Te Ron­gopai ris­ing star in golf

Kapi-Mana News - - FRONT PAGE - By KRIS DANDO

On a busy mid-week af­ter­noon at Ti­tahi Golf Club, Te Ron­gopai Clay is a pop­u­lar fig­ure, play­ers and passers-by say­ing hello and wish­ing her well.

She said that is one of the rea­sons her game has im­proved so much in a short time.

The 15-year-old has had plenty of golf­ing ex­pe­ri­ence since tak­ing up the game five years ago, in­clud­ing be­ing the youngest com­peti­tor at the New Zealand Maori Golf Tour­na­ment in 2006.

Since then Clay has feasted on a steady diet of matchplay and stroke­play tour­na­ments, en­cour­aged by grand­par­ents Rama and Wally.

Wally, and her un­cle, Nga­manu are Ti­tahi Club champs.

Mak­ing her de­but for Welling­ton in the in­ter­provin­cial tour­na­ment at Mi­ra­mar ear­lier this month was a def­i­nite high­light. Ranked num­ber five in the team, Clay shone with four wins, a half, and only one loss dur­ing the matchplay event.

They bowed out to even­tual win­ners North Har­bour in the semi­fi­nals, which was ‘‘gut­ting’’, said Clay. It was the first time Welling­ton had made the fi­nal four in more than a decade.

‘‘We’re all pretty good friends, so we just had to sup­port each other and not let the bad games get to us. It was hard to lose like that [in the semis] and we didn’t play bad, Har­bour just beat us on the day. My goals were not to let my team down and I think I did that.’’

The Welling­ton Girls’ Col­lege stu­dent ex­pects 2011 to be tough on her golf as her school stud­ies in­ten­sify.

‘‘Ev­ery­one up here is my fam­ily, they look af­ter me. If I ever move to an­other club, I would miss this place too much.’’

She counts the tricky, windy Ti­tahi course as be­ing an im­por­tant learn­ing curve for young play­ers.

‘‘I just used to muck around, fol­low­ing them [Wally and Nga­manu] around and try­ing to hit the ball. Af­ter a while I re­alised I liked golf and then I was hit­ting 100 balls a day.

‘‘It took me a while to get se­ri­ous about golf, but I re­ally love it, you get to go places and meet peo­ple. I get frus­trated with the game and some­times you have re­ally bad days, but I’m learn­ing how to stay calm and keep fo­cused. That’s re­ally im­por­tant.’’

Clay has de­signs on turn­ing pro one day and is pre­pared to work hard.

Af­ter the fes­tive sea­son, she will be­gin prac­tic­ing in earnest for the Maori Golf Na­tional Cham­pi­onship, in Waikato from Jan­uary 8.

Swinging suc­cess: Ti­tahi Bay golfer Te Ron­gopai Clay has al­ready achieved much in her short time in the sport. She even has a hole-in-one to her name, nail­ing the ace at Hutt Golf Club in Fe­bru­ary.

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