A hot putter, trusting his caddie, shrugging off a travel delay and the right gyoza restaurant all roll into a brilliant 63 if you are ISPS HANDA ambassador Lucas Herbert.
All formulas are different to go low on the golf course and the young Australian was delighted with his at the ISPS HANDA Championship Japan. Rolling in nine birdie putts supercharged his seven-under-par round for the joint lead after a Friday of light breezes between the towering trees at the PGM Ishioka Golf Club.
Scotland’s Grant Forrest (68-62) and Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond (67-63) both sank birdie putts on their final holes to join him at 10-under. A leaderboard crowded with the flags of 15 different nations in the top 20 is testament to this first co-sanctioned event between the DP World Tour and the Japan Golf Tour Organisation.
For Herbert, being in perfect shape to contend for the trophy after his 67-63 start seemed a long way away when lightning and storms delayed his Orlando flight to start the week and he missed his international connection out of New York. He arrived too late into Tokyo to play in Wednesday’s pro-am so he was forced to take on the course sight unseen in Thursday’s opening round.
“It was a bit of a travel debacle getting here but it might have been a blessing in disguise. Out on the course, you can just commit to a shot a bit easier when you don’t know the bad places right or the water on the left. Just stand up, look at the target and hit it,” Herbert said.
Caddie Nick Pugh was at the course early in the week and his research and shot lines really paid off for the globetrotting Australian. “He did all the work for me. That speaks a lot to why we are 10-under through 36 holes,” Herbert said.
Herbert, 27, is at ease in Japan. He’d played amateur golf and pro events in the country even before his visit for the Zozo Championship last October. “I love being back in Japan. It’s great to be part of the ISPS HANDA group as well. There are a bunch of guys here with logos on chests, sleeves, hats. It’s good to be around them,” Herbert said.
“Dr Handa plays a great role in golf. He’s supporting the Australasian Tour where I come from and getting this first DP World Tour event in Japan is a real milestone.” Dr Handa’s vision of sport as a vehicle to bring together people from different backgrounds and create new opportunities resonates with Herbert.
He has always embraced golf as a world game and one that has enriched him through the variety of his experiences. “I like playing a world schedule. You can pick out a lot of events you really like going to. It might be that you like the golf course, the feel of the tournament and the food,” Herbert said. “I’ve found a gyoza restaurant that’s legit and I’ll be back there again during this tournament.
“It’s a good time in golf to be a good golfer. While I’m in my 20s at least, I want to be playing around the world.”
Herbert’s final hole of the second round was the 429yd par four ninth. In the trees off the tee, his goal of reaching 10-under after 36 holes looked remote. “My final birdie on that last hole basically sums up my character,” the laidback Herbert said with a laugh, “I drove it into the right trees, had a very small gap, missed that gap and the ball went through another I didn’t know existed. It was onto the green to 35 feet and I made the putt.”
Victory in Japan for the world No.59 would likely catapult him into the world Top 50 so he can chase his biggest goals for 2023.
“It’s no fun watching the majors on TV. I’ve reached a point, where I want to have my career defined by how I play in the majors,” Herbert said.
Excellent results at the PGA Championship (T13th) and The Open Championship (T15th) last year have given him the taste for more. Win this week and he’ll be that big step closer to the Top 50 and a guaranteed spot for The Open at Royal Liverpool in July.