Love of golf drives history-making Samoan Faith Vui
Hamilton, NEW ZEALAND — Faith Vui remembers driving a golf cart for her dad in Apia when she was a kid, so it was fitting that he was by her side when she took out the New Zealand Women's Amateur Championship on the weekend.
Vui became the first Samoan to claim the title after winning the 36-hole final at the Hamilton Golf Club - St Andrews Course on Sunday.
Her father and coach Garry Vui caddied for every shot she hit over the entire week.
Vui, who lives and plays in Samoa, competes overseas when her family can afford it and both father and daughter were emotional after the biggest win of her golfing journey so far.
Winning the New Zealand event had been one of her biggest goals and a stepping stone towards her dream to be the first Samoan to play on the LPGA Tour.
She was 10 when she asked her dad if she could start playing, after watching her eldest brother Niko go to tournaments and her other brother Leo take it up.
"I thought to myself 'hey I want to try this out and see how it goes' and I found a passion and love for it and here I am," Vui said.
Her father Garry developed his own passion for golf many years ago and is completely self-taught.
"He took it up when he was an adult, he has a love and passion for it and once we all wanted to start playing he learnt so much and taught himself how to coach us and taught us the game from the start. He's been learning so much for us."
Faith and her brother Leo, who is a year older than her, were so committed to progressing in the sport that they decided to get home-schooled so they could practice six days a week at Royal Samoa, their home club.
"We started home schooling around 2019. My Mum wasn't super up for it but my Dad knew that we both wanted to go as far as we could with it and practice as much as we could.
"So my Mum agreed, we've been doing home schooling since then and we practice and play as much as we can. Not on Sundays because we go to church and that's our rest day but every other day is."
In a country where netball would be the sport of choice for most girls, what is it about golf that appeals to Vui?
"When I initially started it was pretty tough as a beginner but I think learning the different emotions that came with it and I guess when I had my first birdie I was super happy and it's just a great achievement when you make small achievements here and there.
"I just love being outside and I just love the emotions that come with it and I love that I can play with my family, my brothers and my Dad. I kind of feel like I have a skill for it so I really want to go as far as I can with it but I love the game, it just brings so much joy to me."
The family conveniently lives just a five minute drive from the Royal Samoa Country Club in Apia.
"When I was a kid, before I started playing my Dad went every day, he would have games with his friends and I would drive the cart for him and since I was little I was always on the golf course, I kind of grew up there."
Her father acts as coach and caddy whenever Faith or her brother Leo play in tournaments, while their mother takes care of the family owned business when they are overseas.
Vui, who won the Samoa Amateur championship earlier this year, travelled to her first overseas tournament when she was just 12.
"I can still kind of remember how that was on my first day it was super nerve wracking ...it was a junior golf event, it was super fun to go to my first tournament in New Zealand."
With limited competition in Samoa and only two golf courses on Upolu, Vui said playing overseas was crucial.
"The more you play under pressure, the more you get used to it and trying to get used to different types of golf courses and different under pressure situations and feelings is good for me.
"We travel when we can afford it, I'm so grateful to my parents for helping us afford to come to these tournaments. As as a teenager it does register that playing golf at this level is super expensive.
"It kind of does put a little bit more pressure going into the tournaments but I use that pressure as motivation. There's a lot that goes into coming to these tournaments and I'm just grateful that I can."
Vui has also represented Samoa in tournaments in America, including the renowned IMG Academy Junior World Golf Championships.
"Going to that is a great learning experience and trying to learn from my mistakes when I go over there. America is a totally different world and it's great to see how I can compete."
Vui looks up to pro golfers like American Rose Zhang and New Zealand's Lydia Ko.
"I also love Lexi Thompson because she's also very into her fitness and I love going to the gym as well. I love Lydia Ko and her story and I just love all of their stories and like listening to their advice and the things that they did to get to where they are."
There aren't any Samoan pro female golfers for Vui to look up to but her dream is to be that trailblazer and become the first Samoan to play professionally on the LPGA Tour.
"That is my big dream and goal to be on the LPGA tour and to see how I go there and just to put my name out in the world and be the first female Samoan on the LPGA playing with the top professionals."
Junior golf development in Samoa is largely parent-driven and self-financed with the assistance of one or two fund-raising activities throughout the year.
With a scarcity of coaches and limited finances, many young players are coached by their parents.
But Samoa's junior golf programs have come a long way in recent years and young players like Vui are starting to do well in international events.
Vui would love to see golf become more popular in Samoa and hopes to inspire young people.
"That's one of my big dreams also. There are a couple of junior programs that some of our fellow golfers are running. I think as we see more juniors coming in hopefully they come to love the game as much as all of us do and hopefully it grows more in Samoa."
Faith and her brother Leo are now preparing for the Pacific Games later this year, where they will be flying the Samoan flag.