By Olle Nordberg, Former Asian Tour and European Tour professional
The 101st New Zealand Open presented by Sky Sport is an event with a long history dating back to 1907 when New Zealand amateur Arthur Duncan won the first edition.
This year the purse is NZ$1.4 million, approximately US$903,000, with the winner taking home approximately US$162,580. This is the third consecutive year the event has been co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia in partnership with Japan Golf Tour (JGTO).
The event has been played in a Pro-Am format since 2014, and the amateur side of the field includes a host of New Zealand and international sports stars.
The event is one of the most popular events on Tour among the players who have made the long trip to New Zealand’s South Island. It is played in what is easily one of the most spectacular locations anywhere on Tour, Queenstown.
Zach Murray of Australia won the 2019 edition wire-to-wire by two shots over countryman Ashley Hall and New Zealander Josh Geary, in what was only his third start on the Asian Tour.
The two courses used for the event are Millbrook Resort and The Hills, with the former measuring 6,958 yards as a par-71 and the latter 7,092 as a par-72 from the championship tees.
Being played in a Pro-Am format, the course setup may be a bit kinder than the average Asian Tour event, with wider fairways and pin positions not as difficult as usual.
Players to Watch
Zach Murray (AUS)
The defending champion should feel right at home on these courses and looked great winning this event wire-to-wire last year, in what was only his third Asian Tour start.
Having just played in the WGC-Mexico Championship last week against many of the world’s best players, the tall Australian will be hoping to rekindle the good vibes from last year’s visit to Queenstown.
Joohyung Kim (KOR)
Coming off an outstanding season in 2019 when he won three Asian Development Tour (ADT) events and one Asian Tour event, Kim seems destined for a great future.
He’s already had a great start to this year by finishing in tied-21st place in Hong Kong, followed up by a fourth-place finish in Singapore which qualified the young Korean for The Open at Royal St. George’s this July.
This will be Kim’s first time playing in the New Zealand Open, but I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t be a serious contender this week.
Pavit Tangkamolprasert (THA)
After being in fine form from the middle of last year and narrowly missing out on winning his national Open in a play-off, Pavit captured the Sabah Masters crown two weeks later also in extra holes.
He is also off to a good start to this year by winning the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship on the ADT in late January.
Leading the Asian Tour in Driving Distance last season with 307.5 yards, Pavit will be trying to use his power off the tee to convert the par-fives into par-fours and making a lot of birdies this week.
Ryan Fox (NZL)
The local hero and winner of the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth early last year, Fox was after that win ranked as high as 66th on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).
Although he went through a rough patch after the win in Perth last season, Fox looks to have regained his form by finishing second at the European Tour and Australasian PGA Tour co-sanctioned Vic Open three weeks ago.
Playing in his national Open should give Fox extra incentive to put on a good showing this week.
Chan Kim (USA)
The highest ranked player in the field this week on the OWGR at number 75, the four-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour claimed the Japan Open title last year after having been out injured all of 2018.
A big player with tremendous power, Kim should be able to use his length off the tee to his advantage this week. This should be to Kim’s advantage since the tournament being played in a Pro-Am format and likely will not have rough as thick as at some other events.
Lucas Herbert (AUS)
The recent winner of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in a play-off against Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Herbert has shown he can win against a world-class field.
He is the second highest ranked player in the field this week on the OWGR at number 82.
John Catlin (USA)
The four-time winner Catlin is always a good bet to win whenever he’s in form, as shown by his hat-trick of wins in 2018.
After playing much of the early 2019 season on the European Tour, the American came back to Asia in November and added a fourth win to his collection by adding the Thailand Open in his fist week back.
With a tied-16th at the SMBC Singapore Open in January and a second in the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship the following week, Catlin may be in for another good year.