It’s the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic and Lucas Herbert is tied for the lead. He’s playing in the final group with Bryson DeChambeau and Ernie Els is in the group in front.
by Scott Warren
Fourteen months earlier, he was ranked 708th in the world. Now, a win in Dubai would catapult him from 83rd to 40th. Into the Masters and all the WGCs. As life-changing as racing from 708th to 83rd in just over a year must be, getting into the top 50 opens all the gates.
But this is not about what came before for Lucas Herbert, this is about what happened next.
At the par five third hole he finds himself about 20 metres from the green in a sandy waste area with the kind of lie you expect but pray you’ve avoided as you walk after your ball into that kind of terrain.
For reasons best known to Lucas – and we’ll get to those later – he does this:
If I ever witnessed a playing partner do this, a 2 shot penalty would be the least of his worries! pic.twitter.com/Ltv7HP9jjc
— GaryEvans (@garyevanspro) January 29, 2019
As sections of the Twittersphere responded with a disbelief that varied between politely asking Lucas for an explanation and angrily calling him a cheat, he maintained his silence and pushed on to a 7th-place finish.
Providing the initial defence of Lucas, however, was Golf Australia’s media manager, Mark Hayes. Two of his responses to angry golf fans give an example of the defence he presented:
Didn’t say he was. I’m sure he’s not. Cameras can foreshorten a lot of things on TV coverage. He could just as easily have been scraping 20cm behind the ball for all we know. That’s all I’m saying. Wait until we know the story before he’s hung, drawn and quartered.
— Mark Hayes (@Hayesy24) January 28, 2019
I’m certain he’ll answer a question. He’s that sort of bloke. We can all make up our minds after he has. But let’s give him a chance that he hasn’t had yet.
— Mark Hayes (@Hayesy24) January 28, 2019
Come Tuesday morning, we still haven’t heard from Lucas, despite Mark Hayes’ determined defence across the weekend (and he’s not wrong) that people should wait until hearing Lucas’s side before making their mind up.
Given the floor on Inside The Ropes to explain himself, Lucas had his say:
.@lhgolf5 has waited until today to explain what happened in Dubai with THAT two-shot penalty.
— Inside The Ropes (@InsideThe_Ropes) January 29, 2019
The reality of it was the camera angle made it look quite horrible. I’d moved sand from probably eight to 10 inches not only behind the ball but inside the plane of where the swing was going to be.
“So the hole was almost like on a 45-degree left of where it looks like straight down the line from the camera if that makes sense. So it’s actually going off quite a bit left of screen, as well as, I’m hitting a bunker shot, so you’re going to get quite steep and quite left sort of swinging on it so your divot, where I dragged the sand from was not actually in the divot or wasn’t really that close to where I was making a swing at it. (This section is not in the video above, but the whole podcast can be found here).
“I got asked, you know, why were you moving that and originally I thought I might have clipped it. But then the more I thought about it I went, I was never going to clip it given the shot I was going to hit and where it was. It was actually more of a visual thing.
“I was ready to hit the shot and like, I can’t sort of, I can’t cry wolf – that’s not the right saying, I couldn’t blame everyone else. I should have got down there and moved what was there with my fingers and carefully picked it up. Or with a tee or something, especially given the fact there were three cameras sitting behind me. And I would do that, well I should do that, no matter who’s watching, but especially given that there’s three cameras there.
“I should have got down and done it properly and picked it up. It was a bad, a brain fade I guess. Was just ready to hit the shot, moved it because it was in my vision. In my heart of hearts, it didn’t affect the actual golf shot. I went back and looked at the lie and even sort of recreated a similar lie later on and it was still a horrible lie, I would have loved to hit a different shot if the lie was sitting better. It was still a horrible lie and it was a long way from the ball.
“But the issue is the grey area of the rules. It was too close to the swing and it was the point of we needed to take the penalty because it was sort of the right thing to do really in the end and I didn’t want to be labelled as someone who doesn’t play the game fairly.”
At this point, he refers to the incident involving the Australian cricket team in South Africa early last year, which for those unfamiliar, involved them cheating in a really dumb and not very beneficial way and then lying about it when they were caught.
The episode shone a light on how Aussies feel about their sporting heroes cheating, because while rival countries’ players have copped a one-match ban for the same behaviour, Cricket Australia gave our guys between nine months and a year and most of the country agreed it was appropriate.
You can be a loudmouth like Lucas has been at times, like Layton Hewitt had the tendency to be, and if you back it up, we’ll cop you. You can play your game overly aggressively in the style of Aussie cricket teams of the past 20 years and if you win, we’ll turn a blind eye. You can even go missing on us Jason Day-style and we won’t begrudge you your success. But you don’t cheat, you just don’t. We like to think we’re better than that.
In Lucas’s own words:
Ive never understood how as a sportsman, our actions could disgrace an entire nation the way I now do as a result of the last 24 hours. As an Aussie, my instinct says to stand behind them, but I just cant find a reason why I should… I hate cheats more than laying up on par 5s
— Lucas Herbert (@lhgolf5) March 25, 2018
But let’s get back to Dubai and summarise Lucas’s explanation of events:
• The loose impediments were “eight to 10 inches from the ball” and not going to affect the shot
• He should have used his fingers “or a tee or something” to delicately move the material
• It was still a horrible lie after he had done some gardening with his wedge.
I’ve extracted three frames from the video of the incident that I think are relevant to the above.
Here’s the club entering the ground for the first of two scrapes. While Hayes was right in his tweet that TV cameras on full zoom can foreshorten the distance between two objects – the club and ball in this case – what they don’t do is affect the size relationship between the two objects. If the ball were almost a foot further from the camera than the club, it would still appear smaller than it should.
I had to chuckle at Lucas’s suggestion that he should have moved the material in this case “with a tee or something”. Here’s the club halfway through its first clumsy drag through the sand. Move that much debris with a tee? You’d sooner eat a cheeseburger with chopsticks.
Here’s the lie before and after it was altered. The shot to be played is a 20-metre bunker shot. Who’d prefer the one on the left? Nobody.
Lucas Herbert’s rise and rise through 2018 was genuinely a great story and he’s obviously a golfer of immense talent. But his explanation of what happened around his ball on the third hole in Dubai on Saturday simply doesn’t tally with what we can see with our eyes on the footage. Not even close.
Lucas might easily dismiss the punters on Twitter, but as the European Tour enters a fortnight in Victoria and Perth that should have been a triumphant homecoming for him, instead he will be entering locker rooms full of colleagues who can’t be sure of his integrity, playing in front of galleries who’ll certainly remind him about Dubai after their fourth beer and with TV producers telling their cameramen, “keep an eye on Herbert, he’s got form”.
And just like the Aussie three in Cape Town, his story doesn’t stack up, he’s only got himself to blame and he will carry this tag with him for a very long time.