Lukas Michel - Golfer opens up on finding his drive

Will and Lukas

Lukas Michel - Golfer opens up on finding his drive

As the first Australian to win the US Mid-Amateur Championships in the competition’s 38-year history, Lukas Michel has grit, determination and a focus far exceeding his age. Golf has taught Lukas about growth under pressure and why striving for continuous self-improvement is far more important than always winning.

Taking every opportunity to combine his academic pursuits at the University of Melbourne with his love of golf, Lukas went on exchange to the birthplace of golf during the last year of his science degree, and gleaned insights from his postgraduate studies in mechanical engineering to help improve his golf swing.

We caught up with Lukas to talk about how his time at the University of Melbourne influenced his success, how it pulled him out of his shell, and how his father's experience of escaping Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) has shaped Lukas' view of the value of education.

Hi Lukas. You've been playing golf since the age of 8. Why golf?
I was introduced to golf by a neighbour when I was a kid and at eight I used my birthday money to buy my first set of clubs. Dad saw I was pretty good and signed me up for some junior clinics and I’ve been playing ever since.

There are lots of ways in which the game of golf matches up with my personality and circumstances.  I'm an only child, and golf is an individual sport. You can play it with people of any age, and you don't necessarily need anyone else to play with. Whatever you do in life, there are so many variables that are out of your control. However, in golf you can really only rely on yourself. You can get some bad bounces and bad breaks. But ultimately, it's up to you whether you play well or not.

Michel Family
Lukas Michel's family

How has your education shaped your life?
For me, higher education was the process of learning about myself as much as anything, not necessarily the topics you're able to memorise and regurgitate. No one in my immediate family went to university. My mum had to leave school at 15, and while my dad did finish high school in Czechoslovakia, he was conscripted straight into the (Soviet-controlled) military. He escaped the country at 21 and re-settled in Australia, so he never had the opportunity to take his studies further. He put himself on the line to get out of Czechoslovakia and make something of himself. His story has always been part of my story, and I've always tried to live up to it. Both of my parents have sacrificed a lot in giving me the opportunities they never had. I was fortunate, so I felt like I owed them.

Did you face any particularly challenging times at university, and how did you overcome them?
My first year was a challenge. I had just moved from Perth. I didn't know anyone. I was still playing competitive golf and I was studying part-time. I think the changing environment affected my game. I didn't play anywhere near as well as I was hoping to play with that extra time, and academically, I didn't do as well as I knew I could. Both parts of my life that I'd pegged my self-confidence and self-worth against were deteriorating. I began asking myself, "Who am I? What am I worth?" and I didn't have the answers. In my second year at the University of Melbourne, I picked up full-time study. I had less time, but I felt more comfortable. I was more driven, more focused and I started getting better grades… and that transferred to my golf.

What was the highlight of your time at university?
Definitely when I went on exchange to the University of St Andrews in Scotland. I was studying a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Melbourne, and they had an exchange partnership with St Andrews. St Andrews is where golf started. The British Open is played there every five years. It's the home of the Royal & Ancient and it has the oldest, continuously-played golf course in the world.

Joining that exchange program was a big leap to take. But I'd already taken a big leap in leaving Perth to study at the University of Melbourne. I grew a lot, and that gave me the confidence to then take another leap into the exchange. Doing that, I grew again and felt, “Wow, these things are great for me.”

Lukas Michel
Lukas Michel

How have your studies influenced your career?
Golf has so many rabbit holes you can disappear down, and one of those is technique – understanding force and acceleration on golf clubs, and how to best optimise your golf swing. Some of the mechanical engineering knowledge I studied has definitely helped me understand my golf swing better. It's certainly not for every golfer, but I think an engineer's mind seeks to understand how things work. When I understand what's going on with my swing, it just fills me with confidence, and I can play better. The mindset of time-management, of being able to map out a day, do different things, and compartmentalise all this cleanly has definitely helped in my golfing career too.

Did life at the University of Melbourne accelerate your personal growth?
Absolutely. It's not just about an education. It's about everything else that comes with it. We're all thrown into the same environment, and it forces you to learn a lot about different people, which I really enjoyed. I spent a lot of time on campus; engineering is a pretty hands-on degree, and you have a lot of contact hours. You have to work in teams a lot. You get to see how different personalities work, and you have to learn how to resolve conflict and get the best out of the situation. The exam period was some of the most stressful times in my life, but you learn how to deal with those and overcome them.

Lukas Michel
Lukas Michel

What did you learn about yourself at university?
The comfortable thing for me to have done after university would have been to try and get a great job at an engineering firm. But again, I wanted to take another leap and attempt something that felt greater to me. That's why I've pursued golf. It's been a riskier route to take, but I've learned that I really like a challenge and I get bored if I'm not challenging myself. I think university gives you those opportunities – and the confidence to take them.

What does success look like for you?
Obviously, I've enjoyed my achievements. I won the Mid-Am and I've played in an array of great golf tournaments, including an invitation to play at the Masters in Augusta. However, for me, success is wrapped up in challenging myself. I know I'll often fail in doing this, but I'll also grow. And it's this growth that I'm chasing, not the achievements.

What excites you about your future?
I have a lot of options, which is exciting. I don't know where I'll be in 10 years. I actually think that's the most exciting element. For some people, it would be anxiety provoking, but for me, it's "Oh, that's cool." There's no strict pathway I have to follow, so I'm going to keep working hard and challenging myself and see what happens.