Three of them are Kiwis, comprising 2001 champion David Smail, 1996 winner Michael Long and the 1992 title holder Grant Waite, who will compete in the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open to be staged at Millbrook Resort and The Hills on 9-12 March.
Michael Long, one of 11 former champions to return for the 93rd ISPS Handa New Zealand Open – Credit: Photosport
The other eight are from Australia including the last five winners comprising defending champion Matthew Griffin, Jordan Zunic, Dimitrios Papadatos, Jake Higginbottom and Brad Kennedy.
Nathan Green triumphed in 2006 at Golf Harbour, while Peter O’Malley won in 1995 when he became the first person to win the New Zealand amateur, New Zealand PGA and New Zealand Open titles. New Zealand-based Aussie Peter Fowler, who won in 1993, is another of the successful players on the Seniors Tour to return to Queenstown.
For Long, it will be a return to his favourite golfing stop, as he eyes a return to fulltime life hopefully on the Seniors’ Tour in the next 18 months.
“I would speak for probably 100 per cent of the players, that Queenstown is the most beautiful, fun week we have on the Australasian Tour,” said Long.
He is looking forward to catching up with the US-based Waite, who is returning to the New Zealand Open after a six year hiatus on the back of his successful return to the game in the US Champions Tour, after turning 50.
Meanwhile Smail is competing early season before returning to the Japan Golf Tour where he has plied his trade with for two decades.
This outstanding Kiwi trio, with a collective 80 years experience on golfing tours in around the globe, have amassed more than NZ$20 million in prizemoney and 18 professional victories between them.
“We are delighted to welcome back our past champions, and most specially the three New Zealand former champions,” said ISPS Handa Tournament Director, Michael Glading. “Golf is a remarkable game and if players look after their health, then the advent of the successful Seniors Tours around the world has seen them continue to play at a high standard.
“Grant Waite had six years out of tournament golf and came back to nearly snatch the US Seniors Open title against a raft of household names in the game.
“Recently Australian Rod Pampling, a regular on this side of the Tasman, won on the PGA Tour at 47 years of age. So we expect this trio of former Kiwi champions to be very competitive.”
Long, who has been based in Western Australia for the last decade, enjoyed seven professional wins including two on the PGA’s Web.com Tour. He has continued to play on the Australasian Tour but now feels it is time to step back up to playing fulltime.
“After 2008 I took a step back and came back to support the Australasian Tour, and play part time,” said Long.
He has mixed life as a general manager of a golf facility with play mostly over the summer months with reasonable success, his last win coming just last year in the Victorian Open.
Three years ago he linked with coach Andy Mowatt who has sparked some positive change for Long.
“I feel I can start playing fulltime again with an eye to turning 50 and the Seniors Tour. You only get one shot at this so why not.
“My time away from playing fulltime has given me a more balanced view to what I was doing. In doing so it freshened me up. Now I am looking forward to playing more golf again.”
He hopes to reunite with Waite, after playing together in the 1997 World Cup on the famed Kiawah Island Oceans course inUSA.
“I remember he missed one fairway in 72 holes on one of golf’s really tough courses. He is a hell of a player.
“If you keep yourself in good shape and are blessed with good health and still have the desire, then there’s no selector saying you are too old.”