Ella’s enchanted

You could say former Black Sticks hockey player Ella Gunson’s in good hands this week.

Gunson, 33, is the sole female ambassador playing in this week’s 102nd New Zealand Open golf tournament — which finally tees off today
following a three-year Covid-enforced hiatus — partnered with Kiwi pro and former NZ Open champion David Smail, with her younger brother, Joe, 30, who’s largely responsible for teaching her how to play, on her bag.

Despite representing New Zealand at the 2012 and 2021 Olympics, and winning a gold Commonwealth Games medal in 2018 and a silver in 2010, and notching up 232 caps as a Black Stick, Gunson told Mountain Scene earlier this week she was ‘‘ridiculously nervous’’ ahead of her first round this morning.

‘‘I know on that first tee I’m probably going to be a nervous wreck; I can even feel it now, my arms will be quite shaky and weak.

‘‘But I know once I do that first tee-off, it’ll be OK.

‘‘Everyone says, ‘but you’re an international athlete, you’ve played in front of crowds’, but when I was playing hockey, I was confident.

‘‘In golf … you are outside your comfort zone.’’

While her handicap’s listed at a 6.6, Gunson reckons she’s going into the Open playing off a 7.4.

‘‘I’d love to just be able to hit the ball straight; it’s a bit of a lottery most of the time,’’ she laughs.

Having first picked up the clubs sporadically with her brothers and dad when she was in her late teens, Gunson says she only started playing more consistently about seven years ago.

Finally tee time: Pictured at Millbrook Resort this week ahead of the 102nd New Zealand Open golf tournament started today are tournament ambassadors, from left, former All Black Israel Dagg, England cricket legend Sir Ian Botham, former double All Black Jeff Wilson, former Black Sticks player Ella Gunson, rally driver Hayden Paddon, former Black Caps captain Stephen Fleming and Seven Sharp co-host Jeremy Wells. PICTURE: PHOTOSPORT

She says her hockey career’s definitely helped her pick it up — hand-eye coordination’s a factor, as is the knack of just being able to hit a ball, but a key transferable skill’s her ability to pick the weight of a swing.

‘‘You have to be able to put a ball in a certain place, at a certain speed.

‘‘That definitely helps [with golf] — not with my putting, my putting’s terrible — but with chipping and things like that.’’

This is just her second visit to Millbrook Resort — she was one of nine women drawn from 400,000 golfers last year for a trip through Golf
NZ’s ‘Make Time Play 9’ initiative — and having enjoyed a couple of practice rounds this week, she’s in awe of her surroundings and the
condition of the courses.

‘‘It’s just beautiful — you look down the fairway and you’ve got the mountains as your backdrop and all the colours, it’s just beautiful.

‘‘The fairways are like carpet, hitting off them is so nice and the greens are really good too — they’re a lot quicker than I’m used to.’’

As to her expectations this week, the Dargaville police constable says she just wants to enjoy the experience and have fun.

‘‘I don’t want to put too much pressure [on myself] … I just really want to soak it all in.

‘‘It’s a pretty amazing thing, and the place is just buzzing with all the golfers around.’’

The NZ Open, presented by Sky Sport, is being played at Millbrook Resort from today till Sunday — entry’s free.

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