17 Mar 2014 - New Zealand Golf
The New Zealand Open of 2014 will be remembered for breaking new ground. It was the first time in the tournament’s history, which dates back to 1907, that it was staged over two courses and had a pro-am format running concurrently to the championship. It was a considerable success. Peter Thornton, the Media Manager of the NZ Open looks back on the highs and lows of what was a memorable week in Queenstown.
The performance of Papadatos: For most of the week he was the guy with the name no-one could pronounce. The quality of Dimitrios Papadatos’ performance soon changed that. The young Aussie, who began the final round with a one shot lead over Mark Brown and Richard Lee, delivered a superb six-under par 66 to secure his first win as a professional. When the conditions got tough – like when the rain was pelting down on the demanding par four eighth and it was freezing cold – Papadatos got better. He made a great birdie there to keep ahead of the chasing pack. There were at least five moments in the opening 10 holes where you thought ‘he is definitely going to drop a shot here’ but more often than not he scrambled like a guy who belonged on the PGA Tour. He only made one bogey in the final round – at the par four fifth – and the closest his rivals got to him was at the start of the round when he led by one. That gave him a huge amount of confidence and the ability to play with freedom on the closing nine holes. He made five birdies on the homeward nine (including three in a row from 15 – 17) to secure the title by four shots. There was no doubt that Papadatos deserved his win.
Keep your head up Browny: New Zealand’s leading hope Mark Brown said there was no solace in finishing second in the New Zealand Open Championship. The 39-year-old, who shot a superb six-under par 66 in round three where he holed everything he looked at, carded a bogey-free three-under par 69 in the final round. There is no doubt that coming so close to winning your National Open, again, hurts a lot but there was no disgrace in being beaten by man who played the round of his life to win. It was just one of those rounds. Brown, one of the most natural ball strikers New Zealand has ever produced, played superbly from tee to green and missed a plethora of birdie chances by the smallest of margins. While it would have felt the same as the Clearwater tournament in 2012 it wasn’t. On that occasion he led by three and shot a one-over par 73 to finish fourth. This time he played very nicely just nothing went his way. That is golf. Brown feels like he has underperformed throughout his golf career. He still has plenty of time, If he plays like this throughout 2014 then he’s likely to return to the winner’s circle and hopefully get back on one of the world’s main tours. After his final press conference – which was clearly not what he wanted to be doing – Brown showed great maturity. He shook hands with all of the members of the media and thanked them for coming and their support in the week of the NZ Open. It was a nice touch from a man who was doing it tough. After his performance Brown went onto climb the world rankings to be the NZ No.1.
The Kiwi contenders: For the first time in many, many years four Kiwis – Brown, David Klein, Richard Lee and Ryan Fox – finished inside the top six players in the New Zealand Open. Te Anau professional Klein, playing in his home province, carded a final round five-under par 67 for his best payday. Auckland pro Lee was disappointed to finished tied fourth after a one-under par 71. Both players did enough to secure starts for the rest of the year on the PGA Tour of Australia. When you are struggling for opportunities, that is a great result. Big-hitting pro Fox made a great charge for the title on the back nine before making costly bogeys on the 14th and 18th to settle for a share of sixth. Add in other Kiwis like Kieran Muir (T10) and Gareth Paddison (T13) and it was a great week for the home players. The greater number of Kiwi players contending on Sunday afternoon means the chance of ending the 11-year drought of a home champion is more likely to end. It didn’t happen this time but it will happen. Special mention must be made here of the performance of local club pro Craig Palmer (T19) who signed for a five-under par 67 on Saturday to the delight of the club members.
The format and two courses: The New Zealand Open ventured into all new territory over two courses and with the pro-am format running alongside the event. For the most part it was a real success. Millbrook hosted the National Open for the first time and the feedback about the course – particularly the work that Greg Turner and Scott McPherson have done on the Coronet Nine – received rave reviews. Staging it over two courses was pretty seamless and there weren’t any complaints from the players. The format of having amateurs playing in a New Zealand Open for the first time was in general a success. The celebrity amateurs added something to the event. The paying amateurs help make the New Zealand Open sustainable which it hasn’t been for many years so their involvement is very much valued. Both the hosting on the two courses and the NZ Pro Am Championship will only get better in the 2015 event after the experience of this year. On the topic of new ground the first time the New Zealand Open partnered with the Japan Golf Tour was also a great first step. The JGTO team was great to deal with and their players always add an international flavour to the event which it demands.
