Te Rongopai rising star in golf
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.