New Zealand PGA could change career path for many

BY Bruce Young | Tour | 2005 New Zealand PGA Championship | Preview | 23 Feb 2005
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The Clearwater Resort in Christchurch New Zealand stages a co-sanctioned Nationwide / USPGA Tour event for the fourth consecutive year when the ING New Zealand PGA Championship gets under way on Thursday.

The event previously known as the Holden Clearwater Classic, the Clearwater Classic and the New Zealand PGA has a new naming rights sponsorship in 2005 namely the Financial Group, ING, but retains its links to New Zealand Golf’s past with its PGA Championship status.

Two of the last three winners of this event have gone on to gain USPGA Tour status the following year. In 2002 the inaugural staging of the event was won by Peter O’Malley but the Australian would not take advantage of the status the win gained him on the Nationwide Tour, preferring instead to concentrate on Europe. In 2003 however, the win of Texan Ryan Palmer in just his second Nationwide Tour event, would lead to him playing the USPGA Tour in 2004 culminating in his win at the Funai Classic at Disney World. Runner up to Palmer in Christchurch was another who would go on to win later in the Nationwide Tour season in 2003 and, like Palmer, win on the USPGA Tour in 2004 when victorious at the Invensys Las Vegas Classic.

In 2004, Gavin Coles won when the event became the New Zealand PGA Championship and made a serious start to his quest to regain the USPGA Tour status he lost in 2003. That first season on the USPGA Tour in 2003 had come courtesy of his 2002 Jacobs Creek Open win.

The tournament has, therefore, provided a significant step in the pathway to even greater heights in professional golf.

The Clearwater Resort’s layout, first opened in 2001, has now had the benefit of three significant tournaments of staging an event. As the Resort’s infrastructure has grown so too has its capacity to successfully stage tournaments of this nature. More accommodation and improved player facilities should meet with the approval of all.

Designed by Sir Bob Charles, the course itself reflects a greater American and contemporary influence in its design than that offered at the other co-sanctioned events in this region, the Jacobs Creek Open. That event has been staged at the Kooyonga and Royal Adelaide courses, both considered amongst the best in Australasia but certainly foreign to the 75 Americans who will tee it up here. The Clearwater layout measures over 7100 yards and its degree of difficulty is influenced to a large extent on a daily basis by the strong winds that can sweep across the Canterbury Plains. The golf course now has a greater definition and maturity and the rough has been left to grow a little longer this year.

The field for this year’s event is almost a replica of that which lined up in Adelaide last week with the runaway winner there, Steve Bowditch, looking to secure his USPGA Tour card for 2006 with a follow up victory. As is always the case, that is much easier said than done.

Peter O’Malley has won here and even when he hasn’t, he has played well. He seems to be in good form at present and with any sort of run on greens which he enjoys, he will figure in the finish. His play from tee to green in recent weeks has been simply outstanding but that is often the case with the Sydneysider. Unfortunately for him the game consists of much more than hitting fairways and greens.

Greg Chalmers has continued the good form he showed at the end of 2004 when runner up at the MasterCard Masters. He finished 4th last week and at his best, as an Australian Open champion and a fourth place getter behind Tiger Woods at the USPGA at Valhalla in 2000, he has the measure of most here.

Nathan Green, who finished in a share of second last week is somewhat of a quiet achiever. He had a good season last year on the Nationwide Tour, his fifth placing at the closing event of the year, the Tour Championship, perhaps his most impressive effort, despite a runner up placing at the Henrico County Open behind Daniel Chopra. He is the sort of player who just quietly goes about his business but his lack of profile should not be confused with lack of ability.

David McKenzie went close to winning the MasterCard Masters late last year in Melbourne and also went close to gaining his USPGA Tour card via both the Nationwide Tour and the Q-School late last year. Like Green he is very much an understated but effective player.

Of the Americans, Vance Veazey has already won this season in Panama and played well last week at the Jacob’s Creek Open when sharing 10th. He played well here in difficult conditions last year when finishing 12th and appears well on track to return to the PGA Tour in 2006 for the first time since he played there in 1998. He swings the club well and has shown with his win in Panama and good effort in Adelaide last week that he is a most adaptable player.

Bill Haas has pedigree and class on his side. The Wake Forest graduate and 2003 Walker Cup team member has already shown in several USPGA Tour appearances that he has the game to match his background and his 22nd place last week in Adelaide was enough to confirm that he will likely be a threat this week.

Bill Lunde missed the cut last week in Adelaide but he did the same in 2004 before contending here right to the death, eventually finishing in a share of second. The second season player might be ready to go one better this year.

Throw in the likes of Colombian Camilo Villegas, James Nitties, Jarrod Lyle, the best of the New Zealanders, David Smail, Mathew Goggin and a host of others who would not surprise with a win, and the ingredients are in pace for quite a week.

Photo – Anthony Powter

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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