedeker ($4,468,024.08) with a total of $US3,744,654.57.
Although he missed the chance to play a US Open at Torrey Pines in both 2008 and 2021, Day’s history goes beyond the Farmers Insurance Open having won the Callaway World Junior Championship at Torrey in 2004.
Day will begin his tournament on the more scoreable North Course at 4.20am Thursday morning AEDT along with fellow Aussies Aaron Baddeley (4am) and Harrison Endycott (4.50am). Cam Davis (4.20am), Cameron Percy (5.10am) and Kiwi Danny Lee (5.50am) start on the South Course.
Round 1 tee times AEDT
DP World Tour
Hero Dubai Desert Classic
Emirates GC, Dubai, UAE
2.40pm* Ryan Fox, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood
2.50pm* Min Woo Lee, Victor Perez, Thomas Pieters
7.30pm Lucas Herbert, Rasmus Hojgaard, Rafa Cabrera Bello
7.30pm* Jason Scrivener, Ian Poulter, Espen Kofstad
8.10pm Daniel Hillier, Tapio Pulkkanen, Mikael Lindberg
Defending champion: Viktor Hovland
Past Aussie winners: Richard Green (1997), Lucas Herbert (2020)
TV schedule: Live 3pm-12.30am Thursday, Friday; Live 6pm-12am Saturday, Sunday on Fox Sports 505.
Farmers Insurance Open
Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Cse), San Diego, California
4.20am Cam Davis, Trey Mullinax, Michael Thompson
5.10am Cameron Percy, David Lingmerth, Alex Smalley
5.50am Danny Lee (NZ), Ryan Armour, Emiliano Grillo
4am Aaron Baddeley, Ryan Palmer, John Huh
4.20am* Jason Day, Adam Svensson, Luke List
4.50am Harrison Endycott, Anders Albertson, Michael Block
Defending champion: Luke List
Past Aussie winners: Jason Day (2015, 2018), Marc Leishman (2020)
TV schedule: Live 5am-11am Thursday; Live 2am-11am Friday; Live 7am-12pm Saturday; Live 6.30am-12pm Sunday on Fox Sports 505 and Kayo Sports.