By Duncan Simpson
New Zealand PGA Secretary
The golfing year has barely begun but already there are signs that 2017 is shaping up to be a great one for New Zealand golf.
To begin with our first local New Zealand Open champion in 14 years — Michael Hendry — has given golf here a welcome boost in profile.
That profile will be further advanced by the LPGA Tour sanctioned New Zealand Women’s Open at Windross Farm, south Auckland, in September, followed by the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Wellington in October. Both events are sure to receive huge international coverage.
Hendry’s victory reinforced the importance of our local tournament circuit as a breeding ground for producing golfers with the potential to foot it on the world stage. Hendry did not come through the conventional elite amateur pathway — he originally planned a career in cricket.
When he decided to try his luck in golf, he had to rely on New Zealand PGA pro-ams and Charles Tour events to both develop his game and — importantly — to build a stake to campaign on bigger and more lucrative circuits. After his share of struggles, Hendry got his breakthrough in 2010 when, after picking up the Carrus Open and Muriwai Open titles in April and May, he went on to win the Indonesian Open on the OneAsia circuit, and $US180,000 in prizemoney.
Since then, he has built a solid record on the Japan Tour and the PGA Tour of Australasia, which this year saw him earn a start in the WGC Mexico Championship, where he acquitted himself very well against the world’s best golfers. At age 37, Hendry has the game and the maturity to go much further and 2017 should be a stellar year for him.
Ryan Fox turned professional after an outstanding amateur career, and got off to a promising start only to fall into a hole which saw him lose his card on the PGA Tour of Australasia. He then had to look to the New Zealand circuit to rebuild his game, and after trying various options he now holds a full European Tour card, the first of our players to do so since Mark Brown. At age 30, he has also done the hard yards — not least in terms of a huge international travel schedule over the years — and has the power game to tear any course apart and win any tournament he tees it up in.
The NZ Open and NZ PGA results demonstrated that our local professionals are building depth and breadth, with Ben Campbell, Daniel Pearce, Josh Geary and Brad Shilton all prominent. Crucially, they now have more cash in their wallets to take to their overseas campaigns.
Meanwhile, in the toughest cauldron of all, the PGA Tour, we have three players to watch: Danny Lee, Tim Wilkinson and Steven Alker.
At the time of writing, their results were somewhat mixed with Wilkinson and Alker struggling to get starts now that the season proper is underway. However, both are great scrappers who tend to hit their best form mid-year. Similarly, Lee is still trying to get back to the heights he reached in 2015, but once he turns on the birdie machine, he is capable of winning anything.
Of course if we are talking profile, then Lydia Ko undoubtedly takes first prize because she got golf back in the media, not just in the sporting pages but also on the six o’clock television news. The promoters of the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open deserve great credit for their courage and vision in bringing the LPGA Tour to these shores, but they couldn’t have done it without Lydia.
The only downside with Lydia is that she has set our expectations so high that we are disappointed if she doesn’t win every week. Some may feel that she has gone off the boil: the reality is that she is still ranked No 1 in the world, despite the changes in caddy, coach and equipment. What hasn’t changed is her temperament, and by the time she plays here again in September she may well have another major or two under her belt.
All in all, a year to savour and celebrate.
By Duncan Simpson