The 99th Open, which is co-sanctioned with the ISPS Handa PGA of Australasian and the Asian Tour in partnership with the Japan Golf Tour, will be hosted at Millbrook Resort and The Hills on 1-4 March.
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New Zealand’s Michael Hendry is set to return after breaking a 14-year dearth since a Kiwi won the national Open Championship. He will seek to become just the 15th golfer to win the title more than once and just the 11th to win it back-to-back.
Fellow Kiwi golfers who have won the New Zealand Open and entered this year include 1996 winner Michael Long (Paraparaumu Beach) and 2001 champion David Smail (The Grange, Auckland).
The remainder are all from across the Tasman comprising Peter Fowler (1993, Paraparaumu Beach), Peter O’Malley (1995, The Grange), Brad Kennedy (2011, Clearwater), Jake Higginbottom (2012, Clearwater), Dimitrios Papadalos (2014, The Hills), Jordan Zunic (2015, The Hills) and Matthew Griffin (2016, The Hills).
Fowler, who has lived in New Zealand for many years, still plies his trade on the Seniors Tour while O’Malley is one of a handful of players to have won the New Zealand Amateur, New Zealand PGA and New Zealand Open titles.
Higginbottom, who competes on the European Tour, is the last amateur to win the New Zealand Open with his one-shot win in Christchurch in 2012.
Tournament Director Michael Glading said that the prestige of the New Zealand Open is a key to attracting the former champions to return.
“Many of these players have been supporting this event for many years, and all of them have played virtually every year since we changed for format of the event,” said Glading.
“This has ensured we have proven winners at this event who keep the standards high. At one end you have someone like Jake Higginbottom who was an amateur but now developed into a very solid professional while the likes of Chook Fowler and Peter O’Malley are legends of the game who continue to support this event.”
Most of the repeat winners were in the first 50 years since the Open began at Napier Golf Club in 1907, with American Corey Pavin the last to win two years in a row at Paraparaumu Beach in 1984 and Russley, Christchurch in 1985.
The last player to win the New Zealand Open more than once is Kiwi Greg Turner, who won in 1989 at Paraparaumu Beach and 1997 at Royal Auckland. He lives close to Millbrook Resort, a course he has played a lead-hand in designing.
The field will be finalised in two weeks, with a last six players added from final qualifying at Cromwell Golf Club and Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club on Monday 26 February.
There will be 144 professionals playing one round each at Millbrook Resort and The Hills, before a cut for the top 60 players plus for the final two rounds at Millbrook Resort chasing the $1.2 million prize purse.