Phil Tataurangi at the Tīeke Golf Estate at Tamahere, in Waikato, in early 2021. (Photo supplied)

Back in the 1990s and 2000s, two young Māori golfers were taking on the best of the overseas golfers, and coming out on top from time to time.

For instance, Michael Campbell, a Pātea product, won more than a dozen professional tournaments including the US Open in 2005. 

And before that, in 1993, he linked up with three Kiwi mates to win the Eisenhower Trophy as the world’s best amateur national golf team. One of them was Phillip Mikaera Tataurangi, of Kahungunu ki Rangitāne and Ngāti Kikopiri whakapapa — and he was the individual top scorer that week.

Phil turned professional the following year, going on to win the 1996 Australian PGA Championship and the 2002 Invensys Classic on the PGA Tour.  

Since retiring from the game, Phil’s continued to make a living from golf, both as a broadcaster and a course designer.

In this piece, he reflects on his competitive days, touching on his regret that his focus on golf at that time came at the expense of being more aware of his Māori identity.

Phil, receiving the NZ Golfer of the Year award in 1993, following his star turn at the Eisenhower tournament in Canada. (Photo supplied)

For two decades, from 1994 to 2014, I was spending 10 months out of every year overseas, trying to become the best golfer I could be. Unfortunately, in chasing my dreams to succeed, I left my Māoritanga behind.

Even though I felt Māori, and I was very proud of being Māori on the world stage, I didn’t have a way of showing it, or making that become a much bigger part of me. I felt challenged about what it meant to be Māori offshore. It was hard to know how to express that side of me when I wasn’t surrounded with a Māori network and support. 

So I’d ask myself what it meant  to be Māori while I was overseas. It wasn’t doing a haka when you’re pissed, or speaking the reo, when no one knew what that was, just to show off. I found myself having those private conversations with the voices in my head asking: “Who are you?” But then not being able to provide an answer.

My dad, Te Roi Tataurangi, grew up in Pahiatua and he was of the era when the reo wasn’t spoken much in school, or around the home either. His great passion was sport. So, as you might when you’re right into your rugby, he went off to Te Aute College in the Hawke’s Bay for high school. 

Over there, he also excelled in cricket, archery, rifle shooting — and he held the New Zealand school records for the triple jump, the long jump, and the 100-yard sprint. He then went on to play rugby for Auckland, the NZ Juniors, and then the Māori All Blacks. Some say he was very unlucky not to wear the All Black jersey. 

But, sadly, he was never taught the reo. I hardly ever heard my Pāpā use the language, even though he became a schoolteacher. But Mum, Robyn, who is Pākehā and also a teacher, started using the reo in the classroom. She sparked my interest when I got to about intermediate age. 

And then I got right into it at high school. We had a marae built on the campus at Te Awamutu College, O-Tāwhao marae, and I had a passionate teacher, Iwi Kohuru Mangu, who we knew as “Mr” or “Boy Mangu”. Because of him, we had the reo, the tikanga, and kapa haka as an everyday part of our life at school.  

Phil’s parents Te Roi and Robyn. (Photo supplied)

Then Dad died as I was preparing to go to university in the States. He’d been slightly crook but then had a heart attack that killed him on the morning of an All Blacks-Wallabies rugby test match in Auckland, in August 1990.

His passing was traumatic. It took me months to be able to function again and pursue my pathway in golf. That just wasn’t a priority any more. 

My game went south as I battled with our loss. Heading overseas and leaving my mum, my sister, and my girlfriend, Melanie, (who later became my wife) didn’t feel right, so I stayed home. As much as anything, I needed to stay close to my whānau and friends for my own wellbeing. 

That time at home allowed me to heal. I leaned on a number of people who helped me find myself again. My game came around better than expected, and that culminated in our New Zealand amateur team winning the Eisenhower Trophy in Canada. Then I left New Zealand to play professionally the following year. I was 22.   

Looking back on life, I could say: “I have no regrets.” But that’d be bullshit. I deeply regret not finding a way to pack my whole self when I travelled internationally. 

If I had personally put in more effort, or prioritised knowing my whakapapa and my reo, would I have been more successful? I’ll never know and I guess it’s easy for me to ask that now. But if I had embraced that side of me more strongly, I do think my career would’ve been different.

Young Phil practising his putting at mini golf. (Photo supplied)

I started playing golf when I was seven years old. Mum and Dad were teaching at Kinohaku School on the coast out Kāwhia way — and I’d go along with the old man to the Waitomo Golf Club on the weekends. 

I had the good fortune of hanging out with, and learning from, some genuine Māori champions, most notably Trevor Ormsby. It wasn’t until I was old enough to head for the National Māori Championships, when I was at intermediate school, that I realised he was such a toa. An eight-time national Māori golf champion! And he’d been helping me, just a kid, with learning the game.

