The 12-year-old became national golf champion after playing just three rounds

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A 12-year-old boy with autism won a national golf competition in New Zealand after playing just three complete rounds of golf.

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Bayleigh Teepa-Tarau, playing with borrowed rackets and wearing basketball sneakers, captured the gold medal in nine-hole golf at the Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools (AIMS) Games, the country’s most prestigious sporting event for 11- to 13-year-olds. year olds. old. As a rookie, he didn’t even have a scoring handicap, an index that rates a player based on his recent performance (he picked one up during competition).

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“I’m glad I got first place, found good teammates and made new friends,” Bayleigh said during a video call, mostly calm but beaming when talking about golf.

Bayleigh also helped his school secure the team title last week, the first group AIMS win in any sport for his school since 2008. In the second round, Bayleigh scored 25 points for nine holes, and Bayleigh came on the final hole inches away from an eagle (putting the ball in the hole at two shots under par) – extraordinary feats for someone who started playing six months ago but has trained for less than 50 hours combined.

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“Bayleigh is just incredible and has natural talent,” said Mickey Huriwaka, a veteran golfer who was excited about Bayleigh even though he trains for a rival team. “To put everything in perspective, it was like he was on the PGA Tour. He was that good.”

Taneatua School, where Bayleigh studies, did not send a team to the AIMS Games for more than a decade due to budget constraints. This year, a last-minute grant was awarded by the school’s board of trustees which enabled three golfers, including Bayleigh, and an 11-strong netball team to take part in the games. (Three other golfers didn’t make the cut due to lack of money.)

Whetu Wiremu, an assistant teacher who is Bayleigh’s golf coach and acted as his caddy during AIMS, said he himself only took up golf 10 months ago. After being told that Bayleigh always carried a golf club with him as a young boy, Whetu decided on a “whim” to recruit the quiet boy for his newly formed school golf team.

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Bayleigh said, “Okay.”

The children took group lessons for about six months, Wiremu said, “but because there were so many, these boys didn’t really get any individual help.”

With a tight budget for tournament practice, Wiremu borrowed golf clubs from his brother-in-law and his golfing friends for Bayleigh and a handful of teammates. Wiremu drove the children on a school bus to a golf course 15 minutes away, where they completed three full practice rounds, each lasting about three hours.


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“Obviously Bayleigh doesn’t know the technicalities of golf. His game is simply to get up and hit the ball. So that’s pretty much what he does,” Wiremu said. “He doesn’t worry about whether he made a bad shot or a good shot or whether he took too much time to get to the shot. He just loves the sport and I think that passion alone drives him to play good golf.”

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A more difficult task for Wiremu was to gain Bayleigh’s trust and “bring him out of his shell.”

When he first met Bayleigh in 2021, Wiremu “really didn’t notice” the boy, who rarely spoke in class. “He was kind of distant to me,” Wiremu said, adding that he really started opening up and smiling more this year “because I finally got him into sports.”

“I just treat him like a normal child. So I just. . . Talk to Bayleigh and treat him like his friends.”

Bayleigh’s autism may have played a role in him remaining calm and unbothered by bad shots, Wiremu said.

“He doesn’t really get nervous about anything he does. He just does it to have fun. And if he wins or does a good job, that’s just a bonus,” Wiremu said.

The entire family – his parents, his younger brother and his grandparents, who live together in Taneatua, a working-class town of fewer than 1,000 people on the north coast of the North Island – turned up to the AIMS golf games and followed them in a cart to cheer for Bayleigh. His parents – Hemi Tarau and Pare Teepa – as well as Bayleigh’s teachers and school staff who watched the games were “super emotional and super proud” of the boy, Wiremu said.

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Bayleigh became a local celebrity after the AIMS victory, his coach and friends say. A local company said it would buy Bayleigh and his teammates their own set of golf clubs. Golf New Zealand, the national golf association, reached out to the school and offered students golf equipment and clothing.

To celebrate their success, Wiremu went out to eat sushi, Bayleigh’s favorite food, with Bayleigh and his teammates. Afterwards, Bayleigh suggested going to a driving range to play some more golf.

“I love playing golf and will always play golf,” Bayleigh said when asked about his dream job. “I want to be like Tiger Woods.”

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