Given the way I played, I thought the first New Zealand Open I ever played in would be my last.
Growing up, most of my sporting heroes were cricketers. Richard Hadlee was my hero because I was a medium-quick bowler who swung it around a little bit. Obviously I wasn’t quite as good as him but he was my hero when I was really young and then there were guys like Martin Crowe, Stephen Fleming and Shane Bond.
There were no golf heroes as such until Tiger came along in my late teens. Tiger was my first sporting hero when it came to golf.
I only started playing golf because my cricket mates were playing golf in the winter at Pupuke Golf Club on the north shore of Auckland.
It’s not a great golf course by any stretch of the imagination but because it’s quite hilly you have to shape your shots – hit big cuts and big hooks – and it’s produced really good players such as Lydia Ko, Richard Lee and Josh Carmichael.
My love for golf grew and grew and when my cricket started stalling I decided to play more golf. It got to the point where I had to make a choice and I felt that I had more momentum with my golf than I did cricket.
It just so happened that I qualified for my first New Zealand Open in 2006 at around the time I was having to make that decision.
I went through local qualifying at Manukau Golf Club – which actually doesn’t exist anymore – and got through.
I missed the cut at Gulf Harbour by a mile. I played like an absolute dog but I loved the atmosphere and the feel of being out there as one of the guys inside the ropes and I thought to myself then that this was what I wanted to do.
All the planets seemed to align and it pushed me in one direction and I’ve probably made a better fist of golf than I ever would have at cricket.
There’s a cricket game on Monday afternoon actually that I was really keen to play in but I’ve got a fair idea what would happen if I did. My shoulder might not be able to swing a golf club on Thursday if the red mist descended and the run-up kept getting longer and longer.
A place in history
You’re always aware of your national Open as a kid. When you’re on the putting green if it’s not a putt to win The Masters it’s a putt to win the New Zealand Open.
It’s definitely at the forefront of your mind and to be perfectly honest, after that first performance I don’t know that I ever thought I’d be able to win one.
When I look at how poorly I played that week, the fact that I’ve now won one, had a top-three finish and a few top-10s, I’ve got a pretty good record after that first horror performance.
I was totally not ready in terms of my level of golf at that point. Cricket was my No.1 sport until I was about 23 and then I played a year’s worth of relatively high-level amateur golf in New Zealand before I decided to go to Aussie Q-School.
I managed to get a card so I turned professional and was playing local pro-ams but I hadn’t played any real tournament golf.
I was Joe Hack back then so it took a lot of hard work. I didn’t start playing some really decent golf for a few years after that.
Winning the New Zealand Open two years ago is definitely the high point of my career to date.
I’ve won in Japan and had a lot of really good finishes up there. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve been able to achieve in my career considering my background but if I was to single out one tournament it would be the New Zealand Open.
The golfing fraternity in New Zealand is pretty small so I had a lot of friends there in Queenstown which was cool. My wife Tara and my little girl being there on the 18th green was a really special moment as well.
A lot of people don’t realise the sacrifice that goes into being a professional sportsperson and a lot of those sacrifices aren’t made by us, they are made by those closest to us.
It was extra special to be able to share that with them.
You do feel like you’ve joined a special club when as a Kiwi you win the New Zealand Open.
I feel like my game is starting to pick up and that I’m trending in the right direction and while anything can happen, I was talking with my caddy, Jordan, about how cool it would be to win a second one.
There wouldn’t be too many people to have won two New Zealand Opens and two New Zealand PGA Championships and to be able to put my name amongst legends such as Sir Bob Charles and Kel Nagle would be pretty awesome.
It would be pretty cool to win another one and put my name up a bit further in the history of New Zealand golfers.
To do it in the 100th New Zealand Open would be something extra special.
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