Man mountain for Millbrook

Surprise invite: Tom Walsh PICTURE: OTAGO DAILY TIMES

Champion shot putter Tom Walsh wasn’t expecting his invitation to play golf in the New Zealand Open pro-am in Queenstown in March.

The Cantabrian says that when he saw the list of other invited celebs – including, again, cricketing greats Ricky Ponting, Stephen Fleming and Brendon McCullum – “I was, like, ‘where do I fit in this group, I don’t really match up with many of these guys’.”

The 24-year-old’s being too modest, however.

In 2016, he established himself amongst the three best shot putters on the planet – and he’s not bad shakes at golf, either.

Last year, Walsh – a Halberg Awards sportsman of the year finalist – won the world indoor championships, snatched bronze in Rio Olympics and won the Diamond League title.

A highlight was standing on the top of the podium after the world indoors in Portland, in the United States, hearing the national anthem.

“That’s something pretty special – hopefully I hear that again, but if I don’t, at least I heard it once.”

Meanwhile, he’s no weekend golf hacker.

He only took up the sport about two years ago but already has a 12 handicap.

“Surprisingly enough, driving isn’t the best part of my game.

“The best part is probably my short game and putting around the green.

“I can hit a big ball, bigger than most people, but it’s a little bit erratic sometimes.”

Walsh says he’s like a lot of sportspeople who take up “weird hobbies” to fill their downtime.

In his case, he’ll escape a hotel room to play nine holes “just to start thinking about something different than just throwing shot”.

It’s why he still works as a carpenter five or six months of the year, albeit part-time.

“I don’t do it ‘cos I need the money, I do it because, again, it’s a little bit like golf, it kind of takes my mind off throwing shot and things like that.”

Timaru-raised Walsh says he knows Queenstown well but hasn’t played golf here – “that
was definitely on the to-do list”.

His prime aim at the NZ Open, co-hosted by Millbrook and The Hills, will be to have fun.

“Even if I don’t play good golf, it’s always better than being in the office or doing something else.”

When he’s here he’ll still have one more weekend’s competition left on the NZ circuit, “so there will be a bit of training happening over that weekend”.

“I’ve just got to figure out if there’s a shot put circle in Queenstown.”