He’s been coming to Bunbury since he was 13 and now Rick Kulacz is eyeing a Nexus Risk Services South West Open triumph as the next step in reigniting his professional golf career.
The culmination of the South West Series that forms part of the Adidas Pro-Am Series season, the two-day tournament at Bunbury Golf Club has been a fixture on the WA golf calendar for many years and has once again drawn some of Australian golf’s biggest names.
Six-time European Tour winner Brett Rumford headlines a field that also includes 2020 Pro-Am Order of Merit winner Matt Millar and 2017 Fiji International champion Jason Norris along with a host of the best professional and amateur talent in Western Australia.
Kulacz recorded his first PGA Tour of Australasia win as a 21-year-old amateur at the 2006 NSW Open but a combination of injury and illness stalled his progression towards joining world golf’s elite.
A win at the 36-hole South Coast Open in March was vindication of the work he and coach David Milne have done over the past 18 months and with a win and fourth place finish in his past two starts is eyeing off a title he has been chasing for 23 years.
“I’ve been coming down here since I was 13 or 14 years old so it would be nice to knock it off this year considering I have been coming down here for so long,” said the soon-to-be 36-year-old.
“It’s a great spot down here in Bunbury and the course is always great. Greens are quick, it’s quite narrow, country-type course and there seem to be guys who keep coming back to it so it must be pretty good.
“It’s a great event.”
After turning professional in 2007 Kulacz began to establish himself first in Asia and then the European Tour.
He won two Asian Tour events before qualifying for the European Tour in 2010, logging a top-five finish in his very first start at the Africa Open.
But a thumb injury and gall stones that ultimately required surgery to remove his gall bladder made 2012 a year that would cause ongoing issues.
“Everything kind of spiralled in 2012,” Kulacz conceded.
“I played the whole year with a torn ligament in my thumb, I got in some bad habits, I had gall stones and had to have my gall bladder taken out… It all just slapped me in the face in the same year.
“I had my gall bladder taken out and I was back on the range hitting balls eight days later.
“I was so hellbent on getting back out there that was just my frame of mind at the time.
“I had three or four really tough years trying to figure out what I wanted to do and it’s only been the last three or four years that I’ve started to find my feet a little bit again and being able to compete in these events.
“I was just rocking up hoping every week to try and find some sort of form. I’m a lot more solid now and know what I’m doing to a certain point.
“But there were a few tough years there. I just lost my way for one reason or another.”
Although the vision he had as a precocious amateur has not yet come to pass, Kulacz is looking to players such as star of the summer Bryden Macpherson and US PGA champion Phil Mickelson as inspiration that he can still reach his full potential.
“Seeing guys winning on tour all different ages, even Phil winning a Major at 50. There’s a big difference between age groups of guys that are winning out there,” said Kulacz.
“I’m not as young as I used to be but seeing the guys that are a bit older who are still winning, that gives everyone a little bit of hope.
“There are some good signs there but you need to do it in the bigger events and that’s my next step. Getting back to playing in bigger events and performing in those.
“I’ve been pretty consistent over the last few events which is nice to see. Hopefully I can keep that going for the rest of the year and beyond.”