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Why world number one Ariya Jutanugarn and other stars are turning to top Ulster coach Gareth

 

By Paul Kelly

He's the Omagh-born, Ontario-based coach with the Polish family background who has helped guide Thailand's Ariya Jutanugarn to the top of golf's world rankings.

At the last count, Gareth Raflewski estimates he has worked with over 30 different players competing on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour in 2018, including superstar Lydia Ko.

The 38-year-old, who is married with two children, has carved out a niche as the go-to short game coach on tour, where his focus on scoring shots - chipping, putting and bunker play - has helped elevate Jutanugarn to a new level.

"I started with Ariya about three years ago. It was kind of fun, she was 66th in the world and she wasn't the player everyone knows now," said Raflewski.

"I got to see her get to World No.1 the first time around (2017), struggle a bit and now get back to World No.1 as a better player. It has been a really fun ride.

"She is phenomenal around the greens and a fantastic wedge player. We have worked a lot on her bunker game because it was so-so and now it is coming up to match the rest of her game.

"Her putting has just got better and better and she finished the 2018 season ranked No.1 in putts per greens in regulation. With her length off the tee, that's a deadly combination. If you have a player with all that power who can putt, it's a licence to print money."

Gareth grew up playing golf in Omagh and dreamed of competing as a tour professional, but his parents had other ideas.

"I wanted to go to Tour Q-School when I was 18 but my parents insisted I got an education, so I ended up putting it off and went to John Moores University in Liverpool to study engineering," added Gareth, who was recently crowned the 2018 PGA of Ontario Teacher of the Year.

"I actually worked as an engineer for a year but, once I had the degree completed, I was off and competed on the Challenge Tour and Europro Tour. I then came out and played on the Canadian Tour. Eventually, after my playing career finished, I joined the PGA of Canada."

Gareth started focusing specifically on the short game around 2005 and gradually built up a reputation for producing results.

Currently based at River Bend GC in London, Ontario, where he is the Director of Instruction, Gareth also spends some time in Florida, avoiding the harsh Canadian winters.

"I was living and working in Toronto at the time and there were a lot of great coaches around - Sean Foley (Justin Rose's coach) was just up the road - and I realised that I had to do something different," added Gareth. "I decided that I was just going to concentrate on the short game and it wasn't long before I started working with a couple of decent players.

"Originally I was probably more interested in working on the PGA Tour or European Tour, but about five years ago I was contacted by an LPGA player.

"It was a great time. That player doubled her money on tour and then it just snowballed from there. Everybody just started getting better and I was getting more and more requests.

"I basically coach eight players on tour and then, if I have time, I fit others in around that and I'm very happy at the minute.

"Ariya could have an Annika (Sorenstam) type of career. She is that good. If she plays well she will absolutely kill it. She is only 23 and is getting used to life in the spotlight. She could have one of those careers that goes down in history.

"So, for now, I am basically going to stick with the girls - unless Rory McIlroy gives me a call. That might be a different story."

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