The kind of week dreams are made of just got even better for the only amateur in the field at the 2018 Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways, after Melbourne’s Dave Micheluzzi was grouped with headline act Ernie Els for the first two rounds.
Two days after celebrating his 22nd birthday, Micheluzzi gladly put his summer swing in the US on hold in order to play his first professional event outside of Australia.
On Tuesday morning at Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course the text came through that Micheluzzi was off the 10th tee at 7:35am in the first round, but it wasn’t until later that he was told by the Tour who he’d have for company.
“I’m shocked, did not expect that at all!” Micheluzzi told the PGA of Australia.
“I never thought I’d get to play alongside Ernie. I’m just speechless at the moment.
“I don’t know what to say.”
Four-time major champion Els and World No. 12 in the amateur rankings Micheluzzi will be joined by another of Australia’s brightest young stars, with fellow Victorian Lucas Herbert hitting Fiji on the back of a strong European campaign.
Herbert was lucky enough to play a practice round with Tiger Woods leading up to The Open at Carnoustie just a fortnight ago.
Now he and Micheluzzi – who scored an invite this week for winning January’s Master of the Amateurs – will get the chance to play with one of Woods’ fiercest adversaries of the 90’s and 2000s.
“It’ll be an absolutely honour playing with Ernie, and Lucas as well, he’s had an unreal year. I just can’t wait to play,” said Micheluzzi.
“There was something in the back of my mind hoping that it might happen, but I really did not expect that.
“I really can’t thank the PGA of Australia and everyone here enough for giving me the chance to play with a Major Champion and Lucas also. I can’t thank them enough.”
One of the game’s truly global players, Els touched down in Fiji with his family on Monday in order to tee it up at close friend Vijay Singh’s layout for the first time.
The South African headed straight to Natadola Bay to scout the course and said he hopes to spend some time with tournament host Singh during the week.
“Its a beautiful golf course, the landscape is unbelievable,” Els told the media on Tuesday.
“I’ve always wanted to come and play golf here in Fiji and hopefully we can play together at some point this week. But it’s great to be here and great to see some Australians… and the Asian players and some European players. It’s a great event.”
As for teeing it up with Micheluzzi and Herbert, the 48-year-old was excited about the opportunity to provide a week to remember for some of the game’s future stars – an opportunity he was afforded as a youngster in South Africa.
“I was very fortunate to play with Gary Player and the likes of that – I wouldn’t put myself in Gary’s shoes, but a youngster like that to play with an old guy like me, I’m sure hopefully he’s excited about it,” said Els.
“I am excited to play with the youngsters and see how their games are going. I think it’s great for a youngster like him – a bright future hopefully for him and I hopefully will have a good couple of days to see how his game is and we’ll have a good chat, see where his mind is about turning pro.”
With 83 professional wins to his name worldwide Els has made a habit of taking his game to all corners of the globe.
A global schedule may now prove more valuable than ever for Els, with this week’s trip to Fiji giving next year’s Presidents Cup captain a great opportunity to observe some potential International Team members of the future.
“I’m fortunate that I’m an honorary member of the Asian Tour and I play some events on the Asian Tour so I can keep my eye on some of the youngsters coming through, some young Australians coming through,” said Els.
“You know, if they get hot, they can get onto the team. There’s so many young guys that it’s really hard now.
“From Joaquin Niemann, he’s only 17, turned pro and he’s already had four or five top‑10s on the US Tour so he’s making a huge push.
“Some Asian players, Australian players, so there’s a lot of young blood coming through. I’ve got to keep my eye on it and playing in events like this I can see how their games are progressing.”
While Micheluzzi might not be targeting a spot on Els’ International Team just yet, the ‘King of Cranbourne’ will not be short of questions for Els come Thursday morning this week.
“Obviously he’s a multiple major champion and I want to learn about what he did to win those events. I’ll just try to gather as much information as I can,” Micheluzzi said.
“But also, try to play as well as I can at the same time. I just want to give it my best and see what the result ends up being. I’m just really looking forward to it.”