World’s biggest hitter seeks equality in golf

The world number one in long drive golf, Kiwi Phillis Meti, wants to see more prizemoney for women, and more Maori and Polynesian girls striking the ball

Numbers matter to Phillis Meti.

There’s her yardage, the distance she can smack a golf ball. And for the best woman in the world, that’s a fair way - no pun intended.

She drove the ball 414 yards (378.5m) in Phoenix earlier this year, beating her old world record of 406 yards (371m).

Then there’s her world ranking, which is number one. And that pleases her.

The fact she finished second at the world champs in September, that irks her. She has three previous titles to her name from 2006, 2016 and last year.

There’s also the number of competitors she lines up against on the World Long Drive tour. It stands at 27, which is a big drop from the 40 women Meti competed against when he joined the tour in 2006, and 24 fewer than the 51 men who tee off.

And then there’s the number of dollars the men earn compared to the women.

This year’s women’s champion, South African Chloe Garner, slipped US$30,000 ($45,720) into her purse for her efforts.

American Kyle Berkshire, the men’s champion, went home with US$125,000 ($190,500).

“I’d like to see something that’s a lot closer,” says the Auckland-born Meti from her base in Orlando, Florida.

“You can’t say the guys get more eyes on their game because we’re on the same TV show at the same time. And my world record of 414 yards is longer than at least half of the men’s field, so I’m not happy about it.”

You get the sense that Meti isn’t about to let the issue lie.

The former Epsom Girls Grammar student, who took up golf when she was seven, is determined to see the status of the women’s division improve.

And, being of Cook Island heritage, she wants to see golf played by more Maori and Polynesians, especially women.

“I really want to inspire Polynesian girls to pursue their dreams,” the 32-year-old says.

That’s because she's been chasing her dream since her father, Raz, first put a club in her hands and she began to play seriously at 11.

“He loved playing and he loved watching me play,” Meti says of her father, who died from cancer in 2015.

“He knew more about my game than I did, and he knew how to play the game better than I did.”

She misses him terribly and has to be careful when she is playing that she doesn’t reflect upon that loss and her father’s influence on her game.

“I love playing the game and it’s a place where I get a lot of peace,” she says. “But in competitions if I think back to my dad, being an emotional person, it doesn’t help.”

It was Meti’s mum, also named Phillis, who got her into long drive, though. She spotted a flyer for a local competition in 2006 and suggested her then 18-year-old daughter give it a crack.

She did and she won. Meti then went on to win the regional competition, and when she took out the national title as well, breaking the New Zealand record in the process, she was encouraged to make the trip to Nevada to play at her first world long drive championship.

“I was told I might make the top 15 if I was lucky,” she recalled.

Meti did better than that - winning the world title, just a few months after she’d played her first long drive competition basically on a whim.

She backed that win up by finishing second in 2007 and 2008, but took a break from the sport after that, in part because it became a bit of a political mess.

The winner in 2008 was Lana Lawless, a transgender woman who successfully sued the LPGA, the Long Drivers of America and some sponsors in 2010 for discrimination.

At the heart of her case was the LPGA’s rule that a woman had to be female at birth, which has since been dropped.

Dismayed at what was happening, Meti returned to 18-hole golf, playing on the Australia and Asian tours and tournaments in the United States.

She also used the time to complete her Bachelor in Sport and Recreation, majoring in management, and was at home for the death of her dad.

Meti will be back in New Zealand for Christmas, before returning to Orlando for another tilt at the title of golf’s biggest hitter.

It is, she says, a sport that combines endurance and power. You need to be strong to hammer the ball down the fairway, but also fit to cope with the demands of the day.

To win a tournament, you will have played eight rounds, hitting eight balls each round inside three minutes.

Tempo and timing are key, Meti says, along with the ability to concentrate and shut out the noise of a long drive competition.

Long drive golf isn’t the tranquil ‘good walk spoiled’ of its 18-hole big brother. There’s usually a few thousand spectators crammed around the tee and music is blaring across the course.

Inside that maelstrom, Meti is focused, thinking about her form, staying in the zone, working on her rhythm, and on the contact with the ball.

When she hits it sweetly, it soars, flying through the all-important yardage. When it doesn’t? Well she knuckles down and thinks back to some sage advice.

“Dad had a real give-it-a-go attitude and that’s rubbed off on me now that he has passed,” Meti says.

“I give it my best shot and I find happiness in that.”

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