Michael Hendry, the last kiwi to win the title in 2017, has a different view of the game these days as a 40-year-old family man, but has his sights fixed on victory that would leave him in a lofty place in the sport as a double winner of the New Zealand Open and the NZPGA.
Meanwhile 24-year-old rising Hamilton star, Denzel Ieremia would love nothing more than to begin his second year as a fledgling professional by winning his national Open.
The pair are among 26 New Zealanders in the 156-strong professional field for the $1.4 million event to be played at Millbrook Resort and The Hills.
Hendry is one of three New Zealanders in the field to have won the Brodie Breeze Trophy along with David Smail in 2001 and Michael Campbell in 2000.
“It would be nice to have two NZ Opens to go with and two NZPGAs – there wouldn’t be too many people who have done that. That would throw you right up in the top echelon of New Zealand golfers,” said Hendry.
“I am coming into this tournament playing better than I have over the last few years. That does not guarantee a good week – week to week form changes.
“I am doing everything I need to do to give myself a chance – and I hope I can continue that and come Sunday afternoon have a putt for the trophy. That would be nice.”
Hendry only had one top-10 on the Japan Golf Tour last year but feels his results did not match his form.
“I felt 2019 was a really good year in terms ow how I hit the ball. I felt I was doing everything right and statistically it was pretty sound. At times I sat back and asked what’s going on because I was not getting the results I wanted. Honestly, I think I went through a period of playing pretty well but not getting the rub of the green.”
Hendry ‘s year was bolstered with a superb second placing at the Australian PGA and then this year with a top-three finish in Queensland.
Overall he has a different approach to the game, having turned 40 and with a focus on his family life.
“Playing in Japan ticks a lot of boxes for me. The travel is pretty easy, the Tour is well run and the money is ample and I can get home the next morning after a finish of a tournament. I don’t want to be too absent of a father – life is about family and being around my girls.
“My attitude around golf has changed a lot accordingly. But that does not mean I am any less of a competitor, especially at my home New Zealand Open.”
Meanwhile, Ieremia returns to Queenstown 12 months after his debut as a new professional at the 100th New Zealand Open.
In the ensuing 12 months, the Iowa State University college star has recorded five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour of Australasia, a fourth placing on the Asian and Japan Golf Tours and two top-25 finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour.
“It’s good to be back. I didn’t play my best last year, I missed the cut but I look back at it and think that if I didn’t miss the cut, I wouldn’t have played good for the rest of the year,” Ieremia said.
“It was a huge learning week for me (and) despite the result last year I think it’s prepared me for this time.
“My form is good. I’ve been playing nicely for the last six or seven months and I’ve been learning something every week. Hopefully, I’ll do the same this week.”
He knows that life in the paid ranks is considerably different to the US college scene.
“You’re on your own in professional golf where in college you have someone booking everything and paying for everything.”
“In professional golf, you’ve got a lot more accountability and I think the thing that comes along with it is more drive to win.”
Winning a home Open would mean the world but Ieremia will first have to overcome the challenges that the Millbrook Resort and The Hills golf courses present.
“I think Millbrook suits me a little more than The Hills. At The Hills, you’ve kind of got to plod it around a little bit more and do your scoring with your irons whereas (at) Millbrook I can get a few more drivers in my hand and take advantage of my length so I’ll look to do that this week.
“You’ve got to be patient around here. There’s a lot of birdies but at the same time if you push too hard, your margins can vary and you can miss. For me, I’ll stay patient and be aggressive off the tee and see what happens.”
The tournament begins on Thursday with 156 professionals and 156 amateurs playing at Millbrook Resort and The Hills, before the cut for the final two rounds at Millbrook Resort.
The New Zealand Open, presented by SKY Sport, is a co-sanctioned event with the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Asian Tour, in partnership with the Japan Golf Tour.