For budding golf architect and U.S. Mid-Amateur champ Lukas Michel, this Masters trip didn’t go by design
Any amateur who scores an invitation to the Masters Tournament has likely put together a strong list of starts to go along with the dream week at Augusta National. Lukas Michel, the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, was no different.
“I had a great year planned,” Michel said in October.
Of course, it looks nothing now like it originally did, but in some ways, Michel’s 2020 became more adventurous the more plans changed. The Australia native has spent much of the fall camped outside Detroit, where he is doing something like an internship with Mike DeVries, the architect restoring Bloomfield Hills.
Michel, 26, is staying with DeVries and working on his game, too. After abruptly returning home this spring when the Masters was postponed, Michel didn’t come back again until the U.S. Amateur in August. It didn’t make sense to make that trip home and back again before November.
Michel finds himself in the same boat as five other men when it comes to waiting out a delayed Masters dream. The five other amateurs competing at Augusta are Andy Ogletree, 2019 U.S. Amateur champion; John Augenstein, 2019 U.S. Amateur runner-up; Abel Gallegos, 2020 Latin America Amateur champion; Yuxin Lin, 2019 Asia-Pacific Amateur champion and James Sugrue, 2019 British Amateur champion.
Michel has something that sets him apart from that group: a keen eye for golf course design. Hence, his work with DeVries.
As a kid growing up in Perth, Michel’s family belonged to Lake Karrinyup Country Club. When a company came in to redevelop, redesign and restore Lake Karrinyup, a teenage Michel paid close attention.
Mike Clayton, an Australian pro golfer turned architect, was responsible for that redesign. Years later, Michel moved to Melbourne as an 18-year-old, took up a membership at Metropolitan Golf Club and met Clayton there. Michel also began working for Clayton as a design associate – and playing golf with him.
“Two hours on the golf course with Mike Clayton, you learn a lot,” said Michel, who has a degree in mechanical engineering.
When he travels to tournaments in the U.S., Michel tries to get a good feel for the local courses. When he flew to Pittsburgh for the 2019 Sunnehanna Amateur, Michel played Oakmont and Fox Chapel. He played Pinehurst Nos. 2 and 4 for the North & South Amateur, plus Tobacco Road and Dormie Club. When he went to New York for a U.S. Amateur qualifier in 2019, Michel also made a stop at Quaker Ridge. He played Pine Valley and Merion this fall.
Michel’s interest in architecture is one reason he refused to skip this summer’s U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, even though such a long fall stay required a new visa.
“It was good for me to see for my own education,” he said of Bandon.
Working with Clayton, Michel has learned how to plan drawings and make proposals. At Bloomfield Hills, he is seeing the dirt move. It has been different, but invaluable. A career in course architecture is on the table, but a career as a player still is, too.
Michel had never seen Augusta in person, so the objective for his first visit, post U.S. Mid-Am win, was simply to scout the layout. He spent three days in December 2019 studying the place and realized that many of the short-game shots may be similar to what he has practiced back home in the Melbourne sand belt.
He hoped for three months to shape his game around that course knowledge, but instead he got nearly 12.
“A lot of people were telling me, you need to do this, you need to do that, but until I saw it with my own eyes, it wasn’t really clear what I needed to work on in my game,” Michel said.
Michel said his eye for architecture doesn’t equate to an advantage as a player. Will Davenport -- a friend and fellow mid-amateur who caddied for Michel at the U.S. Mid-Amateur and plans to be on the bag at Augusta National -- noted that in at least one way, it does.
“We spent more time at Colorado Golf Club talking about what we liked and didn’t like the most,” he said. “We spent more time talking about that than we did about the matches.”
The day of the U.S. Mid-Amateur final against Joe Deraney, Michel had Davenport on his mind, too. Michel had started that week without a caddie, but Davenport picked up the bag for him once he was eliminated by Stewart Hagestad in the first round.
Before the final match, Michel told Davenport he’d be on the bag at Augusta if Michel could bag the Mid-Am title.
“I think that fired both of us up,” Michel said. “… I was kind of holding his hopes a little bit with mine so it made me work a bit harder and play a bit better in the final.”
Both men entered the Azalea Amateur two weeks before the Masters, and from there, Michel was headed to Pinehurst for final prep work.
If there’s one disappointing thing that resulted from 2020, it’s that COVID restrictions severely limit the people involved in Michel’s dream year. Roughly 20 members from his home club in Melbourne planned to fly in, but now that won’t happen. He also planned to have a group of friends tag along at Winged Foot for the U.S. Open, then meet up in New York City after the tournament. That got nixed too.
“It’s still been a cool year,” he said. “I’ve played more great golf courses this year than I ever have.”
The icing on that cake, at least, is still to come.