PGA Tour Fall on display at Fortinet Championship with Lucas Herbert’s magnificent start

The Fortinet Championship in Napa, California, kicked off the PGA Tour Fall on Thursday. This seven-event series provides more opportunities for players not in the Top 50 of the FedEx Cup standings.

Following this stretch, the top 125 players in the standings become eligible for full-field tour events in 2024. That is important for players on the periphery, such as Lucas Herbert of Australia, who ranks 152nd in the FedEx Cup standings.

“Golf’s been getting me down pretty hard this year,” Herbert admitted Thursday. “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.”

That ‘tough stretch’ was nowhere to be found Thursday, as Herbert carded a 9-under 63 to vault up to the top of the leaderboard.

He leads by two strokes over S.H. Kim.

Lucas Herbert, PGA Tour, Fortinet Championship

Lucas Herbert fist bumps his caddy during the first round of the 2023 Fortinet Championship.
Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

“I found a little groove there,” Herbert explained. “It felt like anything I did poorly seemed to work out nicely for me, and the good shots got rewarded. Yeah, I didn’t feel like I played badly; I felt like I played okay and just got a lot of good breaks and capitalized on chances.”

The Bendigo, Australia native drained 144 feet of putts and gained close to five strokes on the greens, easily leading the field. He rolled the ball beautifully.

Should the putter stay hot, Herbert will launch up the FedEx Cup standings and into the Top 125.

That would be a remarkable accomplishment, considering he has not played since The Open Championship.

He needed to reset, as his eight-week hiatus paid dividends.

“I didn’t want to think about golf or talk about golf for about a good month there; I just needed to get away from the game and refresh everything,” Herbert said.

“Yeah, it sucked, I’d love to be here or up on the FedExCup 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 must finish the PGA Tour Fall ranked 51st and 60th in the FedEx Cup standings to get into those bigger events.

Dubbed ‘The Next 10,’ the 10 highest-ranked players from the fall season qualify for The Sentry in Maui and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the first two Signature Events of the 2024 season.

PGA Tour, Fortinet Championship

The 17th green at Silverado Resort, host of the Fortinet Championship.
Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

But Herbert knows all about playing in big fields. He has played in each of the four majors, won in Bermuda in 2021, and won in Japan on the DP World Tour last April. He even tied for 13th at the 2022 PGA Championship, won by Justin Thomas.

So Herbert knows all about the pressure that ramps up when the stakes get higher.

“When you’re in the biggest events against the best players, I think it is either just external pressure, or there are just expectations internally that you’re just going to keep going up, keep getting better, and keep producing the same results against better fields,” Herbert explained.

“It doesn’t take much for you to be off out here. When you don’t get a few of those results, it just compounds, and it compounds, and you put more pressure on yourself, and it gets worse, and very quickly you can go down a slippery slope.”

Hence why Herbert needed time away from the game. He reached a ‘breaking point’ and needed time off from the chaos that is professional golf.

Despite that, Herbert came out on fire at the Fortinet Championship and now has a chance to lock up a solid position for 2024.

That’s the beauty of the PGA Tour Fall. It gives opportunity to those players on the outside, those who have struggled, and those who deserve a second chance.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko for more golf coverage. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough too.

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