Closest to the pin gets in

Kili Tabakau has secured a place in the New Zealand Open.PHOTO: DAVID WILLIAMS
Kili Tabakau has secured a place in the New Zealand Open.PHOTO: DAVID WILLIAMS
When Kili Tabakau left Auckland last year, his boss bought him an Alexandra Golf Club membership as a going-away present.

Now the 49-year-old is playing in the New Zealand Open.

Not as a professional, mind you, or even as an amateur.

Mr Tabakau, an 11-handicapper, won a chip-off at Millbrook Resort on Saturday for a pro-am place in the tournament, which starts next week.

``It's amazing. I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd play in the New Zealand Open.''

Seven golfers who qualified from their local club - Mr Tabakau, from Alexandra; Arrowtown's Jono Jackson; Errol Frewen, of Queenstown Golf Club; Cromwell's Bob McArthur; Wanaka's Kelly Gooch; Trevor Morgan, of Clyde, and Lake Hawea's Tony Arscott - had to chip 50m over a stream to the ninth hole on Millbrook's Coronet Nine.

The formula was easy: two shots each, the closest wins the place.

If the water alone did not make their palms sweat, then the steady rain and helicopters flying overhead threatened to rattle the concentration.

Only three of the first seven shots threatened the hole. Three balls rolled to the back and another splashed into the stream.

Playing first in the second ``round'', Mr Tabakau landed it short and rolled it to about 2m behind the pin, for the winner.

Once the result was clear, there were no histrionics - he just quietly accepted handshakes from his competitors.

He said afterwards he learnt from the first shot, which landed pin-high and rolled to the back.

``The second one, I thought just pitch and run it.''

When he left in November, Mr Tabakau was one of the longest-serving employees of Auckland Rugby, which bought him the membership at Alexandra's golf club as a parting gift.

Club president Gail McNeil told the Otago Daily Times she was absolutely thrilled at the news.

``He has impressed all the members. They enjoy playing golf with him. He's just such a nice person.''

The irony is if Mr Tabakau had not been playing in the Open, he would have been working at it. He had secured work as a ball-spotter for Animation Research Ltd, pending the result of Saturday's chip-off, of course.


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