Perth-based coach Craig Bishop is adamant star pupil Curtis Luck won’t be intimidated by the brutal test awaiting at Winged Foot, instead encouraging Luck to seek out the man who has stiffened one of America’s toughest golf courses for this week’s US Open.
Playing 72 holes of Winged Foot’s West Course under par is considered fanciful by those who have spent the past two days getting to know a layout that has been redesigned by Gil Hanse – the man appointed to redesign Royal Sydney Golf Club’s championship layout.
Yet when Luck was granted a special exemption to make his US Open debut on the back of his Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship victory on the Korn Ferry Tour three weeks ago, Bishop’s only advice was to ask Hanse personally how to best approach Winged Foot.
Like Ogilvy, Luck is a cerebral golfer who under Bishop’s tutelage has embraced the importance of understanding course architecture. His coach believes that Winged Foot’s mix of difficulty and history will bring out the best in the 24-year-old.
“If he’s playing well and it’s tough and hard, it won’t phase him,” Bishop said.
“We know Gil through Mike Clayton so that was the first piece of advice that I gave him.
“It wasn’t much use ringing Geoff Ogilvy because the course isn’t the same. Nick O’Hern played really well there too but I just told Curtis to give Gil a ring and see what he says.
“I think it’s really important for players to understand where the architects want you to come in from.
“With a lot of the modern play they don’t look at architecture that well. There is a way to get into every green and I know those particular architects are very conscious of that.
“They’ll build brutal greens but they’ll also give you good angles to come in from if you’re a smart player, which Curtis is.
“He’s pretty good at working that stuff out so if he can save a shot or two just by knowing that on the fourth hole if the wind’s from the south they might do this, this and this, it just gives you a plan to work from.”
Recently ranked by Golf Digest as the ninth toughest golf course in the United States, Winged Foot’s fearsome reputation is well earned yet Luck has a proven history of making the difficult look relatively easy.
He won the 2016 US Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club – a course once dubbed the ‘Green Monster’ by Ben Hogan – and his recent victory came at the Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course, a course planned by legendary course architect Alister MacKenzie but ultimately built after his death under the guidance of Perry Maxwell and renovated by Jack Nicklaus in 2006.
The greens at Winged Foot are, on average, 25 per cent larger than when Ogilvy triumphed in 2006 and according to Golf Digest architecture editor Ron Whitten “don’t just tilt from back to front, they tumble downhill like a marble staircase.”
But Bishop holds no fears that the prospect of a torture test will have a negative impact on Luck’s mindset.
“He’s won on two of the hardest courses in the US so far,” said Bishop, Luck’s coach since he was just 12 years of age.
“He’s a tough, gritty little player. If it’s just brutal and he’s playing poorly you’re going to have a bad week. You can’t run away from it. But if you’re playing well and can keep your wits about you and play the course properly, he’s pretty good at that.
“When the courses get tough he seems to be a lot more competitive which means the discipline of hitting the ball into the right corners comes into his favour.
“I don’t think he would look at it like a torture test. It could be if you’re playing poorly for anyone but it’s a US Open, they don’t just hand them out, and the same with the US Amateur. They don’t give those away.
“It’s definitely his style of course but you don’t really know how anyone’s going to react in the US Open.
“If he’s playing well, the harder the better.”