Lucas Herbert. Jed Jacobsohn
It was Lucas Herbert’s first competitive start in two months and an impressive one at that, making 144 feet of putts en route to an opening 63 at the Fortinet Championship. But after his round Herbert’s score became secondary when the Aussie described what spurred the mini-sabbatical.
Herbert, speaking to the media at Silverado Resort in Napa, California, explained his absence from the tour — he had not played since the Open Championship in mid-July — was not injury related. Instead, Herbert had to walk away from the sport, fed up with his game and what the game had made him become.
“From the outside it doesn’t look like the greatest decision to make,” Herbert said, “but I really needed the reset.”
Herbert, 27, has four professional wins around the world, including the 2020 Dubai Desert Classic and earlier this year at the DP World Tour’s ISPS Handa Championship. He’s reached as high as No. 40 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But following the ISPS Handa victory Herbert went into a slump, missing the cut in four of his next six starts. Entering the Scottish Open, Herbert told himself if he wasn’t inside the top 100 of the FedEx Cup standings after the Scottish and Open Championship, it was time to take a break.
Herbert finished T-60 at the Scottish, and a Friday 76 at Royal Liverpool ended his Open weekend early. He left England 146th in the standings and in desperate need of a respite.
“Golf’s been getting me down pretty hard this year. It was just a tough stretch there where I had a lot going on both in my life and on the golf course as well,” Herbert said. “Yeah, it sucked, I’d love to be here or up on the FedEx Cup standings as we speak, but hopefully taking that good break, refreshing, have a little reset gives me a better chance to play well in the fall season and get some better results and get into the bigger events again next year.”
Herbert later added: “I’ve had to deal with a lot off the golf course and it felt like I was kind of idling at 80 per cent when I did get on the course.” Herbert did not specify the nature of the off-the-course matters, only saying, “Just didn’t have any space for things to go wrong, I didn’t have any space to deal with that.”
Herbert said he used the downtime to meet his girlfriend’s family in Maine, and messed around with a guitar that he admittedly is “not really good” at. He had bought a house earlier this year that he never had the time to get organised. But for most of that stretch Herbert didn’t touch a club, only beginning to practise after the Tour Championship had ended.
The issue, Herbert explained, had to deal with expectations. Both externally and internally that only compounded when things weren’t going right inside the ropes. The weight became so intense that Herbert said it was changing him and for the worse.
“I think I’d become probably a bitter and spiteful person,” Herbert said. “Not over the top, but I didn’t like the version of myself I look back on and see at the Open Championship. I think I was wound up pretty tight and kind of lashed out at people around me too quickly, too easy.”
Herbert has a bit of latitude, his tour card secured for next season thanks to his win in the autumn of 2021 at the Bermuda Championship. Besides, even though he entered Napa with low expectations, he’s confident enough in his game that it will return. That’s why his attention this fall is elsewhere.
“I was speaking to one of the rules officials earlier in the week, I felt like if I could just come out here and be like a better person, the golf game’s kind of the next thing, but like just being a better person I think to the people around me, my relationships, you know, family, friends, that only benefits,” Herbert said. “And yeah, that was sort of maybe all I cared about coming here this week. And it’s really nice to shoot 63, but I’m going to do my best to go out there with the same attitude tomorrow and that is the main focus of the week.”