Lukas Michel lived every amateur golfer’s dream in November – if that dream means flying halfway around the world on Masters Sunday after missing the cut in Augusta and then quarantining alone in a Sydney Novotel overlooking Darling Harbour for two weeks.
As you might expect from someone with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Michel was constructive with his time in isolation, recording podcasts, calling friends and writing down all the details of his four-month golf odyssey in America.
“I don’t want to forget anything,” he said from Australia on day four of his quarantine. “It’s been good to chat to people about the experience and write a little about it to let it sink in a bit more and cement it in my mind.”
It would be hard to forget Michel’s last day in Augusta. He was going to miss the cut, so he woke up Saturday morning to complete the last three holes of his second round (Nos. 7, 8 and 9) with Larry Mize and Andrew Landry. Then he spent the rest of the day enjoying “my own private Masters,” grabbing free concessions and watching the tournament from exclusive close-up vantage points on the patron-less course (his favorite spot was behind the wall of the Sarazen Bridge watching shots into 15 green and off 16 tee). Since none of the other amateurs were staying in the Crows Nest that night, he capped his week the same way he started it by sleeping atop the Augusta National clubhouse.
“Played three holes, watched it all day and stayed the night – yeah, that’s pretty a cool experience,” he said.
Michel is more adept than most at collecting “experiences.” At age 26, he’s fulfilled more “bucket-list” golf experiences than most people could dream of in their lifetimes. While the pandemic postponements deprived him of getting to share his major experiences at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and the Masters with family and friends, he made the most of it in other ways.
In the past four months since his U.S. tour started with the U.S. Amateur in August, he played 20 of the top 100 courses in America including the full lineup at Bandon Dunes, San Francisco, Crystal Downs, Pine Valley, Merion, Aronimink, Pinehurst and Essex to name just a small part of his itinerary. Last year when he won the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Colorado Golf Club, he made side trips to check out Ballyneal and Sand Hills.
“Everyone who follows me on Instagram was so jealous of everywhere I went,” Michel said. “It was a serious collection of golf courses.”
“He’s the youngest guy now on the world top-100 panel and he’s seen way more of the best courses in America than I have just because he’s gone out of his way to make the effort to see them,” said Mike Clayton, the former European Tour pro and now golf course architect in Melbourne, Australia.
Michel is not just another golf tourist, however. Golf course architecture is something that has fascinated him since he first started playing the game in Perth, Western Australia. The best part of his summer trip was spending the better part of two months living with and doing an “internship of sorts” with architect Mike DeVries in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
“There were definitely parts of the trip that were improved,” he said. “The timing to go to stay for four months and get the opportunity to spend two months with Mike DeVries … living with and learning off a guy like that was completely invaluable. Way more valuable than any other experience I could have had.”
The architecture bug bit Michel when he was 12 and Clayton came to Perth to renovate his home course, Lake Karrinyup – a Western Australia gem originally designed by Alex Russell, who built Royal Melbourne for Alister MacKenzie and designed RM’s East Course and Yarra Yarra.
“I’ve always had a pretty inquiring mind,” Michel said. “Clayts was redoing it and restoring it to Russell’s principles. I was sort of watching it unfold and was really interested. I remember going on course walks while they were doing the work and Clayts was guiding them.”
When he was 18, Michel moved to Melbourne to go to university to study engineering, and he started playing the famous sandbelt courses. Lake Karrinyup has a reciprocal agreement with Metropolitan Golf Club, so he joined there and heard a familiar voice in the clubhouse – Mike Clayton. He introduced himself and “we started playing together all the time,” constantly picking Clayton’s brain about course design.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) November 12, 2020
“He’s got a good brain for it in terms of figures and construction and project management,” said Clayton, who uses Michel as a design associate on projects. “Most players like what suits them and hate what doesn’t suit them. It can be a frustrating business if you start to get interested in architecture because all you do is critique the golf courses you play rather than just playing them.”
Michel’s design appreciation grew more when he spent six months as an exchange student at the University of St. Andrews. For £200 he bought a links ticket that allowed unlimited golf on any of the Links Trust courses. He played the Old Course 20 times and traveled around to play places like Royal Dornoch, North Berwick, Muirfield, Prestwick and Troon as well as links over in Ireland.
“I was constantly immersing myself in great golf course architecture,” he said.
That immersion also benefited Michel’s game. On the day he graduated from the University of Melbourne, he won the Port Phillip Open stroke-play portion of the Victoria Amateur. That propelled him to attempt qualifying for the Australian Tour at the end of 2018, where he missed getting his card at the second stage. His effort was enough to inspire him to travel to the United States in 2019 to see what he could do as a serious amateur.
“My game was average in the U.S. but I decided to turn pro anyway and give it a shot straight after the Mid-Am – sort of a last hurrah to amateur golf,” he said. “I was never really expecting to win it.”
“If (Q-School) goes well, then I’ll probably turn pro and do that. If it doesn’t go well, then hopefully I’ve given it a good enough shot and I’ll know that I wasn’t good enough to make it and I can do more on the golf course architecture side.” – Lukas Michel
The problem was, Michel kept winning his matches at Colorado Golf Club. Next thing you know he was 3 up through seven holes in the semifinals against heavy favorite Stewart Hagestad, the 2016 champ.
“I thought, ‘Holy (bleep), I could actually win this thing.’ ” he said. “That completely changed the direction of my golfing career after that.”
Now 14 months later, Michel still hopes to give the professional ranks a try by going to qualifying schools later in 2021 for tours in Japan, Asia and Europe after an Australian summer full of amateur events. He’s realistic about his chances as a 26-year-old entering the pro ranks long after most of his peers – he grew up playing with Oliver Goss (2013 U.S. Amateur runner-up) and went to high school with Curtis Luck (2016 U.S. Amateur champ) – made the leap.
“While all his contemporaries were out playing golf every day, he was at university studying, so he’s kind of six years behind them in terms of where his golf is,” Clayton said.
Michel doesn’t argue that, which is why he’ll attempt to make it onto tours closer to home. “I’m not the standout superstar amateur, so I’d rather build my way into a career,” he said. “That’ll be more sensible rather than burning through all my money trying to get to America. If (Q-School) goes well, then I’ll probably turn pro and do that. If it doesn’t go well, then hopefully I’ve given it a good enough shot and I’ll know that I wasn’t good enough to make it and I can do more on the golf course architecture side.”
This summer he’ll continue working a couple of nights a week on a driving range in Melbourne while trying to improve parts of his game that his experience at the U.S. Open and Masters exposed – most notably driving the ball straighter and more consistently. He’ll also continue to work on any design projects that Clayton and DeVries might have Down Under.
“The good thing is he’s obviously got a lot of options if pro golf doesn’t work out,” Clayton said. “He can come work in the design business, which is about as precarious as pro golf. He’s likeable, articulate and smart – there’s a lot of stuff he can do. He’s got lots of strings to his bow, so he can do whatever he wants, really.”
Top: Lukas Michel plays off the second tee during the first round of the Masters. Photo: Rob Carr, Getty Images
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