The 38 year old, who became the first New Zealander in 14 years to win the Open title, has today confirmed his place in the field for the 99th ISPS Handa New Zealand Open at the Millbrook Resort and The Hills on 1-4 March.
Hendry, who is playing in the Australian PGA Championship this week, said he is honoured to return to defend his crown, despite a potential second invitation to play in the World Golf Championship event in Mexico at the same time.
“It wasn’t really a hard decision. Mexico is an amazing event and the chance to play against the best players in the world which is a big thing for a player of my stature,” said Hendry.
“You don’t just win it once and forget about it. You want to keep coming back and winning it. As far as I am concerned it is my trophy and I am not going to let it go.”
He joins USA-based Tim Wilkinson and Steven Alker as early entries for the tournament that is co-sanctioned by the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia and the Asian Tour, and in partnership with the Japan Golf Tour.
Hendry followed his playoff victory at Millbrook Resort with another outstanding year on the Japan Tour that included seven top-10 finishes including second in the Mizumo Open and T3 in the Mitsui Sumitoma Masters. He is currently 16th on the Japan Order of Merit with earnings of NZ$670,000 this year.
“I would give my year in Japan a seven out of 10. I was consistent, which is something that we strive for. I’ve played 26 events and only missed three cuts. The one thing that marks it down is not winning again in Japan.
“Winning the New Zealand Open was a great thing and something that was very special for me. But I play golf to win and I’ve come very, very close in a lot of golf tournaments this year so it’s been a great year but one tinged with a bit of frustration also.”
The North Harbour-based player says he would like nothing more than to become just the 12th person to win the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open in successive years, a feat not achieved since American Corey Pavin 32 years ago.
“You never go into a tournament expecting to win, you go in hoping to win. I suppose now with my track record around those courses I know I am going to have a pretty good chance if I have a good summer in terms of preparation and get myself ready for the event properly. If I do that then I can put myself in a position to defend.
“I managed to do it (win back to back) around the Hills with the NZPGA in 2013, so I would love to defend it.”
Hendry said he has enjoyed supporting the event in Queenstown, and watched with admiration at its development.
“When I first played, the tournament was the NZPGA Pro Am and the prizemoney was less than half of what it is now. Every year it is getting that little bit better.
“The organisers are on to a great formula. They recognise where the sponsors want their money placed and how they want it to be shown to people. The fact that everyone is having a good time shows that the organisers have the tournament moving in the right direction.”
Organisers expect to announce further key players in the coming weeks with tickets for the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open 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.