Thursday, November 30, 2023

Lydia Ko’s 9th caddie

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It’s great to see teenage golfer Lydia Ko back to top form, even if critics question the wisdom of her decision to sack South African caddie Gary Matthews after just nine tournaments together.

But given her relative slump in form since July when she has failed to secure an LPGA win, her latest decision is more understandable than her termination of a hugely successful partnership with Australian Jason Hamilton with whom she won 10 of her 14 LPGA tournaments, including both majors.

Since then, Hamilton has had far more success carrying the bag for South Korean Ha Na Jang than Matthews enjoyed with our New Zealand sweetheart.

It is, of course, a classic case of the chicken and the egg when deciding whether it is the player or the caddie who is at fault in a game notorious for its fluctuations of form.
Indeed Ko had seven different caddies in her rookie year before settling on Hamilton in September, 2014.

“I know she copped a lot of flak for that but if she didn’t see what’s out there, then she’s not going to know what she wants,” Hamilton said in March, 2015, before she claimed her first Australian Open by two strokes.

“I do Aimpoint (the green-reading system) with my putting, but I also ask him for his opinion on reading,” she said at the time.

“He gets my yardages, helps me with club selection and he lines me up. So there isn’t a lot he doesn’t do.”

Asked if it seemed he was doing everything but actually striking the ball, Hamilton admitted: “That’s what it feels like sometimes. That was one reservation about picking up the job. If I’m so involved and she plays poorly I’m going to be the one who cops all the flak.”

Tellingly, when weighing up his time previously with Yani Tseng, Hamilton said:
“Relationships can go stale. I got to the point where I felt I wasn’t really able to help her anymore. I’d basically used up all my good lines.”

In his early days with Ko, Hamilton made an observation that no longer seems to apply. “She realises she doesn’t have to reconfigure her game to get to the next level.”

Since sacking him and her coach and changing clubs, the Kiwi perfectionist has succeeded in attaining more length with her drives. But she had lost the exquisite putting touch that made her the world’s best – a classic case of “drive for show and putt for dough”.

Commentators observed she had changed her putting grip and was hesitant before striking the ball.

Happily, that changed dramatically last weekend in the last two rounds of the Lotte Championship in Hawaii when she came back from the dead to score a 65 and 64 to record a 17-under second behind American Cristie Kerr.

In doing so, she fended off nearest challengers So Yeon Ryu (sixth) and Ariya Jutanugarn (seventh) for her No 1 world ranking, which is now in its 77th week.

Meanwhile it was Beauden Barrett’s brilliance and Sonny Bill Williams’ blunder that spelt the difference in the Hurricanes 28-24 Eden Park Super Rugby win.

Barrett was back to his dazzling best in making searing breaks that covered 170m whereas a rusty Williams blew a try by failing to capitalise on an overlap after making a sharp break.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author

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