New Zealand sport’s great secret: Meet Phillis Meti – golf’s most powerful driver

Phillis Meti is among New Zealand’s biggest sports secrets – the greatest ladies long driving exponent in history. This is her story.

American Bryson DeChambeau, who won this year’s US Open in astonishing fashion, wants to revolutionise golf by making 400 yard drives a matter of course.

It hardly seems possible, although DeChambeau’s new, muscular physique shows how determined he is to re-imagine whatprofessional golf is all about.

Aucklander Phillis Meti has been there, done that. She is the greatest ladies long driving exponent in history, her best shots going well past the magical 400-yard (365-metre) mark.

Normal golf wasn’t her bag – Meti struggled on the Australasian ladies tour, ironically pinpointing poor driving for those woes.

But in the specialist sport of long drive, she is the undisputed world’s best female metre eater.

Many of us have stood on the first tee, hoping the opening shot lands far enough away from the golf clubhouse to avoid embarrassment.

Then the round can begin in earnest.

For a very few golfers, this initial blast out of the tee box is where the game both begins and end.

We’re talking about long drive exponents here, and in the history of this sport within a sport one woman stands well ahead of the rest.

Phillis Meti is unbeatable on her day, although she finds that first swing of the driver as daunting as the rest of us.

“There’s something about teeing up the first ball,” says the 33-year-old, who has won three world titles and hit – by far – the longest balls in women’s golf history.

“It’s nerve-racking. I always get butterflies.”

We meet at the Pupuke golf course on Auckland’s North Shore, where Meti is helping run – while also competing in – the New Zealand long drive championships.

This is a long way from where she was supposed to be, in Orlando, living with her boyfriend of four years Maurice Allen, also one of world’s best long drive golfers.

Covid-19 wrecked this year’s five-event American tour, which is owned by the Golf Channel.

So for now Meti – an only child raised in Avondale – lives in Auckland where she is completing a golf apprenticeship.

Despite a Halberg award nomination last year, Meti is among New Zealand’s biggest sports secrets. Her name may ring a bell with sports fans, but not as loudly as it might considering her exceptional achievements.

Last year, at a tournament in Arizona, she blasted her best ball a world record 378.5 metres (414 yards), having pummelled a previous shot 373 metres.

As Meti thinks back to that day, her eyes stare off into a clearly enjoyable distance.

“There was a terrible wind, from right to left, but I just had a really good hitting day,” she says as a relaxed smile spreads across her face.

“It wasn’t actually that (last world record) ball which makes me so happy…it was the way I hit it in the qualifying round which made that day my favourite.

“I knew exactly where the ball was going. It’s about confidence…all the good work is working.”

For anyone who may think that long ball hitting is a bit of a lark, the amount of work and analysis involved will be beyond surprising.

At her training peak, Meti spends eight hours a day on the driving range each day. This involves hitting about 1000 balls a day, the preparation needed for a three day event.

And there’s also plenty of gym work, although nothing compared to what her boyfriend undertakes.

Maurice Allen will hit the gymnasium five times a day, and jokingly refers to Phillis as ‘Secretariat’, the famous American race horse who not only loved to run, but was keen on grazing and sleeping.

Meti laughs at the nickname, before making it clear she still works extremely hard at her game.

Phillis Meti doesn’t have to worry about which balls to use.

They are standard issue in long drive. Volvik is the current sponsor and supplies a very high compression ball which suits fast swingers.

Nothing else is left to chance.

Meti has 35 different shafts with different flex and kick points, to suit all conditions. For instance, a head wind requires a higher kick point on the shaft, to keep the ball down.

She uses a 47 inch shaft, one inch shorter than the maximum allowed under the standard golf rules.

Her club head has a standard 9.5 degree loft, which she usually dials down to 7.5 degrees, but never any lower. Her preferred driver head size is 420 cubic centimetres although in the past she got close to the maximum 460cc.

The statistics don’t end with her equipment.

When recalling her world record shot, Meti says she was “more excited about the ball speed and swing speed” than the result.

Her club head hit 204kph that day, while the ball zoomed off at 292kph and reached a 35 metre apex.

For a comparison, the average club head speed with driver on the men’s PGA tour is 180kph, and the average ball speed around 270kph.

Meti loves breaking her sport down into a “science”. The results are stunning, compared to the average professional golfer.

At the extreme end of the ladies PGA tour, a very few hitters can average close to 275 metres for their drives, well short of Meti’s best.

Until this year, DeChambeau’s best official drive on tour was slightly short of Meti’s world record mark, although the American maverick had the sports world in awe five months ago when he launched a 391 metre drive at a tournament in Connecticut.

And while the accuracy needed to succeed in normal golf isn’t required in long driving, it’s not a case of just blasting the ball anywhere. The landing grid is about 50 metres wide, an exacting target when hitting the ball with such power.

Some of the world’s best golfers are in awe of what Meti and her long drive mates achieve.

After one world long drive championship, TV golf analyst Paige Mackenzie – a former LPGA tour player – described the distances as extraordinary.

