A 12-year-old with autism won a golf tournament after only playing 3 rounds in his life

The attention of the New Zealand golf world is now on a 12-year-old boy with almost no experience, who borrowed clubs, and competed in basketball shoes. Bayleigh Teepa-Tarau won the nine-hole competition at the AIMS Games, a national competition for adolescents designed to promote diversity amongst the nation’s sporting youth.

Bayleigh finished with an 87 in the Stableford scoring system, and despite being given a handicap because of his inexperience, he still floored onlookers as he showed a knack for the game typically reserved for those of years or play, or at the very least months with a professional coach.


Zespri AIMS Games School Sporting Championships

Being non-verbal for most of his life, Bayleigh was described as not being very interested in sports until a few months ago when he decided to try golf. The 12-year-old tried his hand at three rounds, and enjoyed the sport enough that his family enrolled him in the AIMS Games for the experience. They never imagined he’d actually go out and win it all.

Not only did he win the individual title, but helped his school win the team title as well. When asked about what he liked about golf Bayleigh’s response was short and to the point.

“The thing I love about golf is hitting my driver. I dreamed about coming here and finishing in first place and I had a lot of fun.”

While most people might consider being on the autism spectrum a disadvantage when it comes to learning a game, his father thinks there might be some advantages to why Bayleigh is so good at golf.

“It doesn’t really fluster him too much if he does a bad shot. He just likes hitting, so he really doesn’t care. And he doesn’t know how good he is – although he’s getting told a lot about that in the last couple of days.”


Bayleigh and his grandfather
Zespri AIMS Games School Sporting Championships

As incredible as the win was for Bayleigh’s family and friends, perhaps nobody was more proud of him than Whetu Wiremu a teacher’s aide who does cognitive behavioral therapy with Bayleigh to help him interact in society and live to his fullest.

“He never used to even talk to anyone,” says Wiremu. “I’ve done heaps of work with him for the last couple of years just to get him out of his shell and into sport and I just treated him like I treated all the other kids. For the last two weeks, it wasn’t really about taking them out on the course to practice golf. I was taking them out to practice golf etiquette and all that stuff.”

It remains to be seen where Bayleigh goes from here. Obviously there’s going to be tremendous interest in whether he wants to move forward with golf seriously, because he has a tremendous knack for the game — or whether he’ll just keep hitting balls for fun. If anything this is a reminder that we’re all equal, and incredible talent can be surfaced by just giving people a little time, attention, and care.

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