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‘Pretty mean’ win as new king rises

James Tauariki had the short but sweet reaction you’d expect from a 15-year-old when asked what it felt like winning the King of the Coast men’s open title last weekend.

“Pretty mean,” the Rotorua Boys’ High student said after his first taste of the Tolaga Bay-hosted matchplay tournament ended with the ultimate accolade.

Tauariki defeated Matamata’s Nathaniel Cassidy 2 and 1 in the championship 16 final on Sunday afternoon.

“I didn’t do anything spectacular,” he said of his victory. “It was just a solid round.”

It was also another step on a “journey” he hopes will reach professional level.

“That’s the main goal. My golf is getting better but there’s a long way to go.”

Tauariki said he picked up a club for the first time when he was three years old and had his first lesson when he was six.

Living on a farm at Ngakuru (27 kilometres south-east of Rotorua), he had plenty of room to smack balls around and from there it was steady as she goes to where he is now — playing off a 0.2 handicap mainly at Springfield Golf Club under the guidance of coach Paul Hartstone.

Tauariki’s the first golfer in a family who are renowned for their rodeo talents. They are regulars on the circuit, which brings them to Gisborne each summer, and James has remained a part of that.

“I’ve done it my whole life. My favourite event is team roping. I also like bull riding but don’t do it anymore . . . it’s a bit risky.”

He has ended up in hospital a couple of times, he says, but that comes with the turf.

Golf, though, is where his career aspirations lie and the weekend’s win underlined his burgeoning talent.

Tauariki defeated Wairoa’s Wade Williams 3 and 2 in the first round on Saturday morning and Patutahi’s Hukanui Brown 2-up in the afternoon.

It set up a semifinal with schoolmate Rahiri Murray, who had knocked out Tuakana August (Kawerau), who beat defending champion Tyson Tawera (Hastings) in round 1.

Tauariki breezed past Murray 6 and 5 to book a final against Cassidy, who eliminated former Gisborne man Vashon Karaka (Tairua), bottom seed Bruce Yates (Tolaga Bay) after his giant-killing win over No.1 seed Jordan Rangihika (Ngaruawahia/Kawerau), and Kurtis Cortesi (Matamata).

“Mean” was a recurring word from Tauariki in describing his weekend, ranging from the hospitality to the course to the weather.

He was also aware that he was following in the golf swing of Rotorua Boys’ High School old boy Tini Hawea, who won it in 2014.

Hawea could well be the youngest ever winner of the title — 15 years six months and eight days. Tauariki won it at 15 years 10 months and two days.

The tradition of the champion being presented a specially emblazoned KotC golf bag continued and Tauariki gave “a huge thank you” for all the support he had received “on my journey.

At the top of this list were his parents Aroha and Tama — “Dad for taking me everywhere at any time and going out of his way for me; Mum for putting up with me and all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that you never get noticed for . . . it’s what makes you so amazing”.

Tauariki is back in action tomorrow at the Cambridge Classic.

PING SWING: James Tauariki lets rip with his Ping driver at the Ray Scragg Motors King of the Coast men’s open tournament at Tolaga Bay. The Rotorua Boys’ High student added his name to the royalty list. Picture by Paul Rickard