18 Feb 2017
Su Oh on Saturday at the 2017 ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open.
From the day Su Oh joined Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne a few years ago, it was inevitable we would run into each other on the practice fairway and out on the course. She was always on the range pounding balls and whilst I was well past that toil, we would often go out, play holes and fool around with lots of shots beyond the one-dimensional.
Clearly she had ability. You don’t arrive in Australia from Korea as a non-golfing eight-year-old and play in the Australian Open at 12 (as she did at Metro in 2009) if you cannot play.
Her swing though was not particularly solid, the most obvious manifestation being a big swinging hook with her long shots and an inability to curve the ball the other way.
Still, she and Minjee Lee dominated amateur golf in Australia and both went to the tour school in America at the end of 2014. Minjee made it and Su did not, meaning a year on the Symetra Tour where the only carrot is the top 10 at the end of the year earn a card on the LPGA Tour.
Home from the failure at the school, she changed irons and teed up in the Victorian Open where she bogeyed the last three holes to lose on the final day. A week later she birdied the last four holes to win the Australian Masters on the Gold Coast. As far at starts to a career goes it was pretty good but it papered over problems with her method and it made her think a bad set of golf clubs was a good set of golf clubs. They were just in their seductive honeymoon period.
Caddying for her, I was always wary of the perfectly-struck iron would go too far – as they often did – and we would always club back and many times finish up 10 metres short. It was no way to play.
I caddied for her at Turnberry in the 2015 British Open and we finished in the morning with a score that was never going to make the cut. So poorly had she played it was a miracle she had even got close to making it and we headed back to the house to pack up and head to the airport. A few too many wines later the subject of the clubs came up and I said something I never should have, along the lines of: ‘Those clubs are junk and you will never be any good playing with them.’
The wind started to really blow late in the day and in the end she made the cut on the mark, and then had to go out on the weekend and play with a set of irons she now knew I thought were rubbish. Not surprisingly it was not pretty golf.
Her golf did not get any better back in America and she changed teachers again late in the year. It was not enough to get her through the tour school but at least she had ‘conditional status’, a number getting her into the odd LPGA event.
I thought she was on the wrong path with the new teacher but this time we had a sober conversation about the ‘new swing.’ Basically I thought the method was rubbish and told her so.
She played well in the Australian Open last year and immeasurably improved her ‘number’ allowing her to get into a few more LPGA events. Still at the beginning her only path was Monday qualifying, and we did a couple of them together. She at least had a new and much better set of irons but both sets made the journey to Phoenix, where we stayed with Geoff Ogilvy.
Su asked Geoff what he thought of the old irons, and he came through perfectly and without prompting. ‘They are great clubs’ he said as he looked down, re-gripped them a few times in the eternal habit of pro golfers and took a few waggles. ‘If you’re a really bad player’
When a US Open champion tells you that, there is no way they are ever getting a run again.
From there we went to Dallas to see Cameron McCormick. An Australian who left Melbourne almost 20 years ago, he has taught Jordan Spieth since he was 12 and Geoff calling Jordan ‘the best coached player in tour’ was a good enough recommendation for me.
He got her through all of last year slowly pushing the swing in another direction but all the time emphasizing the importance of short game and scoring. It was exactly the right path to take and by the end of the year she was 50th on the LPGA money list. From nothing 10 months earlier it was a good result.
Then after Christmas she flew of to Dallas and into some awful winter weather to really get the swing grind done free of the pressure of competing. It’s still work in progress but it’s much better and for the first time there is a clear road ahead.
Importantly she has a proper caddie (Shaun Clews) as well as a great teacher, and this year promises much. She was third in the Victorian Open last week and here in Adelaide her golf over the opening days was really solid. In true caddie parlance the assessment was ‘she has had just about as many as she could have’.
Oh played a beautiful round, a 68 and put herself in with a chance to win on Sunday. It will be something of a test for a new swing, her new caddie and her old clubs and my guess it’s all a year away from being comfortable. McCormick would say the same.
Finally though in her ninth Australian Open she has a chance to win. Quite impressive for someone not yet old enough to neither rent a car nor drink legally in America.