Ko's caddie: No pay but it's 'the best job'
It won't be the most lucrative gig in professional golf in the near future, yet caddying for Lydia Ko will always be an enriching experience for Stephen Mowbray.
As Ko lines up possibly her thousandth putt on the practice green at Royal Canberra, the Christchurch-born, Sydney-based six-handicapper balks at counting the personal cost of carrying the bag of golf's rising star.
"No, no, no," he says, refusing to quantify his lost earnings.
"I do it because I love it. I'm living the dream, best job in golf, mate."
The 15-year-old Korean-born Kiwi's plan to protect her status as world's No 1 amateur at least until next year meant Mowbray left the Australian Open venue empty-handed on Sunday night.
Ko collected her latest medal as leading amateur - the US$79,451 (NZ$94,284) she would have pocketed as third placegetter was instead requisitioned by Moriya Jutanugarn and Beatriz Recari.
Mowbray's 10 per cent would have converted to about NZ$9300, but the bottom line is that he is simply gratified to work alongside the most-talked-about teenager in the women's game.
As he watches Ko's mother Tina hold an umbrella over her daughter as she lines up a cup an hour before teeing off in the final round, Mowbray recalls how the draw at the NSW Open in 2011 drew him to Ko's inner circle.
Mowbray was caddying for Jo Mills, an Australian who was paired with the little-known 13-year-old before Ko three-putted on the last to gift Swede Caroline Hedwall victory.
"Guy Wilson and I swapped numbers and I said 'If you come over here I'm a member at Royal Sydney, come and play she'd enjoy a championship course, blah, blah, blah'."
Ko's coach and mentor made the call when he could not make it to Oatlands for last year's NSW Open and Mowbray was happy to host and caddy for Ko.
She ultimately became the youngest winner of a professional tournament (aged 14) and he also accompanied her around the course when she finished runner-up to Hedwall last month.
His next assignment is the Lotte Championship, an LPGA-sanctioned event at Ko Olina, Hawaii, in mid-April.
Beyond that he was unsure when his services would be required, so every moment is priceless.
"She's doing things in golf that no-one's ever done," he enthuses before Ko finishes at 14-under, four strokes behind winner Jiyai Shin.
"I'm the luckiest man in the world to be inside the ropes watching this unfold."
Take her career-best 10-under 63 on Thursday, a stunning effort featuring 11 birdies and an eagle.
"That first nine was nuts, I had no idea what the score was at the end," he said.
"I'm not thinking numbers. I'm thinking paint spots, yardages, clubs and reading putts. That's how you put a score together. I don't add it up and go, 'Wow, we're three-under.' "
Ko was actually six-under and, although she could never reconstruct that amazing launching pad, the part-time year 11 student still posted impressive numbers against a high-quality field.
The pressure and scrutiny on Ko intensifies with every round but Mowbray, like his golfer, rarely seems stressed. The only challenge, he said, was providing a serenely calm Ko with occasional reassurance.
"Lyds is an awesome reader of the green, she's got an amazing tempo.
"The only thing she needs help with is confirming what's in her head. Is it the right club? Then you square her up with targets.
"It's not a hard gig. Her work ethic is extraordinary. We've been the last here pretty much every night."
Mowbray knows there is pressure on Ko to seek an exemption from the LPGA and start making money - Kiwi caddie Steve Williams urged her to do so at the weekend - but he said she would profit long-term by remaining an amateur.
"She plays all the majors this year - it's a chance to learn them without any of the pressures of being a pro.
"When she does turn pro, she gives up the invitations that come to her, she'd have to earn her way into the field - that has to be considered as well," he said.
Asked what job satisfaction he derives from working with Ko, Mowbray tapped a temple.
"If Lydia wins, she gets the trophy, second place gets the money, the caddie gets the flag."
The Dominion Post