When short-game guru Gareth Raflewski started working with Nick Taylor less than two years ago, the Canadian golfer’s putting stats didn’t make any sense to him.
“I actually thought I can’t understand why his stats are so bad,” Raflewski said. “He’s got great hands, he’s got good imagination, his short game is pretty good anyway – I couldn’t understand why his putting was not matching up. He wasn’t performing well, he was struggling big time.”
So, in 2022, Raflewski and Taylor made two key adjustments.
First, they adjusted his setup, straightening him up – “His head was sideways 30 degrees to the right. Imagine looking forward and turning your head 30 degrees to the right. You would never walk like that, but he would set up that way,” Raflewski said.
They also went to a claw grip.
Now, fast forward to Sunday – the day all of Canada found out what the product of Abbotsford, B.C. can do with the flat-stick.
There was a 17-foot birdie on No. 17 and a 12-foot birdie on No. 18 to give him a chance to win as the final groups finished at the RBC Canadian Open. Then, of course, the career-long 72-footer for eagle on the fourth playoff hole against Tommy Fleetwood – again at No. 18 – to make history. Just like that, the 35-year-old Taylor — who was ranked 137th in strokes gained, putting last year — was the first Canadian champion of his national open in 69 long years.
“Unbelievable – to step up and do that there,” Raflewski said Sunday night from his home in London, Ont. “We’ve always had this joke where I would say my job is to get you into the position. He had that pedigree of closing and I always just joke with him that I don’t have to teach you how to do that part, you’ve got that in spades. My goal is just to get you in those positions.”
This time, after close calls for Canadians in past years, it was different.
Taylor has improved to 43rd in strokes gained, putting this year – a big reason he has six top-10 finishes and is sixth in the FedExCup standings for the season.
Why is Taylor so much better on the greens?
“He’s had time to work on it,” Raflewski said. “We’ve made the changes. Realistically, we’re not doing anything brand new, we just continue to do exactly the same things.”
“Players sometimes just don’t give things enough time to settle in. Now things are settling in pretty good for us, so we can take advantage of that.”
But by no means is this an overnight success story. Taylor shot a 65 as an amateur at the 2009 U.S. Open, the same year he was the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world for 20 weeks. He won the Ben Hogan Award as the NCAA’s top golfer the next year at the University of Washington.
“As a member of our golf team, he shot 65 in the U.S. Open in his junior year, he made the cut and played alongside Rory McIlroy. Every indication would have said he’s a can’t-miss, multiple-tournament-winning type of kid,” said former Washington assistant golf coach Garrett Clegg, now the head coach at the University of Utah.
“It’s been a long road for him.”
Taylor, just like many other top college players, took some time to adjust to pro life.
The Canadian didn’t make it to the PGA Tour until 2014 – and won the Sanderson Farms Championship in his first year. It took another six years to return to the winner’s circle – at a bigger event at Pebble Beach in 2020 – before he captured win No. 3 on the biggest stage for a Canadian on Sunday at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto.
But while it hasn’t necessarily been a straight line to success at the top level, Taylor’s competitive instinct has always been there, giving him a chance to succeed.
Clegg, who was “living and dying with every shot for two-and-a-half or three hours” and then celebrating in front of the TV with his wife and four kids on Sunday, has vivid memories of the first NCAA tournament where he walked with Taylor in Hawaii.
“It’s a 3-wood into the wind (on the final hole) and he had to hit it perfect to execute the shot,” said Clegg, “I was trying to get him to lay up. I was like ‘Nick, maybe a 6-iron and then wedge on and make birdie that way. And he was like ‘Nope, I’m hitting 3-wood.’
“Sure enough, he hits it perfect, gets it to six feet, makes eagle and finishes in the top five in the tournament. He’s always, always, always been able to hit the big-time shot in the biggest moment. Not saying he’s (always) going to make a 72-foot putt, but he’s always been able to hit the big shots.”
In Abbotsford, meanwhile, the 72-footer resulted in quite a scene at Taylor and fellow PGAer Adam Hadwin’s home course — Ledgeview Golf Club.
“I got sent a bunch of video and pictures of what’s going on. It’s incredible,” Ledgeview GM Brad Clapp said.
Clapp was actually playing a round at another course, but his group stopped to stream the final playoff shots on their phones.
“Two or three groups other than us were jumping up and down (when Taylor made the putt). It may have slowed up play but that’s a good problem to have.”
Ledgeview, where Taylor grew up, has had its own obstacles. A fire burned down the clubhouse in 2016 – and it only reopened last year. Trans Mountain Pipeline construction also dramatically altered the course the past two years.
“He’s just the most down to earth and real and respectful person,” Clapp said of Taylor, who has a home down the street from the course with his wife and two kids. “When I think of him, I think of him just coming in and randomly dropping in for a practice session at Ledgeview. Or finding the time to shake hands or give autographs to juniors when they come up to him. He’s very humble. He doesn’t seem like anybody different when he’s putting or playing at Ledgeview. He’s a great mentor for the juniors growing up and looking up to him.”
The immediate future has Taylor heading to Los Angeles for the U.S. Open this week. While it might be asking a lot for him to do something special again so soon, Raflewski believes more good days are ahead.
“I think he’s just getting started,” Raflewski said. “His game is good. He’s solid, got a great family life. Very down to earth, just a normal guy and works very hard on his game. He’s 35, a good age where he’s starting to peak. He works hard on his diet and fitness. He’s got 10 good years he can really take advantage of.”
No matter what happens, though, Sunday will be unforgettable for Taylor and those who know him best.
“Something no Canadian has done in 69 years, I’m just so happy for him,” Clegg said. “I would bet when he looks back on his career, it’s taken 12 years of struggle but would you trade it for this? This is what he’s been shooting to win since he was 14, 15, 16 years old. There’s the Masters and there’s the Canadian Open.”
The Irish-born Raflewski, who has lived in Canada for 17 years and has worked with top LPGA Tour players for years, had multiple reasons to celebrate on Sunday. Another one of his players, South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai, won the LPGA stop in New Jersey and his son, Eamonn, turned five.
“I think I can retire now to be honest,” chuckled Raflewski, who had two screens going while celebrating his son’s birthday. “It’s so fun. I’m thrilled for him (Taylor), too.
“To be that guy to do that on that stage, it’s amazing.”