New Zealand Golfers Returning Home
Ahome grown event just wouldn’t be the same without the presence of players from that country. And this year, one of the strongest contingents of Kiwi professionals in recent history will line up at the NZPGA Championship in Queenstown February 28 to March 3. The majority of the country’s best players will tee off at The Hills for the PGA Tour of Australasia tournament, raising hopes of another homegrown champion in 2013. Michael Hendry is returning to defend his title, after becoming the first winner of the event under the new celebrity Pro-Am format last year. Hendry had a fantastic year in 2012, going on to win another three titles after his victory in Queenstown as well as racking up a number of top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour of Australasia and the OneAsia tour. He also secured his card on the lucrative 2013 Japan Tour after a top 30 finish at qualifying school. Another three former champions from New Zealand will join Hendry in the field. The 2009 winner Steven Alker is back after missing the event last year. Alker finished 2012 in fine form with a top five finish at the Chile Classic on the Web.com Tour. Earlier in the year, he showed just how good he really is with a top 20 finish at The Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes. The 1984 champion Greg Turner is also back for a crack at the title. Turner surprised everyone when he dusted off his clubs after almost a decade in retirement to play the Harewood Open last year. He also lined up in the NZ Open at Clearwater and defied all the odds to make the cut and play all four rounds, 10 years after he last contested the event. The other former winner, Simon Owen, who is best remembered for his duel with Jack Nicklaus in the 1978 British Open (where he finished runner-up), makes a rare reappearance in a major professional event, which marks the centenary of the New Zealand PGA. The 2012 NZPGA runner-up, and former European Tour winner Mark Brown, who finished a creditable fifth on the PGA Tour or Australasia Order of Merit, will be looking to go one better this year. Other top touring Kiwis who will play the NZPGA this year include David Smail, Ryan Fox, Gareth Paddison, Josh Geary, Brad Shilton and Richard Lee, as well as Perthbased Michael Long. Throw in Phil Tataurangi and Australian Peter Fowler, who many deem to be an honorary Kiwi having lived in Auckland for two decades, and there is reason to be optimistic of a winner from New Zealand. It’s a ringing endorsement of the organising committee’s decision to adopt the celebrity Pro-Am format last year. Tournament Director Michael Glading has no doubt it has played a key role in luring the country’s top talent home. ‘‘The tournament has a unique feel to it, and is clearly one that the majority of pros enjoy. The majesty of Queenstown, and The Hills in particular is a strong draw card, and we are really delighted to have all of our top players other than Campbell and Lee (both of whom are committed elsewhere) come and join us this year. ‘‘Steve Alker has made a huge commitment by flying all the way home for this event, and proves that our growing reputation for providing a fantastic week of golf and hospitality is starting to reap dividends.’’
- Supplied by Heather Kidd
Photo: Stacy Squires/FAIRFAX NZ PRO-AM: Michael Hendry is returning to defend his title.