The celebrity contribution: All of the celebrities added value to the event. The likes of Ricky Ponting, Stephen Fleming, Cris Judd, Phil Keoghan, Andrew Merhtens and Jeff Wilson (to name a few) were awesome to deal with and always available. Ricky was one of the best. Not feeling too flash for the week he was in the most demand and he always said yes. Great bloke and one you’d have back without thinking twice. Phil walking the final 18 holes to support Richard Lee, his playing partner from the first three days, showed that he was there for the right reasons. All of the celebrities were good additions and the fans love to see them play. This was confirmed on Sunday morning when the superstar trio of Rocco Mediate, PM John Key and Sir Bob Charles played as a feature group in the final round and attracted a massive gallery. It was once again a great honour to have the Prime Minister playing in the event.
The success of Live Streaming: For the first time in the event’s history the New Zealand Open took brave and bold steps into the world of live streaming. With the expert help of Ian Taylor and his Virtual Eye team the Live Streaming was a roaring success. The guys from 90 seconds added great content from all the activity around the NZ Open and it gave golf fans the world over a unique insight behind the scenes. Brendan Telfer and Phil Tataurangi (and Bruce Young earlier in the week) did an excellent job of hosting the many hours of live content. With the cost of broadcasting the NZ Open live incredibly high, and a big contributor to the tournament losing money in recent time, the Live Stream was a great addition and something that can be built upon in 2015. It is the National Open and the opinion that the event, and one of the most picturesque places in NZ, should be broadcasted to the world remains but this has to be achieved at a level that is sustainable. In the meantime the Live Stream was a great substitute. It was pulled together last minute and with typical Kiwi ingenuity ran on next to nothing, But It was a great result and carried off without a hitch.
The hour long highlights show: Sportsinc, the producers of ANZ Golf World and Kordia Golf Focus, once again did a stellar job of capturing the best moments from on and off the golf course at the New Zealand Open. For all the reasons covered above, producing an hour long highlights show across two courses in the brutal conditions was a real challenge. They covered everyone in contention of winning the title and also balanced this nicely with the story of the NZ Pro-Am Championship and the activity from around the NZ Open week. There is always demand for this event to be covered live, and that is understandable and something we are very keen to achieve. In the meantime the NZ Open one hour special is a good supplement to the event.
Highs and Lows of the Amateurs: Firstly the high. Canterbury rep Jordan Bakermans had a week to remember. The 21-year-old made it into the field by qualifying at the Cromwell Golf Club on the Tuesday and he made every post a winner to claim the Bledisloe Cup. He followed some of the most famous names in NZ Golf engraved on that trophy - the likes of Bob Charles, Stu Jones, Brian Silk, Phil Tataurangi, Mark Brown and Danny Lee. Bakermans shot rounds of 74 and 75 to finish five shots outside the cut line and alongside Southland No.1 Vaughan McCall in the leading amateur spot. McCall later realized that he had signed for an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified which was a good learning experience for the 22-year-old from Gore. Speaking of times of learning, Northland’s Kadin Neho had a baptism of fire for his first NZ Open Championship, The teenager, who last year made history when he won the New Zealand Amateur, had a day to forget at The Hills when he carded a 97 in the brutal conditions. Hopefully he found some lessons in that experience and will arrive at his next National Open better prepared for the challenge.
The true sense of an Open Championship: Three players, Canterbury amateur Jordan Bakermans, Canterbury pro Carl Brooking and Fijian pro Vikrant Chandra, all qualified for the New Zealand Open the hard way. In 2014, for the first time in many years, four regional qualifiers were returned to the championship to give the golfers all over NZ a chance of playing in the NZ Open. The true sense of an Open Championship was restored. Bakermans, Brooking and Chandra took their opportunity to reach final qualifying and then made the top 10 players to secure their places in the field. Special mention must be made of the performance from Kieran Muir, who made a clutch par putt at Omaha Beach to claim the final spot from the North Island Final qualifier. He went on to finish in a share of 10th place for his biggest payday.
Being back in Queenstown: The New Zealand Open got its X factor back in returning to what is probably the Mecca of golf in New Zealand. The place has huge wow factor and it is the ideal place to bring visitors to showcase our country as a unique tourism destination. It is the best place in the country to go for a golfing road trip with your mates. There are 5 courses in the area that are up there with the best of any tracks in the country and another 5 that would rate as great club courses that are unique in their own right. Everyone is always buzzing when they get to come to Queenstown and there is no reason why the New Zealand Open should move anytime soon.