PRO-FILES: Blueprint behind Herbert’s PGA TOUR dream - PGA of Australia

PRO-FILES: Blueprint behind Herbert’s PGA TOUR dream

Dom Azzopardi has to scroll through to the very end of the photo gallery in his phone to find it. It is a photo of the whiteboard on which he and star pupil Lucas Herbert drew up the list of goals they wanted to achieve together.

They began working together when Herbert was just 13 and Azzopardi the Head PGA Professional at Ballarat Golf Club. Six years later, in Herbert’s Cheltenham apartment in Melbourne on December 28, 2015, they drew up a path that led to the PGA TOUR.

“On the top of the whiteboard is ‘PGA TOUR’,” Azzopardi now reveals.

“He always wanted to be on the PGA TOUR. We thought that he had the game for America and from a very young age he wanted to play with the best on the best tour.

“That was always his goal.”

Setting one, three and five-year goals is a practice that Azzopardi conducts with each of his students, most recently with LPGA Tour player Karis Davidson.

Herbert’s whiteboard of objectives read:

Year one: Tour card; win a professional event; earn $100,000.

Year three: PGA TOUR card; win a major Australian event; play in a major championship.

Year five: Top 25 in the world; finish top-10 in a major; be financially independent.

It was Azzopardi’s job to then map out the skill acquisition and game development that would get him there.

“I think it’s really important with every player to create a blueprint,” says Azzopardi.

“Now, some of that hasn’t come off. Some of it has. Lucas probably hasn’t looked at it for three or four years but I refer to things on it to him all the time, goals he has ticked off along the way.”

The initial focus centred around putting from 5-9 feet and 25-40 feet, improving his proficiency with the 3-wood and further developing his short game.

The five-year plan continued to emphasise putting and in 2022 Herbert ranks first in Strokes Gained: Putting on the PGA TOUR.

“He’s killed it with his putting,” Azzopardi adds, Herbert to display his putting prowess at both the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship and ISPS HANDA Australian Open this summer.

A five-year goal where his swing technique required just regular maintenance is close to the mark and his stated aim of being in peak physical condition is an area in which he continues to improve.

But 12 months ago, when he finally realised his dream of becoming a member of the PGA TOUR, Herbert and Azzopardi set new goals that would take his game to the next level.

Finals pressure

Sometimes the plan doesn’t always go to plan in the manner you drew it up.

Herbert knew from a young age that the way to access the PGA TOUR was via the secondary Korn Ferry Tour; he just took a circuitous route to get there.

He finished second at PGA TOUR-China Qualifying School in early 2018 and earned limited status on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. But it was a tie for third at the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth tournament on home soil in February that year that necessitated a slight change to the plan.

On the advice of Azzopardi, Herbert took associate membership of the then European Tour on the eve of the tournament, his strong showing paving the way for sponsor invites that he would parlay into full membership of the Tour by season’s end.

On Australia Day, 2020 he won the Dubai Desert Classic and in June 2021 won for the second time at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

Six weeks later, ranked No.52 in the world, Herbert teed it up in week one of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.

“The pressure was off him somewhat at Korn Ferry because he did have full status in Europe for the next two years from the winners’ category,” Azzopardi explains.

“So the pressure was off a little bit, but in saying that, it was such an opportunity for him. To go to Korn Ferry Finals, go top 25 in these three events and he’s on the PGA TOUR.

“He finished top-five that first week and secured his card.”

Goals and motivation fuel Herbert’s competitive spirit. His best golf seems to come when he absolutely needs it.

When his category ranking dropped over the final two weeks of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and he missed his first two cuts as a PGA TOUR member, the looming re-rank looked destined to limit his PGA TOUR schedule in 2022.

He called in the cavalry and after reuniting with his coach for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, went out and won the Butterfield Bermuda Championship last October.

“He turned up that week just knowing he had to kill it or he was going to be playing a really limited schedule after the re-rank,” Azzopardi says.

“Herbie is an incredible guy. When he has got to get something done, he’ll go and get it done.”

With his future on the PGA TOUR secure, Herbert and Azzopardi set about exploring how to further advance his weaponry.

They explored a longer driver shaft as the Bryson DeChambeau-inspired craving for more distance gripped the best players the world over.

It was a move Azzopardi now concedes backfired, the pair refocusing their attention following consultation with their England-based stats guru, Tom Boys.

It is a regular exercise that Azzopardi conducts with Boys and Herbert’s caddie, Denis Pugh, and it highlighted a separate issue with the driver that Herbert needed to address to compete on what he refers to as “big boy” golf courses.

“Every week he’s played well this year he’s driven it well,” Azzopardi adds.

“When we look at the weeks where he has struggled, his driver’s been off.

“When we talk about getting to the next level, we know that his putting and his chipping and bunker play is top 10 in the world, but we’ve got to get it in play more with the driver.

“A lot of the focus for us is around driving and iron play.”

In Jakarta this week with Karis Davidson at the Simone Asia Pacific Cup, Azzopardi was with Herbert in Memphis last week for the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

A neck injury and tooth ache that required root canal surgery on the day before the opening round of the FedEx St Jude Invitational meant that little was accomplished, an admittedly rusty Herbert missing the cut in his first start since The Open Championship.

But now there is a new goal to strive for.

Currently 56th in the FedEx Cup standings, Herbert needs to be in the top half-dozen come Sunday night of the BMW Championship to play his way into the Tour Championship at East Lake.

And, with the bit in his teeth, Azzopardi likes what he is hearing.

“He said to his mate Gilly, ‘I’m going to get into East Lake’,” Azzopardi says. “Which means he’s got to finish top 10 – maybe even top seven – this week.

“That’s just his mindset. I love hearing that because when he’s got to do something, he applies himself 10 times more.

“A lot of guys hate that pressure of having to do something, but that actually works for Lucas.

“If he’s playing for something he has to achieve, he just works so much harder and you can see it in his eyes, he just goes at it.

“It’s funny to say, but if it doesn’t mean much, if it’s comfortable and he’s getting starts in all the big events, he can take his eye off the prize a little bit.

“He’s really interesting like that.

“He wants to win a Bay Hill or a Memorial-type event. That’s his goal, and I love that, that he wants to win a bigger one than Bermuda on the PGA TOUR.

“He wants to win on a big boy golf course. Beat the best in the world.

“That’s a big goal that he’s working towards at the moment.”

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