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.
“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.