Kids who skipped school came to watch Jordan Spieth, but they left talking about the guy he played with.
The scruffy, scrawny looking fella with a pony tail, pounding golf balls and perhaps more suited to catching Cottesloe’s hometown waves rather than riding a giant crest of one for Australian golf.
But whatever 20-year-old Curtis Luck did with club in hand, it wasn’t as impressive as what he did without it. Spieth mumbled often. Geoff Ogilvy agitated regularly. Luck smiled. And smiled. And smiled. And when he wasn’t smiling, his diminutive coach and caddie Craig Bishop did it for him.
Even when Luck dropped shots on consecutive holes late in his leaderboard-topping first round, which was seemingly fraying at the edges, the Spieth sideshow steadied to emerge as the real star.
“He could have shot even par for the day and instead he turned that into 5-under there in the middle of the round, so that’s the kind of stuff [that] is unteachable,” world No.5 Spieth gushed afterwards. “And he has that. I thought he was better composed than I was; no doubt. Certainly, I learned a bit from him today on that side of things.”
Let that sink in. An unflappable two-time major winner and former world No.1 learning from a West Australian kid who won’t earn a cheque this week playing his first Australian Open?
Tour veterans forecast amateur hour might hit Royal Sydney now that school is almost out for Australia’s Generation Next. It lasted for at least four hours on Thursday, headed by a kid wearing electric blue pants just in case his game wasn’t eye-catching enough. Aaron Baddeley circa 1999 all over again?
And yet Luck didn’t seem to be fazed. There was charisma too. Every time Spieth played one of those chips only he can do, or lagged a putt like only the world’s best with the flat stick can, Luck showed his appreciation. Either verbally or physically, at one stage abandoning his club to clap a Spieth gem.
“He was smiling the whole time, really enjoying himself,” Spieth said. “I had overheard him say, ‘haven’t hit a draw in a while’, to his caddy/coach … ‘but I guess we’re going to go with it today’. [He] just kind of understands where he’s at and how to play different shots. He’s certainly got all the tools.”
There was one point the normally unflappable Spieth (-3), who scrambled to finish two shots shy of Luck after the first round, vented uncharacteristically. Yet there was not a murmur from Luck if he strayed off course.
“God damn, Michael,” Spieth barked at his caddie Michael Greller, irritated with his own execution off the 17th tee which saw his ball plant in a greenside bunker. He would make an up-and-down recovery for par.
Luck: “I think every child at some point has a few little issues with controlling their anger, but it’s something I’ve got really good at.”
The standard fare when an amateur hidden away from the golf blow-ins for three weeks in summer surges above a couple of former No.1s in the Australian Open is usually a little bit of pandemonium. Who is he? Where did he come from? Why’s he playing with Spieth? There were 18 holes of reasons why on Thursday.
And you sense Luck, who is no Johnny-come-lately given his US Amateur win and with tickets into three majors next year if he wants them, won’t dwell one bit on the fact he outplayed Spieth and Ogilvy (-2) for a day.
“I find this pretty easy to do,” Luck said of the hype. “I kind of ignore it if you want my honest opinion. As I said, I’ll just do my own thing and regardless of what people are saying, I’ll just stick to what I’m doing. It seems to be working pretty well at the moment.”
Spieth had only moments earlier marched out of his own post-round press conference, quipping to a waiting Luck, “it’s your turn now”. That, it very well might be.