In a heartwarming and inspiring story that has captured the hearts of many, a 12-year-old boy with autism, Bayleigh Teepa-Tarau, has achieved a remarkable feat by winning a national golf competition in New Zealand. Bayleigh’s victory came last week (September 14) after having played only three full rounds of golf, a testament to his extraordinary talent and determination.
Bayleigh, playing with borrowed clubs and wearing basketball sneakers, clinched the gold medal in the nine-hole golf competition at the prestigious Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools (AIMS) Games. This competition is considered the country’s most prestigious sporting event for 11- to 13-year-olds.
What makes Bayleigh’s achievement even more impressive is the fact that he was a complete newcomer to the sport. He did not even have a scoring handicap, an index that rates a player based on their recent performances, until he acquired one during the competition. Despite his limited experience, Bayleigh’s performance on the golf course left spectators and fellow competitors in awe.
“I’m happy that I came first place, and I got good teammates and made new friends,” Bayleigh said during a video call, his excitement evident despite his reserved demeanor.
Bayleigh’s triumph extended beyond individual success, as he also played a pivotal role in helping his school, Taneatua School, secure the team title – a historic achievement as it marked the school’s first group AIMS win in any sport since 2008. In the second round of the competition, Bayleigh scored an impressive 25 points for nine holes, and he narrowly missed achieving an eagle on the last hole, a feat that is exceptional for someone who started playing golf just six months ago and practiced for less than 50 hours in total.
Mickey Huriwaka, a veteran golfer and coach for a rival team, expressed his amazement at Bayleigh’s talent, likening his performance to that of a professional on the PGA Tour.
Taneatua School’s participation in the AIMS Games was made possible this year due to a grant from the school’s board of trustees. The grant allowed three golfers, including Bayleigh, and an 11-member netball team to compete, highlighting the challenges the school faced in participating in such events due to budget constraints.
Bayleigh’s journey into golf began when Whetu Wiremu, a teacher aide who is also his golf coach and caddie, decided to form a school golf team and invited Bayleigh to join. Wiremu, himself a novice in golf, borrowed clubs for Bayleigh and his teammates and provided them with group lessons for six months. Wiremu praised Bayleigh’s passion for the sport, emphasizing that he plays with pure enjoyment, unfazed by bad shots or mistakes.
One of Wiremu’s most significant challenges was gaining Bayleigh’s trust and encouraging him to open up. Bayleigh, who rarely spoke in class, has blossomed since taking up sports. Wiremu treats him like any other child, fostering a sense of normalcy that has contributed to Bayleigh’s remarkable growth.
Bayleigh’s autism, according to Wiremu, has played a role in his calm and composed demeanor on the golf course. He doesn’t get nervous and simply enjoys playing the game, whether he wins or not.
Bayleigh’s family, including his parents, younger brother, and grandparents, wholeheartedly supported him during the AIMS golf games, attending the event and cheering for him from a cart. They, along with Bayleigh’s teachers and school staff, expressed immense pride in his accomplishments.
Since his victory at the AIMS Games, Bayleigh has become a local celebrity, receiving support from the community. A local business has pledged to provide Bayleigh and his teammates with their own set of golf clubs, while Golf New Zealand, the nation’s governing body for golf, has offered equipment and clothing for the students.
In a touching gesture to celebrate their success, Wiremu took Bayleigh and his teammates out for sushi, Bayleigh’s favorite food, and afterward, Bayleigh suggested they head to a driving range to play more golf.
When asked about his dream job, Bayleigh confidently declared, “I like playing golf, and I’m always going to play golf. I want to be like Tiger Woods.”
Bayleigh’s journey is a testament to the power of determination, support, and a love for the game, inspiring individuals of all ages to pursue their passions and dreams.