Maihi and Clay claim New Zealand Maori Nationals for a third time

Kyle Maihi and Te Rongopai Clay won their third Maori national titles at the New Zealand Maori Nationals yesterday, with Maihi earning his place in the New Zealand Open field again and Clay winning the stroke play and match play double.

Poneke hosted the 86th staging of the popular Maori event, with over 300 golfers vying to be Maori national champions in their respective divisions held at Shandon and Te Marua Golf Clubs. Taupo Golf Club previously hosted the tournament for several years, highlighting the event’s popularity as elite golfers, rangatahi, and kaumatua of all abilities flocked to the new venue to tee off Maori Golf’s signature event.

In the main men’s and women’s draws, two rounds of stroke play determined who made the top 16 men and top eight women who made the match play.

Futures Geyserland’s Francis Lockwood took out the men’s stroke play with an exceptional 63 and 75 to lock up the top seed in the match play, while Te Rongopai Clay qualified first in the women’s, beating the defending champion Hunter Edwards in a playoff after shooting 77 and 73.

The men’s defending champion, Maihi, qualified as the second seed, and beat Patrick Werahiko in the round of 16, Richard Apanui in the quarters, and a strong performance in the semi-final to see off Keanu Howe.

He faced Maori Golf stalwart Marcus Lloyd in the final, who has supported the event for many years alongside his whanau. Maihi jumped out to an early lead and iced the tournament with an incredible eagle on the par 5 15th, winning 5&3 to earn a start in the New Zealand Open for the second year in-a-row for defending his title.

He says it’s hard to describe the winning feelings.

“It feels really special to win [my third title in a row]. I really enjoyed myself out there, and now I get to go to the New Zealand Open again and experience that again; I now know what I need to do to perform a bit better.

“Representing Maori Golf at the New Zealand Open is really special. I’m looking forward to representing our people with pride again – I felt like I did that last year, so I’m going to continue that.”

Maihi says the Maori National Championship is his favourite event, and it’s a privilege to win.

“There is no other event like this. Everyone is so supportive event though the stakes are high. It’s all about bringing people up, and after the golf, it’s all about the people. The people make this event so special.”

In the women’s match play, Clay beat Candis Brunning and Deanna Matthews on her way to another New Zealand Maori National Championship final, where she would play Opotiki’s Stevee Biddle-Tai, who had an impressive victory over the defending champion in the other semi. The Titahi Bay Golf Cub member was too strong in the final, winning 5&3 after jumping out to a lead midway through her round, and never looked back.

Clay says winning her third title is special, especially as it’s her first as a mother.

“The main difference is having my two kids. I didn’t think I would play golf at a competitive level like this, so it’s special to be at home in Wellington and win in front of lots of whanau and friends. It’s my favourite tournament.”

She says controlling her ball in challenging blustery conditions was the secret to getting over the line for the third time following her wins in 2011 and 2016.

“It was a great match – a tight one! I knew that would be the case after seeing Stevee’s play yesterday.

“I wasn’t as wayward as I was yesterday. I kept the ball in play, which was the main thing. The holes that I got up on were the ones where she hit it in a bit of trouble, and I was able to keep my ball safe. I also putted a lot better than yesterday – it still wasn’t great, but I holed some nice putts that kept me in there as well.”

Like Maihi, she also says the Maori Golf Championships is her favourite event that she can’t miss.

“It’s always been my favourite event – not because of the golf, but because of the people. Everyone here is so supportive, and I’ve made lifelong friends through the tournament. I grew up playing this tournament, and it was always the one this I looked forward to after Christmas.”

A successful event in Poneke, the New Zealand Maori Golf Association (NZMGA) would like to thank all of the volunteers, supporters, whanau, and players that support the Kaupapa and make the event so special.

The 87th instalment of the Maori Golf National tournament will return back to Taupo in 2025.