Wednesday, 18 September 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Always an experience

In his younger days, Whitianga resident Rob Riedstra was a passionate golf player and also caddied for some of the world’s golfing giants when they visited New Zealand. “Caddying was a great way to learn from the best and improve my own game,” says Rob.

John Benda (USA), Stuart Ginn (Australia), Paul Firmstone (Australia) and Bruce Devlin (Australia) were among the professionals Rob caddied for back then.

“A highlight was definitely caddying for Paul Firmstone in the Air New Zealand Shell Open 1978, where we were paired with Arnold Palmer,” says Rob. “A year later I caddied for Bruce Devlin in the same tournament when he finished third.”

Winding the clock forward a few years and Rob decided to pursue a career in the construction industry. Over the years hand and his wife, Janene, owned a number of very successful businesses. They moved to Whitianga after the sale of their building supplies business in Auckland a few years ago.

Once settled in Whitianga and having kept in touch with many friends he made while playing golf - including Steve Williams, who caddied for Greg Norman, Ray Floyd and Tiger Woods - Rob put the word out that he was keen to do some caddying again. In his words, “You’re only able to do so much gardening and fishing.”

It wasn’t long before the offers started coming in and the past two years saw Rob caddying at the Korean Open and the Henan St Andrew’s Open and Beijing Open in China. He also caddied for US golfer Annie Park at the LPGA-sanctioned New Zealand Women’s Open at Windross Farm south of Auckland in September 2017.

Several golfers approached Rob to caddy for them at this year’s 100th New Zealand Open in Arrowtown. The tournament was played from Thursday 28 March to Sunday 3 March at The Hills and Millbrook Resort golf courses.

“I ultimately decided to go with left-handed Australian Nick O’Hern,” says Rob. “He’s known as mentally one of the most gifted golf players ever. After two decades on the professional circuit, Nick is now retired and is living with his family in Melbourne. Apart from playing in a select few Australasian golf tournaments, he’s pursuing various other interests, including mentoring players on the mental aspects of golf.

“Nick saw his Official World Golf Rankings reach number 16. He played both the European and PGA tours and took part in 19 majors and two President Cups. He’s the only player who beat Tiger Woods twice in match play competitions.

“Nick wrote a very popular book, ‘Tour Mentality: Inside the Mind of a Tour Pro,’ a few years ago. He’ll be the first one to admit that he wasn’t the world’s most talented golfer, but is proof that you can compete with anyone if you’re mentally tough enough. In his book, he covers topics like your pre-shot routine, how to beat the first-tee nerves, how to practice and how to switch on and off while on the golf course.

“I’ve learned a lot while caddying for Nick and his book will help a lot of golfers with their game.”

On the Tuesday before the New Zealand Open, while waiting for Nick to arrive in Arrowtown, Rob was asked to caddy a round for wealthy Korean businessman Roy Ryu. Also in the fourball was YE Yang, winner of the 2009 PGA Championship that was played at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota.

“Despite having lived for some time in New Zealand in his younger days, YE had no idea where Whitianga was,” says Rob “I found out that he was a keen angler and drew him a rough map of the country. I also showed him some of the photos on the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club’s Facebook page. He excitedly took my number. Who knows, we may see him in Whitianga one day.”

Caddying in a professional golf tournament is far more involved than simply carrying a player’s bag. A caddy is a trusted advisor, providing crucial information, helping with club selection at times and reading putts. “A good relationship needs to be built and you need to be a good housekeeper,” says Rob. “Are your player’s shoes clean, are the grips and clubs clean, are there food and drinks in the bag? You’re relied on to keep time to ensure you are on the tee well within time. Are the new balls marked and ready and are there only 14 clubs, or less, in the bag? Most of all, a caddy is a pillar for encouragement, to keep your player in a positive mind and if they are down, to help them turn things around.”

In earlier years, a caddy would have to physically pace the golf course before a tournament to gain an understanding of the course layout. These days a yardage booklet containing detailed distances and illustrations of the course - including hazards and slope of the greens - is used. “I make sure I know as much as I can before a tournament begins,” says Rob. “I walk the course and make notes. When calculating distances, wind direction and temperature need to be considered too. It was 1°C when we teed off on the first day of the New Zealand Open this year. A golf ball that is cold doesn’t travel very far.”

Rob caddies because he enjoys it. “Different courses, locations, countries, meeting new people, being outdoors and watching some great - and sometimes bad - golf, it’s always an experience,” says Rob. “And when you caddy for someone like Nick O’Hern, it makes all the effort worthwhile.”

Tour Mentality: Inside the Mind of a Tour Pro is available from amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and other online book retailers.

Pictured: Whitianga resident Rob Riedstra (right) with now retired professional golfer Nick O’Hern at this years New Zealand Open Golf Tournament.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.