Bright Young Things
After merely two years of playing competitive golf, Palmerston North teenager Emma Clayton has two national titles tucked under her belt and her eye on many more.
Emma took out the under-15 national title, as well as the under-15 South Island title this year. Her impressive form led to her being selected for the New Zealand Golf Women's Development Camp in July, where the high-performance team put the women through vigorous tests and delivered professional material on all aspects of elite player development.
Immediately after the camp, Emma continued her run of form with top-five finishes at the Otaki Open, Horowhenua Open and the Kapi Tareha, staking her claim as one of the top players in the lower North Island.
At the start of the year, Emma was approached by Manawatu-Whanganui's full-time coaching director, Stephen Wood, about the prospect of coaching the up-and-coming golf star.
It was Emma's "raw talent" that stood out the most to Mr Wood.
"She was shooting good golf – great golf scores for her age – but very rough around the edges in regards to all the areas that could be developed."
Emma was delighted by Mr Wood's offer to mentor her.
The duo meets three times a year for four to six-week periods, where they set Emma's goals and implement a plan to reach those goals.
"Each of those periods are geared towards having a three to four-month competition period without my interference," Mr Wood says.
After each three to four-month period, Emma and Mr Wood re-evaluate and implement new strategies.
"Then we go through another four to six-week period and then she's let loose to play for another three to four months again."
On any given day, Emma can be found holing birdies at the Manawatu Golf Club course. Most of her time is dedicated to playing golf, training seven days a week.
"I train every day after school for about three hours. And every weekend," the year-10 Palmerston North Girls' High School student says.
For Emma, there is no greater pleasure in life than being on the golf course, relying only on herself to do well.
"I love playing tournaments. You play for yourself, not for a team."
Emma first discovered her passion for golf during a visit to Rebel Sports.
"I saw golf clubs and I bought some. All I wanted were golf clubs. So I got lessons."
After four years, Emma delved into playing golf competitively. That was two years ago, and she is now ranked 22 in the country.
"She's one of the best golf players in New Zealand," Mr Wood says. "She hasn't played a lot of major tournaments, so if she starts to play a few more next year, that rank is only going to improve even if she maintains the same form she currently has."
It is Emma's steely determination that sets her apart from other golfers her age, Mr Wood believes.
"She just has greater willpower, greater determination and will to win. She has a good golfing brain and most importantly she knows how to shoot a golf score."
This year alone, Emma has gone "above and beyond" her goals and is waiting to be named in the Ladies Interprovincial Team later this year.
Once that happens, Emma and Mr Wood will meet for another intense training session and discuss what she hopes to achieve next year.
"Some of the goals for Emma in 2012 will be to represent New Zealand, to become the No1 woman golf player in the Manawatu-Whanganui district and to win the national under-17 title."
- © Fairfax NZ News