The three players, who all ply their trade on the Japan Golf Tour, include two Americans of Korean descent in Chan Kim and Steven Han, ranked 76th and 80th respectively in the world at the end of 2017, and Korea’s Younghan Song, ranked 98.
Younghan Song in action at the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open last year.
The trio add considerable lustre to the field for the 99th ISPS Handa New Zealand Open at Millbrook Resort and the Hills near Queenstown on 1-4 March.
Kim and Han earned NZ$3 million between them after breakthrough years, even more impressive as they play almost exclusively on the Japan Golf Tour, rather than the significantly more lucrative coffers in USA and Europe. They were fourth and fifth best respectively on the Japan Tour moneylist in 2017.
Kim, 27, was ranked #605 on the world rankings at the end of 2016 and Han, 31, was #781, before both enjoyed outstanding form in 2017.
Song was the highest ranked player at Queenstown in 2017, on the back of his victory over Jordan Speith in the Singapore Open. He remains inside the world’s best 100, earning approximately NZ$1 million in 2017, finishing 11th on the Japan Tour moneylist, and 19th on the Asian Tour as well.
Their entries are the result of the New Zealand Open’s developing relationship with both the Asian Tour and the Japan Golf Tour.
The trio join PGA Tour star KJ Choi, defending champion Michael Hendry, compatriot Ryan Fox and US-based Kiwis Tim Wilkinson and Steven Alker already confirmed for the New Zealand Open.
ISPS Handa New Zealand Open Tournament Director, Michael Glading said the addition of trio in the world’s top 100 is a fillip for the event, and he believes the tournament is shaping as the strongest field in recent times.
“Both Chan and Steven are outstanding players in brilliant form last year, and they have achieved their rankings without basing themselves in the more lucrative golf markets in USA and Europe,” said Glading.
“Younghan, who has won around $3 million at only 26 years, had three top-five finishes this year and was runner-up at the Singapore Open, after really enjoying his first time at Millbrook and the Hills last year.
“We are thrilled to have players in the top 100 of the world rankings and it is further evidence of the strengthening field we will get now that we are co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour and with our partnership agreement with the Japan Golf Tour.
“I am still working through a number of other approaches and I am confident that 2018 will be the strongest field in our time staging this event.”
Both Kim and Han have similar backgrounds, completing excellent amateur careers in the American collegiate system, although both took time to find their feet in the paid ranks.
Kim ventured to the Canadian Tour, the Challenge Tour and the Asian Tour until qualifying for the Japan Golf Tour in 2015.
Noted as one of the biggest hitters in the game on the Japan Tour, he finished fifth on the Japan moneylist in 2017 with three wins and five top-10s, winning nearly NZ$1.65 million. This included an outstanding share of 11th at the Open Championship on debut, after earning his start courtesy of his victory in the Mizuno Open in Japan.
Han, a graduate from UNLV where he won the prestigious Porter Cup, went into the Web.com Tour out of college but could not settle after playing in Asia, Japan, Canada and China.
Han took a year off following the birth of his daughter in 2015 when his world ranking skipped to #1686. Now qualified for the Japan Golf Tour he jumped to #781 at the end of 2016 with five top-10s, and then zoomed to #85 on the rankings in 2017. His stellar year was highlighted with a win in the Casio World Open but he also finished runner-up three times and was third three times to finish fourth on the moneylist in Japan with NZ$1.4million.
Han played in the New Zealand Open in 2005 at the Hills, when it was part of the Web.com Tour.
“I’m very excited to be returning to New Zealand again” said Han, who confirmed his entry following an approach by Mr Glading.
Organisers expect to announce further key players in the coming weeks.
Tickets for the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open are now on sale. Anyone who buys a ticket before 6 February will go into a draw for the Ultimate Fan Inside-The-Ropes experience. On the final day the winner and a friend will walk with the leading Kiwi pro inside the ropes. They will also win a tournament shirt and cap, plus two tickets to the VIP Champions Lounge on the first three days.