NZ Open: Eight former champions confirmed for Queenstown
New Zealand Open: Eight former champions confirmed for
A total of eight former champions have confirmed to play in next week’s New Zealand Open in Queenstown.
Four Australian winners Jake Higginbottom, Craig Parry, Peter O’Malley and Peter Fowler will be in the field alongside four former Kiwi champions in David Smail, Mahal Pearce, Michael Long and Greg Turner for the event from February 27 to March 2.
The National Open holds a purse of $900,000, will be co-hosted by The Hills and Millbrook, and is expected to be the biggest golf tournament staged in New Zealand for many years.
The eight former champions are all looking forward to getting back to the event where they have held aloft the Brodie Breeze Trophy.
Parry won the 2002 New Zealand Open staged at the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club which was famous for being the NZ Open that World No.1 Tiger Woods played in.
The 48-year-old pro from NSW, who finished runner-up to Brad Kennedy in 2011, said he would always support the New Zealand Open when possible.
"Winning the New Zealand Open changed my life," said Parry.
"With Tiger playing in the field whoever won that event got an invite to the World Golf Championship event. Then I happened to win that World Championship event and that put me on the Tour for another few years and it followed up with another win at Doral.
"So I am forever in debt to the New Zealand Open to have another few years on the PGA Tour. If you are talking about money, those two wins earned me probably $3 million.”
The NZ Open had a similar impact on the most recent winner Higginbottom.
He made history in 2012 when he won at the Clearwater Golf Club to become the first amateur to win the title since compatriot Harry Berwick in 1956.
“Winning the NZ Open definitely changed my career,” said the defending champion.
“I wasn’t thinking about turning pro but that win changed that with the exemptions it offered me. It also gave me a huge amount of confidence that I was ready and that I could compete with really good players.”
Meanwhile O’Malley holds a special place in the annals of New Zealand Golf. He claimed the NZ Open in 1995 at The Grange and he is the only player to have won the NZ Open, the NZ Amateur and the NZ PGA titles.
“I love coming back to New Zealand and been fortunate to enjoy some success over there, the New Zealand Open is always a great tournament to play in,” said O’Malley.
Auckland-based Aussie Peter Fowler, who won the event in 1993 at Paraparaumu Beach, has a good track record at The Hills and finished tied 33rd at the NZ PGA last year.
Meanwhile the Kiwis are even more excited to have another NZ Open in Queenstown.
Turner, who won the title at Paraparaumu Beach in 1989 and Royal Auckland in 1997, is looking forward to playing the tournament in his home province.
“It means I'll have to get a lot of tickets,” joked the 50-year-old.
“In all seriousness, it's nice to get the New Zealand Open back to Queenstown. Given my involvement in the Tourism NZ initiative it feels like this is where the championship should be.”
Likewise for Pearce. The Otago professional, who is famous for being the last Kiwi to win the tournament back in 2003 at Royal Auckland, is gearing up for a big week at The Hills.
Perth-based Kiwi Michael Long, who won the event in 1996 at Paraparaumu Beach, said coming home to play in the New Zealand Open was always a great thrill.
“Playing your National Open is always something special,” said the 45-year-old.
“To return to the event as a former champion brings back fond memories. It will always remain my most treasured victory.”
Long said his win in 1996 was special as a New Zealander hadn't won the event for some time so the crowds were willing him onto victory.
“The memory of the massive crowds surging up the 18th hole behind me still gives me goose bumps.”
Long, who finished tied 18th at the NZ PGA Championship at The Hills in 2013, and was born along the road in Cromwell, always enjoys returning to Central Otago.
“This is one of the most spectacular places on earth and the fact we get to play a golf tournament here is a privilege. I left this area when I was about six years old so I didn't really play much golf here. I might live in Australia now but I am a proud New Zealander and as I was born here, this part of the country is always special to me.”
“I'm not sure that either course suits my game but playing in front of a New Zealand crowd is like having a 15th club in the bag. Hopefully this hometown support will give me some extra confidence.”
Japanese Tour pro David Smail won the New Zealand of 2001 at The Grange and said it remains a highlight of his career.
“The biggest highlight of my career is winning the New Zealand Open,” said Smail.
“To win your National Open is a huge moment and that is something I will always look back on with a lot of pride.”
Smail said that win proved a catalyst for an important period of his career.
“After that I went to Sydney and won the Canon and was then runner-up in the Johnnie Walker to Michael Campbell – my career sort of went on from there I went up to Japan and won the Japan Open in 2002 and that really sparked things and I had a few more wins.”
The countdown is on to the New Zealand Open with play to begin next week.
Former Champions in the NZ Open field
New Zealand: David Smail, Michael Long, Greg Turner, Mahal Pearce
Australia: Jake Higginbottom, Craig Parry, Peter O’Malley, Pete Fowler