Recently, a young boy named Bailey Teepa Talau shocked the golf world, especially in his home country of New Zealand. This 12-year-old boy on the autism spectrum won the national tournament despite having only played three rounds of golf before the tournament. Wearing basketball sneakers and a borrowed stick, Bailey won the nine-hole competition at the Association of Secondary Schools (AIMS) Games, a tournament created to promote diversity among young athletes in New Zealand.
The boy finished the competition with a score of 87 on the Stableford points system. Despite the handicap of lack of experience, he was able to defeat those who had access to professional trainers and those who had been training for years. Like many success stories, it all started with a caring and conscientious educator. Wetu Willem, an assistant at Bayley's Taneytua School, was by Bayley's side throughout the tournament. He was the one who had spotted Bailey waving his cane from the time he could walk and came up with the idea to introduce him to the New Zealand Herald. "He never talked to anyone. I worked with him a lot over the last few years to get him out of his shell and into sports and with all the other kids. I treated him the same way.''
Bailey, who is Maori, spent most of the class period sitting under his desk without speaking. Adding to the difficulty of communication, there is no golf course in the small town of Taneatua, so Willem has had to rely on friends to borrow equipment. In addition to winning the individual event, Bailey also won the team title with fellow students Pedro Robinson and Lincoln Leritito. "They come from countries where there is poverty, gangs, drugs and violence. For them to have this opportunity to meet and meet people like that is really heartwarming," Willem admits. Everything seems to be going well for this young golfer right now. A team of sponsors recently visited his school and presented Bailey with a new set of golf clubs and golf balls with his name printed on them. He and his friends are also currently part of Whakatane Golf Club and Tanee Tua plans to join his school in his future coaching program to further support his 20 young golfers.
For now, Bailey seems to have found something that fills him with joy and perhaps inspires even more people in his community to take up a sport they don't often see represented. It will be stimulating. "What I like about golf is hitting the driver," Bailey said after his win. "I dreamed of coming here and finishing first. And it was a lot of fun."