“It is incomprehensible for players who play this game for a living to see another human being of average size hitting it this far,” she said.

“It’s a different world when you have PGA tour players tweeting ‘I can’t believe how far they are hitting it.”

Not that all long driving exponents are of average build. At the New Zealand championships, it’s impossible to miss a character like Gary-John Hill, a cancer survivor whose life was saved by chemotherapy three years ago.

Hill, a Northland personal trainer, is re-built like an All Black No. 8.

“Are those arms legal?” someone yells as Hill steps into the tee box at Pupuke.

Meti certainly isn’t small at 180cm tall and a touch over 90kg, but she’s not a mass of heavily defined muscle either.

“I’m not really that strong – I’m useless in the gym,” she says.

The women’s long drive leans more towards technique than the muscular aggression which many of the men rely on.

But physical power is a factor of course. Meti was defeated in the world final last year by South African Chloe Garner, who wants to compete as a weightlifter at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Long drive mastery is not all about numbers, power and equipment.

Psychology plays a big part. The golfers have three minutes to deliver eight shots, and Meti loves to get at least one great result from her first three drives, so she is free to “unleash on the rest”. It also allows her to put pressure on opponents.

Time management, rhythm and composure are critical, and Meti likes to evenly space her eight shots.

“You are dealing with the humidity and heat, and the mental breakdowns you may have,” she says.

“Being a woman, there are so many things out of your control…women’s physiological things.

“So you need to find coping mechanisms. Maybe you are not feeling well that day, or didn’t drink enough water the previous day.

“But you still have to perform – you are on TV, there are sponsorships involved, you have to do it for yourself, your team, for the people you represent.”

M eti was a budding shot put and discus thrower as a kid, under the guidance of athletics great Les Mills.

Her parents – mum Phyl and her late dad Raz – were heavily involved with Waka Ama, a sport Phillis also competes in. She was a decent netballer.

At 19, she won the national long drive title at first attempt, and then the world crown. Phillis Meti had arrived, found her sport, and then promptly departed.

She had always dreamed of being a touring golf professional so quit the long drive to pursue success on the Australasian tour.

Amusingly perhaps, she blames poor driving for a lot of her struggles on the regular tour.

“It was either awesome or really crap,” she says.

“I certainly wasn’t laughing at the time.”

Meti, an only child, was given amazing support by her parents as she pursued this tour dream, while she supplemented her almost non-existent golf winnings by working in an Auckland pro shop.

Despite her dad’s best efforts to get her head right for tournament golf, Meti struggled on the compact summer tour.

Put it this way: the $17,000 first prize she won when setting the world long drive record goes way past the prizemoney of $12,000 she totalled in a decade on the Aussie tour.

In 2016, Meti went back to doing what she does best, concentrating on the long ball hitting.

With the Golf Channel pushing the genre, having bought the tour in 2015, her prize money in 2019 was close to $90,000, and there was healthy, additional sponsorship and bonuses. She smiles, again, when I ask about her earnings and the life it gives her in America.

American riches and opportunity are a long way from a beautiful day at Pupuke, where Meti picked up $3000 unopposed in the women’s division of the national championships.

Her attempts to find an opponent from Australia fell through. But there was still a chance to watch her fluid power at work, as she lined up against one of the men and practiced on another hole.

Meti is not only a competitor, but a crusader of sorts, for golf, long driving and diversity/inclusivity in her sport.

During a break in the championships, Meti encourages and guides a small group of kids with wildly varying abilities who make up the junior competition.

She has been heavily involved organising many long drive tournaments in New Zealand over the years, including the ‘Battle of the Burbs’ which her partner Allen has won three times.

Meti, of mainly Cook Island and also Maori heritage, also assists Rumaki athletic director Steve Watkinson at Ngā Puna o Waiōrea (Western Springs College).

She is very conscious of making golf, and sport, a game for all. While inclusivity may be the name of the game in New Zealand, she says her relationship with Allen – who is African-American – has brought her face to face with the reality of discrimination.

Allen, she says, faces barriers in a predominantly white sport including a general lack of recognition and reduced sponsorship opportunities. Allen has publicly talked about receiving hate mail, and being randomly apprehended at gunpoint by police in America.

“What Maurice has to go through most days is a fight, in life and golf especially,” Meti says.

“When he still misses out after doing everything right, it’s disheartening.

“The cool thing in New Zealand is we have opportunities but people aren’t taking them.”

At some point, Meti will return to America.

Her career faces a new uncertainty, with the Golf Channel confirming in June that it plans to sell the long drive tour because of Covid-19 factors including falling sponsorship and travel restrictions.

But Meti still sees plenty of opportunities in America. Maybe the rise of Bryson “Mad Scientist” DeChambeau, the long driving superstar of the PGA tour, will help.

And Meti will always have that quest for a few extra metres to drive her on.

“The cool thing is that when you can break it down into a science you can measure things,” she says.

“People don’t understand what it takes sometimes when you are that serious about your craft.”

Source: Read Full Article