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Curtis Luck

This rising young pro is wise beyond his years, but that's not the only reason he opted out of staying in the Crow's Nest

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Curtis Luck Illustration
Illustration: Tim Laing

Before he could drink legally in the United States, Curtis Luck qualified for the Masters in two different ways. The native of Perth, Australia, became the top amateur in the world in 2016, when he stacked wins at the U.S. Amateur and Asia-Pacific Amateur, both of which come with invitations to Augusta National the following year (where he made the cut). Luck, an admitted coffee snob, isn’t comfortable with being called an old soul, but his uncommon maturity, laid-back style and killer game make him one to watch.

Describe Perth for someone who’s never been there.

Everywhere in Australia is relaxed. In Perth, I think you could double the relaxation. People just move and talk a little bit slower. It’s not a big city, but it’s a lovely place with great beaches and a massive beach culture. We’ve also got some sharks that don’t mind to nip.

Tell me about growing up there. Did you play public or private golf?

I come from a pretty sporty family. From a young age, I was playing a ton of sports. I didn’t start playing golf until I was 10, but I always had this weird interest in it; I had a plastic club with the balls with the little holes in them. I’d smack them around the backyard. One day my cousins were going to a clinic at the nearest private course and I decided to jump in with them and give it a crack. I remember that first day I just fell in love.

Is golf in Australia more accessible to juniors than in the U.S.?

It is. It’s a ton more affordable, for one thing. You’ve got expensive courses in Australia, but not on the level of your elite clubs in the U.S. They also really, really get behind the juniors. My club, Cottesloe Golf Club, gives three scholarships per year to younger players. That allows us to hit free balls; in Australia, that’s not usual.

There’s also this real sense of family. I legitimately consider many people at my home club as part of my family because there’s just so much support there. To this day, one of the members of my home club sits up at night and watches my rounds. He types up reports in the middle of the night when it’s on in Australia. Every member reads it on the website and stays up to date. They pretty much know every shot I’ve fired for the year, which is crazy when you think about it.

You got to play pro events in Australia at 14 years old. What do you remember about that?

Yeah, one thing the golf associations do really well in Australia is give amateurs good exposure in pro events. I’ve played with a ton of kids in the States; half the time their first pro event is as a pro.…I just remember standing on the first tee and I was shaking because that sense of playing a pro event was unbelievable.…I think I shot 79 in my first round out of pure jitteriness. I played better on the second day. After that, I loved the feeling of being out there.

Curtis Luck
Curtis Luck had a starkly different golf upbringing to most U.S. players: He didn’t start playing until he was 10, but was able to play in Australian pro events at age 14. Photo: Ross Kinnaird /getty images

What did winning the U.S. Amateur mean to you in terms of playing opportunities?

A ton. The week of the U.S. Am, in August 2016, I was No. 7 in the world on the amateur rankings. I’d entered to go to Japan Tour Q-School and European Tour Q-School. In my mind, I was at a point where I was pretty close to giving those a good crack. Then the U.S. Am comes along. All of a sudden I’m calling the European and Japanese tours to try and pull out of the Q-schools to get refunds, which I didn’t. [Laughs.]

Take us through the amateur experience of playing in the Masters.

I reckon I had a different experience at the Masters compared to most.…I was at the venue Wednesday the week before. I played Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then you drive in Monday and it’s not even the same place. It’s like a circus; it’s nuts. All of a sudden you go from being able to see every corner of the golf course from the clubhouse to the first tee to not being able to see barely any grass, just because there’s so many people out there. It’s incredible to see that transformation, how busy and big that event really is. It’s astonishing because not many get to see the course without people.

What’s it like in the Crow’s Nest [the legendary rooms above the Augusta National clubhouse where amateurs are invited to stay during the tournament]?

You go up a tiny spiral staircase, and then there’s this secret door that you wouldn’t really recognize. You hit this staircase, which is probably the steepest thing you’ve ever seen. You’ve got to be a seasoned mountain climber to get up it. You walk into this room and a photo of Bobby Jones is the first thing you see, which is pretty cool. If I remember correctly, there are four rooms, but they’re not separate rooms. They’re more like partitions that give you a little bit of privacy, but not a whole heap. And then there’s one bathroom. It is a very small space.

I loved the Crow’s Nest, but I only stayed there one night because I was very conscious of trying to play my best golf. If you’re in the Crow’s Nest and someone’s getting up in the morning, you’re waking up on their alarm because you hear everything. We won’t mention what other things you might hear.

What surprised you most about being out on the PGA Tour this past year?

Golf’s a sport where there’s so many ways to skin a cat. You play with guys some weeks and you go, “How are these guys out here?” Then you go in and sign their scorecard at the end of the day, and it adds up to 68, and you’re like, “Shit, these guys are seriously good.”

What’s been the biggest adjustment since moving to the States?

Obviously, there’s a lot of non-golf things, like living away from home. I’m fortunate enough in having a great roomie in Ryan Ruffels, who’s another good Aussie [player]. I don’t think people understand the non-golf stuff as much. I came over here at 20. It’s difficult to leave home and step away from that comfortable lifestyle. The American kids that play over here probably don’t have that same sense of moving out. I only got to see my parents a couple of times, and that has a big impact on the way you feel week to week.

And from a golf standpoint?

One of the things I’d never even thought of was the way my clubs fit when I first arrived. They were fit for windy conditions—low-spinning clubs. Over here, you don’t play in that much wind. The courses are long, so you want clubs that spin a lot and come in soft. I went through sets and sets of irons early in the season to try and get something in my hands that I felt was actually helping me out there. I finally found something, but it wasn’t until May and I had already played a few events.

You’re a self-described coffee snob. How’s the coffee on Tour?

[Laughs.] The coffee culture is definitely something I miss from home. In Australia, don’t ask me why, we’re just big coffee snobs. It’s a really different style of coffee here in the U.S.; I think it’s less of an art form. There’s a real sense of creativity and art that goes into making a great cup of coffee in Australia. Every week, I’ve tried to find somewhere, but it’s definitely a challenge. I’ve found really good spots around Colonial [Fort Worth, Texas]. I found a great spot in Columbus [Ohio].

Sometimes feels strange that you’re only 21. Do you feel like an old soul? Where does that come from?

[Laughs.] I don’t know. It’s funny that you said “old soul” because that’s what my caddie last year always said, which I’m not sure is a good thing.

I think it is.

It’s good for what I’m trying to do. From a young age, probably 13, I was playing with senior members at the club, like 70-, 80-year-olds. I think you grow up really quick in that style of golf. You kind of mature because you see the world from a different set of eyes. That’s probably where it stems from.…I think the game requires a lot of maturity. If you don’t have that maturity, it kind of bites you in the bum.

Give us an example.

So many times. [Laughs.] When I was young, I had a bit of a temper. I’m not one to shy away from having bent a club, or broken a club. I remember feeling like a complete idiot at an event when I was about 14. I missed a short par putt and I hit a tree with my putter. I hit a putt on the next hole and realized that the shaft was out of place and it was an instant DQ. Stuff like that. As a 14-year-old, I probably had the mental capacity of a squirrel.

Those days are long gone, of course. You’ll have no more temper issues for the rest of your career.

[Laughs.] I’m not sure about that…