By Duncan Simpson
New Zealand PGA Chief Executive
With New Zealand’s two premier men’s golf tournaments coming up in March, it’s time for golf fans to come to Auckland and Queenstown and support one of the strongest local line-ups seen for many years.
It looks like 13 of the top 15 ranked New Zealand players will tee it up in both the New Zealand Open in Queenstown (March 10– 13), and the Holden New Zealand PGA Championship at Remuera Golf Club in Auckland from March 3– 6.
Hopefully both will see the crowning of a New Zealand victor – certainly it’s been a long time between drinks at the NZ Open, with the last local winner being Mahal Pearce at Royal Auckland in 2003.
Our recent record in the PGA Championship is much better, thanks to Steven Alker’s win at Clearwater, Christchurch, in 2009, and Michael Hendry’s back-to-back wins in 2012 and 2013 at The Hills in Queenstown.
However, the strong New Zealand contingent will face stiff international competition from several quarters, including defending champion Matthew Millar from Australia.
Millar won his first PGA Tour of Australasia title at Remuera and played strongly through the rest of the year, finishing third on the order of merit table. He will be just one of around 20 hardened Australian professionals, any one of whom could take out the title.
Or it could be a bolter just like Jordan Zunic, who last year had to pre-qualify for the PGA Championship, finished in the top 10 and used it as a stepping stone to winning the NZ Open and finishing second on the order of merit.
Then there is a small but high quality group of Japan Tour players, including Daisuke Kataoka and Toshinori Muto who could see a second Japanese name on the trophy, the first being Jumbo Ozaki’s in 1972. There are Korean players Hong Soon Sang and Kim Byung Jun who can’t be counted out, and there will be a European Tour presence through South African Dylan Fritelli.
The New Zealand challenge in the PGA Championship will be led by home-town hero Ryan Fox, but he is only one of several locals with excellent credentials. Fans will welcome the chance to see 2015 PGA Tour player Steven Alker back in the country, and it would be great to see a similar Kiwi trifecta as in 2009, when Josh Geary and David Smail filled the next two places in what was then a Nationwide Tour event.
Michael Hendry will have something to say as well: he bounced back from missing the cut in last year’s PGA Championship to secure his first Japan Tour victory, and has been in great early form this year on the NZ Pro-Am circuit.
Josh Geary will likewise be looking for a springboard to boost his Web.Com Tour campaign in 2016. Look out also for players like Sean Riordan, Doug Holloway, Jim Cusdin, Jared Pender, Gareth Paddison, Daniel Pearce, Brad Shilton, Michael Long and Harry Bateman, who all have the ability and depth of experience to lift the McDougall Cup on Sunday, March 6.
The leading New Zealand player will also get his name on the Sir Bob Charles Trophy, which debuted in 2015 with Josh Geary as the winner.
The Kiwi contingent will all get a huge lift from their local support base, especially at Remuera where spectators have the chance to get inside the ropes and walk the fairways with their favourite groups, or mingle in the excellent hospitality areas with family and friends.
Admission prices are very family friendly at both venues, with under 18s getting in free and – at Remuera – enjoying free parking right next to the golf course.
Both tournaments follow shortly after the Australian cricket team’s tour of New Zealand. Wouldn’t it be great to follow our home team’s success there with a couple of emphatic performances on our own golf courses? Or if the cricket hasn’t gone according to plan, we will at least have the chance to see the trans-Tasman balance restored in our favour – but you need to be there in Auckland or Queenstown to enjoy the moment.