School exam woes for top golfer

Julianne Alvarez will lead the Wellington challenge for the women's Interprovincial championships in Dunedin next month.
Julianne Alvarez will lead the Wellington challenge for the women's Interprovincial championships in Dunedin next month.

Nerves threatened to get to Julianne Alvarez this week.

But it was nothing to do with having to sink a vital putt on the 18th.

The Sacred Heart College pupil can handle that, but an NCEA exam was a new experience.

Alvarez had to "slow down my breathing" as she waited to enter the room for the level one English examination on Monday.

"The wait was quite nerve-racking, but once we got in there it was fine. I'm used to playing [golf] under pressure but I didn't know what to expect with NCEA."

However, the work ethic that has helped Alvarez excel on the golf course has extended to her studies and the 16-year-old is on target to achieve an excellence endorsement for level one, despite her sporting commitments.

"We had a lot of golf towards the end of last month but I was able to get in a solid week of study before the exams."

It says much for Alvarez's precocious qualities as a golfer that she has represented New Zealand at a senior level before sitting her first NCEA exam.

She has also twice been named the College Sport Wellington Young Sportswoman of the Year after just three years at secondary school.

The only previous dual winners of the women's award have been swimmers Kelly Bentley (2005-06) and Samantha Lee (2008-09) and there is obviously the possibility that Alvarez will record four successive wins.

Alvarez had to scurry to make the College Sport awards dinner last week, as she was playing for Wellington in representative match against Canterbury at the Shandon Golf Club. "I had to go straight from the 18th green to the car and I changed in the car, while Mum was driving."

Alvarez, the No 1-ranked woman in Wellington, recorded the biggest win of her career when taking the Harewood Open, which is part of the Charles Tour, by seven strokes in Christchurch last month.

She began the final round three strokes behind the leader, tournament favourite Emily Perry, but produced a dazzling four-under- par round of 68 to distance her rivals.

"I kind of surprised myself in the last round - it was my best tournament round of the year. I have struggled mentally a bit this year and I was really proud of that win."

The victory moved Alvarez to fourth on the national order of merit, behind the Espirito Santo Trophy representatives Lydia Ko, Perry and Munchin Keh.

Once exams are out of the way, Alvarez will turn her focus to leading Wellington at the women's interprovincial tournament at St Clair, in Dunedin, next month.

"That is the culmination of the year and I really believe in our team this year. Everybody is playing well and there is such a good vibe and bond around the team. It's all coming together."

The Wellington team includes three school pupils, with Alvarez joined by her Sacred Heart schoolmate Barbara Parreno, who is in her last year at school, and Te Rongopai Clay (Wellington Girls' College).

Alvarez lost to world No 1 Ko at the 18th in the match against North Harbour at the 2011 interprovincials and is looking forward to the prospect of another clash next month.

"It's always a great challenge, against the No 1 amateur in the world, but you have nothing to lose. But I'm not sure whether Lydia will be there, because she has so many commitments now."

Following the interprovincial tournament, Alvarez will prepare for a trip to Australia in January, when she will play two or three tournaments, including the Australian amateur.

Her goals for 2013 include cementing her position as one of New Zealand's leading amateurs.

She is already a member of the national development squad but is aiming to make the national academy squad, which this year was confined to just three women, including Ko.

"I have represented New Zealand but I want to make it a regular occurrence and really nail my spot," Alvarez said.

"I want to play in more internationals. You reap so much benefit from that playing at that level." The other finalists for the Young Sportswoman of the Year award were Stella Beck (Hutt Valley High School) for basketball, Danica Ferriso (Sacred Heart) for softball, Jackie Kiddle (Wellington Girls') for rowing, Crystal Lawrence (Wellington East) for netball and Emma Rolston (Aotea College) for football.

Contact Tim Barton
Racing editor and college sport writer

The Dominion Post