Antonio Murdaca: future champion
Gareth Jones knows Antonio Murdaca’s game and his personality backwards, which is the type of relationship you get when a coach and a player are together for seven years.
That relationship was crucial to Murdaca’s victory in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Melbourne last weekend, with Jones carrying the bag for his player.
Jones is the national coach for South Australia and Murdaca is part of Golf Australia’s elite amateur squad.
Close observers suggested that his presence as caddie could have been worth six shots over four days to Murdaca, who hails from the Grange Golf Club in Adelaide.
“It’s by far the best I’ve seen him perform,’’ Jones told golf.org.au. “I caddied for him at the Australian Open (at Royal Sydney in 2013) and I’ve seen him at the Open when he was going okay, but mentally he was just super. He never got ahead of himself at all. It was a really professional performance. It was good fun. We kept it pretty light out there, talked about other stuff, things we couldn’t talk about now!’’
The 19-year-old Murdaca now has a guaranteed start in the Masters at Augusta National in April next year, and he expects to have Jones on the bag then, too. It has not been finalised – many young players tend use an Augusta local for insider knowledge on their first appearance at the famous club – but Murdaca made his feelings plain on Sunday. “I haven’t spoken to him (Jones) about it but I will be speaking to him,’’ he said.
Coach-caddie partnerships are quite unusual and can be disastrous in certain circumstances, although Jason Day, who uses his longtime coach Colin Swatton as his bagman, is an example of where it can work. “I’ve been coaching him for seven years, from a young boy at 12, to a young man,’’ said Jones. “He’s really grown up, we get on well, I guess we have ups and downs as we all do. I know his personality, he knows mine and I know what to say out there.’’
Interestingly, Jones and Murdaca have taken the player back to his old left-to-right ball flight in the past year or so, after a period in which he was hitting draws. They also have been working on ball flight; Murdaca hits the ball incredibly low, but higher than he used to.
“Three years ago we started working hard on getting his ball-flight higher, getting the club face right, which also goes to flight,’’ said Jones. “We’d worked on getting some more flight before we played here. I caught up with him in Houston (at a GA camp) and he was hitting really down on it and it was coming out low and hard. It’s better than it was.’’
What Murdaca knows now is that the high end of his game is very good. As the R & A secretary Peter Dawson observed: “Thirteen-under around this course. He must be some player.’’
Jones was pleasantly surprised by the performance, like a lot of people, because Murdaca was only the ninth-ranked of the 10 Australians in the field at Royal Melbourne. “He’s not the tallest guy in the world but he’s always been strong,’’ said Jones. “The guys were saying he’s ‘sneaky long’. He does get it out there, his club-speed is good. Plus he’s matured with his shot-selection. The preparation that (GA coaches) Marty Joyce, Stuart Leong and Paul Skinner did last week was great. I used it particularly on Sunday, really made an effort where we needed to leave that golf ball as much as possible.’’
Jones said the world would open up for Murdaca from here on. For instance, he will get a start in the Emirates Australian Open at The Australian next month.
“He’s got a lot more opportunities now. It’s been an amazing week for him. His ranking will go up, he’s got three or four pro tournaments to look at. Our plan is to turn pro in a couple of years. I want him to represent Australia in a full team event before he turns.’’