Tuesday, 26 May 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Big win for local caddy

Watching professional golfer, Hee Young Park, sink the winning putt in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Victoria Open tournament (known as the ISPS Handa Vic Open) that was held in early February in Geelong Australia, was a moment Whitianga resident and successful former businessman, Rob Riedstra, will never forget.

Although retired, Rob decided to have a go at golf caddying in professional tournaments in 2018. He’s no stranger to caddying. In his younger days, as a promising golfer, he caddied for some of the best-known golfers of the time when they visited New Zealand.

Rob encountered a lucky break early last year when he caddied for top Australian golfer, Nick O’Hern, at the New Zealand Open in Queenstown. “After the New Zealand Open, I ended up caddying quite a lot overseas - in Europe, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia - but stayed in touch with Nick,” says Rob. “When the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Association (ALPGA) started to look for caddies for the Vic Open, Nick gave them my name. The ALPGA then provided me with the option to choose a player I wanted to caddy for from a list they had available. 

“I was drawn to Hee Young Park  from South Korea because of her driving statistics off the tee. She was accurate and had some distance, which was going to be very important in the tournament.”

The tournament was played at the 13th Beach Golf Links, home of two award winning courses. Players making both cuts played the Creek Course once and the more difficult Beach Course three times (including both rounds after the first cut).

“I’m delighted to have experienced such a big win not much more than a year after I’ve started to put my name out there,” says Rob. “Hee Young and I went into the final round three shots off the pace. The wind was very strong, reaching 50km/h plus, which made the playing conditions extremely difficult. While the leaders collapsed around her, Hee Young played very well and after having been in the lead for a few holes on the back nine, she needed to make a birdie on the par five 18th to join a three-way playoff with fellow South Koreans, Hye-Jin Choi and So Yeon Ryu. I managed to keep Hee Young in the moment and her thoughts calm. It was a great relief when her final putt was holed.

“The playoff consisted of playing the 18th until there was one player standing. All three players birdied the first attempt. The second attempt was very tense. Hee Young and Hye-Jin Choi again made birdie, while So Yeon Ryu, a former world number one, was eliminated.

“Hee Young and the Hye-Jin Choi both made birdie on the third attempt and had to go back to the 18th tee for a fourth time. It was high drama.

“Fortunately for us, I guess, Hye-Jin Choi’s tee shot finished up against a pine cone in the rough. She was forced to chip out, but came up short and put her next shot into a hazard. After taking a penalty drop, she reached the fringe of the green in five shots, while we had only played two. That took a lot of pressure of Hee Young who claimed victory with a comfortable par.”

Hee Young Park joined the LPGA tour in 2007. The Vic Open was her third win on the tour. Going into the tournament, her prize winnings exceeded USD5 million. The Vic Open trophy was presented to her by former New Zealand prime minister, Sir John Key, in his capacity as brand ambassador for tournament sponsor, ISPS Handa.

Rob is this week off to the 2020 New Zealand open (again to be played in Queenstown), where he will caddy for Jae Kyeong Lee, a 20-year-old up-and-coming South Korean golfer. “I have no idea where my caddying adventures will be taking me after this year’s New Zealand Open,” says Rob. “But one thing is certain, in early February next year I’ll be back in Australia to help Hee Young Park defend her Vic Open title.”

Pictured:Rob Riedstra (on the left) after the 2020 Vic Open with tournament winner, Hee Young Park, and former New Zealand prime minister, Sir John Key.

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