Golf: LPGA caddies’ advice helps Nicole Garcia find her form as she takes lead at Aramco Team Series S’pore

South Africa's Nicole Garcia fired a five-under 67 to take a one-stroke lead at the Aramco Team Series Singapore. PHOTO: ARAMCO TEAM SERIES SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE – After shooting a 16-over 87 in the second round of the 2021 US Women’s Open, South African golfer Nicole Garcia was looking for ways to improve her game.

She had conversations with several other players’ caddies, who stressed the importance of hard work, saying it was what made the difference between the golfers on the LPGA and other Tours.

Garcia then upped her training regimen, focusing more on specific areas such as putting and chipping, and the results began to show.

In 2022, she was part of the sides who won the Aramco team events in London and Saudi Arabia on the Ladies European Tour and finished fourth in the Sunshine Ladies Tour’s ranking.

In the past year, Garcia has recorded five top 10s, and on Thursday, the 32-year-old took a one-stroke lead at the Aramco Team Series Singapore after firing a five-under 67 in the first round of the US$1 million (S$1.35 million) event.

She said: “Things last year started to become a little bit easier, it just started to flow.

“Once you start having a few good rounds, doesn’t matter if you’re not necessarily hitting it well, confidence will help a lot more with that; you’ll end up making a lot more putts and making saves and I think that’s what helped my career last year.”

Garcia got off to a great start at Laguna National Golf Resort Club, recording seven birdies in her first 13 holes, but could not maintain her form as she ended the round with two bogeys.

Despite this, the world No. 201 was happy with how she performed as she sits one stroke ahead of Christine Wolf (Austria), Eleanor Givens (England), Klara Davidson Spilkova (Czech Republic), Pauline Roussin (France) and Linn Grant (Sweden).

World No. 1 Lydia Ko is tied 28th after carding even-par 72, while 14th-ranked Danielle Kang (69) is tied seventh. Singapore’s Koh Sock Hwee (73) is joint-35th.

Liz Young’s side including Gabriella Cowley, Anne-Charlotte Mora and amateur Elaine Widjaja are leading the team competition on 16-under 128, a stroke ahead of Wolf, Caroline Hedwall and Nicole Broch Estrup’s teams.

Garcia said: “I’m obviously super happy about the fact that I’m in the lead. I, however, did end with two three-putts, so it’s a little bit of like a sour taste, but... it is a long day out there and I probably just lost a bit of concentration so I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt.”

She is just happy to be playing competitively again as she doubted whether she would be able to return to the sport after suffering a serious hip and back injury in 2018. The surgery and rehabilitation that followed kept her out of action for most of 2019 and 2020.

By 2021 she had recovered, but the journey back was not easy for Garcia, who had to relearn her swing.

She said: “All of a sudden, I had faults in my swing that I’d never seen before, so I had to kind of relearn my swing and relearn what the ball was going to do. So that was quite tough for me in the beginning.

“I had a lot of rehab, a lot of trial and error with how to gym, how much to practise. I upped my practice regime, but at one point I kind of overdid it and I went too much and I ended up hurting my body.”

While it was tough, coming back from injury also taught Garcia to enjoy the game a lot more.

She said: “I have been looking at my golf career a little bit differently. I’m enjoying it a lot more the fact that I’m just out there playing and I think maybe (it) was a bit of pressure that kind of lifted.

“Because at one point I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to come out and play any more, so I think my mindset just kind of changed.”

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