Another memory that has stayed with me from that time was the huge number of people enjoying golf. Some were there for the competiton, some for the friendships, and some for the time together as whānau. 

Golf isn’t the rich, exclusive game that it’s often perceived to be, although that reputation is well-earned in some places. We’re a country with nearly 400 courses, so the game in some way is part of the fabric of many of our communities. 

Golf has been a sport that many Māori have loved. I’ve wondered if part of that is because we’re out here on the land — and the land and our ancestors are talking to us. 

There’s a heartbeat under the whenua for Māori.

Teeing off during the ING NZ PGA Golf Championship at Clearwater Golf Club in Christchurch, in February 2006. (Photo: Hannah Johnston/PHOTOSPORT

I finished playing golf in 2014. I’d had a number of injuries and a couple of lower back surgeries that interrupted my progress, and possibly these curtailed my career. My play was in decline, and the effort and dedication needed to keep competing wasn’t what it once was.

There were other priorities at that time, and racking the clubs felt right. It was time to come home. Melanie and I had a strong feeling that we wanted our two kids to grow up where they have whānau and they whakapapa to the land.

In the late ‘90s, we’d done round after round of IVF to get pregnant with our son and we finally were successful. Our embryologist kept saying: “This is a miracle baby.” He could hardly believe it had finally worked! 

He delivered our baby as well and, although we had no idea what sex it would be, Kahurangi was the most appropriate name because of the journey we’d been on and our doctor cherishing our baby as much as we did. Kahu is now 21 and, bugger me, if he’s not thinking about pursuing a career in golf as well. 

We had no further IVF success after that, so our daughter Talia Āniwaniwa ended up coming to us as whāngai. She was born on a rainy morning in the backseat of a car on the way from Murupara to Rotorua hospital. Her birth mother called her Taku Au Mairangi, my little teardrop, and she came into our whānau when she was 12 days old.

When we were chosen by Talia’s birth mum to be the parents of this baby with Māori and Cook Islands whakapapa, from just up the road from our Taupō home, it was such a huge blessing. It really galvanised me and woke me up that there was this side of me that I had stopped acknowledging.

In the last couple of years, I’ve also spent time with my Uncle Dennis Paku who is our whānau and whakapapa historian. So, we’ve had way more time to kōrero and for me to learn my whakapapa.

Phil’s son Kahu, wife Melanie and daughter Talia on a family holiday to Disneyland in 2014. (Photo supplied)

The work I do now, designing courses, is helping me on the journey too. 

I started in golf course design when my playing days were over. And, when I began moving dirt around to build courses, I felt full of the whakapapa of the land. It seemed instinctive and natural to be working with the whenua. 

After 20 years travelling the world to play pro golf, I noticed how grounded I was being back home in gumboots and on the land. It filled me up. To come home and have work that’s so connected with the land has been a privilege.

Along with my business partner, Brett Thomson, and our team at Mahi Tahi Golf Projects, we’ve been part of the group that’s just finished the course at Tīeke at Tamahere, in Waikato. We worked with the club on the design and through the construction for four years. 

Even though, in relative terms, we were there for a short period of time, I felt connected to the ancestors of the place. Before we started, I spent time with Ngāti Hauā kaumātua and kaitiaki to retrace and recapture the whakapapa of the whenua.

It can be difficult for non-Māori to see, understand and appreciate why Māori history can mean a green or red light to a project — or why the process of working with local iwi and hapū is not just something to briefly acknowledge and move on past. For some people, that may mean facing the scary and the unknown, so it can be easier to not engage properly.

Developers in the past have sometimes undertaken the bare minimum to engage and consult with mana whenua — and some of the processes on various projects can be well short of authentic. There are plenty of iwi horror stories where the relationships have gone totally wrong. 

But for me, it’s never a matter of just ticking a box. And, fortunately, there’s now a strong section of our society who know that doing something about our history is the right thing to do, even if they don’t quite know what that something is. But there’s definitely a new openness and willingness which gives us heart that progress is being made. 

Our design approach is to try and make the game more interesting for people so they play more often. There was a trend in golf architecture for a while that every new course had to be a championship course. 

But what and who for? So, first and foremost we want to design golf for the average person who plays the game week in, week out. 

For many Pākehā, their golf club is their tūrangawaewae. Golf does that for them, especially if they don’t have a spiritual place they call home. A lot of them form their strongest friendships at the club. 

The people become far more important in a club than the golf holes themselves. If we can design to get that part right, there’ll be a heartbeat there for the next hundred years.

I think we’re going through a realisation as a people, wherever we whakapapa to, that peace and kotahitanga will come from knowing where we come from. 

For me personally, now is the time to rekindle that knowledge, to become whole again and to make up for some of the lost time.

Commentating on the PGA Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego 2020. (Photo supplied)

© E-Tangata, 2022

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