Kiwi golf champion predicts strong challenge from Japan Tour players

Defending champion Michael Hendry believes the strongest ever contingent of golfers from the Japan Tour are heading to Queenstown for the 2018 ISPS Handa New Zealand Open in March.

Hendry, who became the first Kiwi in 14 years to win the Open after a playoff last year, plies his trade mostly on the flourishing Japan Golf Tour, and is among 25 players from that Tour to compete in Queenstown.

Daisuke Kataoka, a regular visitor to Queenstown, is among the outstanding players from the Japan Golf Tour to compete in the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open.

The 99th ISPS Handa New Zealand Open, to be staged at Millbrook Resort and The Hills on 1-4 March, is co-sanctioned by the ISPS Handa PGA Tour of Australasia and the Asian Tour and continues its partnership with the Japan Golf Tour.

The Japan Tour contingent features nine of the top-20 from last year’s Tour moneylist, including four of the top 10, and the group from Japan won more than $NZ12 million on the Japan Tour in 2017. They have collectively won 62 professional tournaments and more than NZ$80 million in career earnings between them on the Japan Tour.

“The Japan Tour is exceptional and I am incredibly impressed with the quality and the depth on the Tour since I’ve been playing there,” said Hendry.

“I’ve played around the world and I am very much enjoying the challenge on the Japan Tour. I am fully tested there every week.

“The players coming here this year are probably the strongest that have ever come to New Zealand. There’s no golf in Japan right now and the Tour players are looking for quality tournament play. They love coming to Queenstown and they are definitely coming in force this year.

“I think it is a matter of when, not if, one of them wins the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open.”

They are led by Hawaii-born Chan Kim, who enjoyed three wins and five top-10s in Japan in 2017, while Steven Han, Hyun-Woo Ryu and Daisuke Kataoka all secured victories on the Japan Tour last year.

Kim, Han, Hyun-Woo Ryu, Ryuku Tokimatsu and Young-Han Song finished in the top-11 on the moneylist in 2017 and between them, the group had 21 top-10 finishes in Japan last year.

The group also includes two of the Japan Tour’s most enduringly successful players in Australian Brendan Jones and Kyung-Tae (KT) Kim. The pair has won 27 times between them in Japan, to be ranked 14th and 17th respectively on the all-time Tour moneylist with more than NZ$22 million.

Tournament Director Michael Glading is thrilled with the players coming from the Japan Tour.

“At the sharp end players like Steven Han, Chan Kim and Hyun-Woo Ryu are absolute top quality players,” said Glading. “Chan Kim is one of the biggest hitters around and he is destined for bigger things. Spectators are in for a treat watching him. He’s built like an NBA star.

“Golf in Japan is flourishing and we are attracting some quite outstanding players. Return visits from the legendary Toshi Muto, on his sixth trip to New Zealand, and Daisuke Kataoka, who was in contention at the recent PGA Tour Sony Open, add a significant amount of quality to our field.

“We are also fortunate to have tremendous loyalty from the likes of Brendan Jones, who remains a superb player and is the only player who is not of Japanese descent to be in the top 20 of the all-time money list in Japan.”

The Japan Tour players, including former USPGA Champion YE Yang who will play in Japan this year, join the likes of the great KJ Choi, Scott Hend and Kiwis Mike Hendry, Ryan Fox, Tim Wilkinson and Steven Alker in a stellar field confirmed for New Zealand’s premier golf tournament.

Glading expects the Asian Tour players to be confirmed in the next two weeks, with the ISPS Handa PGA of Australasian field to be finalised mid-February.

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.

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