Ti­maru Tom

Tom Walsh’s golf started as a coach-ap­pointed way to re­lax, has caused him to be near nude on a golf course and now, like so many of us, Tom Walsh has the bug.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - FEATURE - WORDS BY MATT RICHENS

“It was a few of the guys and a bit of a hack around. We were com­pet­i­tive, but not very good. It would be a laugh; if you didn’t make the ladies’ tees you had to play the next top with your shirt off, if you did it again you had to play pants down and third time it was naked.

When he's not train­ing to be the world's best shot put­ter - or swing­ing a ham­mer as a builder, Walsh is of­ten on a golf course. There's some­thing just lovely about pic­tur­ing Ti­maru Tom, who launches 7.25kg shots well longer than a cricket pitch, bat­tling his big frame around the golf course. For some­one who is so su­perb at one sport, he was so medi­ocre at another. Whilst that might have been how he started, but as an­noy­ing as it will be for some peo­ple now, the kid can play and medi­ocre he is not.

Three years ago, Walsh took on a new coach Dale Steven­son. The re­sults kind of speak for them­selves. He's since won an Olympic Medal, a bronze at Rio, and in Au­gust be­came the sport's best - the World Cham­pion.

A big part of that comes down to his men­tal game and part of that, he says, can be at­trib­uted to golf.

“It's a weird game, isn't it,” he says, al­most laugh­ing.

“At any level, you can play great or aw­ful shots. I've sure played my fair share of aw­ful ones.”

When he spoke to New Zealand Golf Mag­a­zine re­cently, Walsh was on a ca­reer low 9.3 hand­i­cap and on the way down. He plays at the Christchurch Club where it's not out of the or­di­nary to see him in the Satur­day field with mates, though some members get to play with the champ too.

“I'll put my name down with any­one,” he said. “I just love to play when I get the chance.”

It all started with Steven­son who knew his charge needed some­thing to do to take his mind off the shot.

“We'd play Sun­day af­ter­noons - just a bit of fun and of­ten just nine holes. “It was a few of the guys and a bit of a hack around. We were com­pet­i­tive, but not very good. It would be a laugh; if you didn't make the ladies' tees you had to play the next top with your shirt off, if you did it again you had to play pants down and third time it was naked.

“We played am­brose and did a few silly things like that, but it was fun, it was a way of do­ing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent and re­lax­ing.” Walsh ad­mits to a cou­ple of top­less shots, but said top javelin thrower Hay­den Hall was not so lucky.

“Yeah, he had to have a nude [shot],” Walsh laughed.

They weren't all chop­pers; Steven­son is on a 6.0 and one of Walsh's fit­ness and con­di­tion­ing coaches John Wil­son is on a 2.0. “We've started play­ing over­seas and it's a re­ally great way to take your mind off shot,” Walsh said.

“I know I've got a bit of a team around me now, but it can still be quite a fo­cussed time when you're away for months at a time and if you're not care­ful all you do is think about shot and that does more harm than good. “We've got a rule that we don't talk shop and it kind of lets you clear your head. Even when you've got lots go­ing on, it's like a four hour men­tal break.”

As dif­fer­ent as it is to his day job, the com­pet­i­tive el­e­ment is still there.

“I love that part of it. Even the other day we were play­ing at Christchurch and we were three up with five to play. They got back to square head­ing down 18 and I sunk a putt for birdie on 18 to win it. I love that. I'm a com­pet­i­tive bas­tard and to be able to have that com­pe­ti­tion in another sport is pretty cool.”

In his three years play­ing golf, he's played some good tracks, too.

The Sta­dium Course at TPC Scotts­dale in Ari­zona is a top one that springs to mind while State­side for train­ing and lo­cally he gets around too. Cape Kid­nap­pers, Jack's Point, Para­pa­raumu Beach and Mill­brook and The Hills as part of the New Zealand Open this year.

Al­though he's com­peted on the big­gest stage and held his nerve, he wasn't so com­posed dur­ing his open­ing round at the Open.

“We had a 7.45am tee time, it was frosty and I don't think we saw the sun for five holes,” the gre­gar­i­ous Walsh re­called.

“There is se­ri­ously no-one around, but I'm ner­vous. Like, re­ally ner­vous. I blow it right off the tee into the trees, top my next one, hit a good third, but it holds up in the frost and is stuck at the top of a bunker. So there I am, play­ing with pros re­mem­ber, one foot in the bunker, one foot out and I blade one across the green and had to go and pick it up. I did get a bit bet­ter.”

He shot a life­time best 80 at Mill­brook ben­e­fit­ing from play­ing with handy Kiwi pro and for­mer Can­ter­bury am­a­teur No 1 Shaun Jones.

Walsh was a more than handy footy player and crick­eter in his high school days and as a rep crick­eter looked up to for­mer New Zealand cap­tain Stephen Flem­ing.

“The golf was great the Open, that's for sure, but I got asked to go to Flem's place after one night. I walk in and I was like a kid again, there was Flem, Baz, Warnie, Punter and Beefy Botham [Stephen Flem­ing, Bren­don McCul­lum, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting and Sir Ian Botham to the rest of us]. I was in awe.”

Walsh has be­come good friends with Flem­ing and the pair of­ten play in what Walsh re­vealed was a bat­tle of the big hands.

“His hands are mas­sive, no won­der he was so good in the slips.”

Walsh's mits aren't lit­tle ei­ther and his Tay­lor­Made kit - an M1 driver, P770 irons with Milled Grind wedges and Spi­der Tour red put­ter - all have the big­gest grips you can find.

Cur­rently re­cov­er­ing from off­sea­son nasal surgery, Walsh was pre­par­ing to play in the New Zealand Women's Open Pro-Am when he spoke to us before another big home sum­mer build­ing up to April's Com­mon­wealth Games.

Shot will re­main the fo­cus - ob­vi­ously - but the fact Walsh's ca­reer has taken off since tak­ing up golf gives the 25-year-old a pretty good rea­son to keep it up. “Hon­estly, I love it eh. I prob­a­bly play three times every cou­ple of weeks.”

He's too com­pet­i­tive to give it away any­way, he's got an 80 at Mill­brook to beat.

Olympic shot put Bronze medal­list Tom Walsh.

Olympic shot put Bronze medal­list Tom Walsh.

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