Tagging along with her sports-mad parents was the ultimate training ground for world champion golfer, Member of New Zealand Order of Merit and AUT alumna Phillis Meti.
With a childhood spent on netball courts, football fields and athletics tracks Phillis honed her skills, representing the Cook Islands in netball and New Zealand in discus, shot put and waka ama. When her dad decided to take up golf, another door opened.
“I first tried golf when I was six or seven. Dad was just getting into it and he’d make me swing clubs with him,” recalls Phillis. Blessed with height and power, she excelled immediately.
“I was a lot bigger than the other kids, which gave me an advantage. I’m 6 feet tall and by the time I was 12 I had size 11 feet!” At 19, Phillis won her first Volvik World Long Drive Championship – the youngest player to ever take the title. A decade later she won it again, and two years after that too.
Currently the World Number One ranked female long driver, she holds the world record for driving a golf ball the furthest in competition – an incredible 377 metres, with a swing speed of 125 miles/hour. Now back on home turf due to COVID-19, Phillis is using her success as a platform, encouraging more females, particularly Māori and Pasifika, into the sport.
“There’s a real lack of diversity. I want to make golf more accessible for everyone,” explains Phillis, who is currently completing an apprenticeship through the New Zealand PGA – an organisation which only has seven female members among a 500-strong membership.
“We’re trying to push for more women and girls in golf. Right now, I’m encouraging adults with grandchildren or children to come out and swing a club, because that’s how I got into it. We don’t have the same growth in the game that we used to – parents don’t bring their kids to play anymore and we’ve lost those ‘I started with my grandma’ stories.”
For the past 10 years Phillis has partnered with In2 Golf, a foundation which promotes inclusive pathways for youth and women into the sport. She also runs free junior golf clinics and ladies’ golfing programmes to encourage people at all ages and stages to give golf a go.
The Bachelor of Sport and Recreation she gained from AUT is proving to be a powerful ally in her mission. “The longer I work in this industry, the more I get out of this degree. I graduated in 2016 but I’m still using everything I learned right here, right now. AUT helped me gain a deeper understanding of New Zealand’s sport and recreation industry and it taught me how to learn.”
Not only that, but the University supported her to juggle her studies with a professional golfing career, empowering her to succeed in both.
“I believe that if an athlete wants to be an athlete, but also wants to study, they should be able to do so to the best of their abilities. AUT helped me do that by being flexible, giving me extensions, and allowing me to sit exams at different times if I was competing overseas. They really know how to look after their athletes.”
With a wealth of sporting accolades, Phillis has much to be proud of, but her greatest achievement comes as a surprise.
“My proudest moment was when I gained my bachelor’s degree. Getting it over the line was a huge moment for me.”
Another ‘pinch me’ moment came this year when, as part of the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours, she was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to sport, particularly golf.
“I got this email from the Governor-General. I wasn’t sure what it was, but when I showed mum, her eyes nearly popped out! It’s such an honour, but I feel like I haven’t even started yet in terms of my contribution to sport.
“I always believe you should leave something better than you found it, and hopefully by the time I’m finished, long drive will be standing on its own two feet and there’ll be a lot more girls playing.”