Merit leader Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand hopes to make his maiden trip to New Zealand a memorable one when he tees up for the centennial New Zealand Open which starts on Thursday.

The 23-year-old Thai will spearhead a strong Asian Tour challenge which features compatriots Panuphol Pittayarat and Poom Saksansin, as well as India’s Shiv Kapur, Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines and Nicholas Fung of Malaysia, all winners on the region’s premier Tour.

Founded in 1907, the tournament is one of New Zealand’s leading sporting events with a long and prestigious history. It will be played for the 100th time in 2019 at The Hills and Millbrook Resort in Queenstown and offers a prize purse of NZ$1,250,000 (approx. US$850,000).

Defending champion Daniel Nisbet of Australia, Korea’s K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang, the first Asian to win a Major championship, are also set to headline the long-running event that is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.

Like Jazz, Tabuena and Fung are also making their debut appearances at the New Zealand Open this week. The pair, who share the same room this week, are relishing their first trips to Queenstown.

Apart from taking in the scenic views that Queenstown has to offer, Tabuena and Fung are also planning to include jet rides and bungee jumps in their itineraries this week.

A total of 152 professionals from 17 countries will play the first two rounds alternately at Millbrook Resort and The Hills before the second round cut of top 60 and ties.

The final two rounds will be played at The Hills and the New Zealand Open Champion will be the leading player after 72 holes of stroke play.

The tournament also hosts 152 amateur players, each partnering with a Professional in a two-man best-ball event, competing for the NZ Pro-Am Championship.

Some of the Pro-Am celebrities to look out for include Black Caps legend Stephen Fleming, former Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting, Tom Walsh, the world indoor and outdoor champion shot putter and newly-crowned New Zealand Sportsman of The Year, as well as Hayden Paddon, a former World Rally Championship driver.

Did you know?

  • Jazz Janewattananond, who leads the latest Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity Standings, is making his debut appearance at the storied New Zealand Open this week.
  • The rising star from Thailand is eyeing a good showing to boost his rankings on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), where he sits in a current 78th place. He needs to break into top-64 by March 18 to qualify for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
  • Jazz broke into the world’s top-100 for the first time in his career after claiming his third Asian Tour title at the season-opening SMBC Singapore Open last month. That victory also earned him a coveted spot in The Open, where he made his Major debut last year.
  • He followed up that victory with a tied-13th place finish at the ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth, where he made it into the Sunday match play for the first time in three attempts and came close to knocking out eventual winner Ryan Fox in the second round of the match play.
  • In his last 10 starts, Jazz has collected six top-10s, including a second-place finish at the 2018 BNI Indonesian Masters and a third-place result at the 2018 Queen’s Cup Hosted by Jaidee Foundation.
  • Miguel Tabuena, 24, ended a three-year title drought when he won his second Asian Tour title at the Queen’s Cup in Thailand last November.
  • Two weeks ago in Perth, Tabuena matched the Asian Tour’s record for the lowest nine-hole score in relation to par when he opened his campaign with seven straight birdies and added another birdie on the 18th to turn in 28.
  • Nicholas Fung, 28, claimed his first victory at the 2017 Queen’s Cup and dedicated that victory to his father on Father’s Day last year.
  • Fung had a season to remember in 2013 when he won the Asian Development Tour (ADT) Order of Merit thanks to one victory and three runner-up finishes. He rose more than 1000 spots in the world rankings to 239th at the end of the 2013 season.

Players’ quotes:

Jazz Janewattananond (Tha)

It’s my first time here in New Zealand. It’s been really nice so far. I didn’t expect this place to be so beautiful. I am enjoying myself out here and I think that’s the key to playing good golf. You need to first enjoy the place that you’re in before you can play well.

I heard a lot of good things about New Zealand after missing the event last year. The players who played were all saying it’s the most beautiful venue on the Asian Tour schedule and that I have to come and see it myself.

Having played in Perth two weeks ago, I thought I should just stay on in Australia and come to New Zealand to play in this prestigious event this week since it’s not too far away. I spent a week in Melbourne with my good friend Marcus Both.

We played the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, which is the venue for the President’s Cup this year. I have not qualified for the International team but who knows, I might get lucky! The aim is to keep playing well and try my best to get into the bigger events this year.

A few tournaments are coming up too so I still have a good chance to boost my world ranking and get into the upcoming Majors and World Golf Championships. It’s been great since winning the Singapore Open. My schedule has changed since as I planned to play quite a few events in Japan this year as well.

I played nine holes at the Millbrook Resort already and I really like it but it might be a tough walk here at The Hills (laughs). But it’s really scenic and very beautiful out here. It’s my first time playing in pro-am format too. I am looking forward to it.

Miguel Tabuena (Phi)

It’s a long way here from home but I have heard so much good things about Queenstown and that’s what makes me want to play here this week. It’s going to be pretty tough playing the two golf courses for the first time but will do the usual homework and see how it goes.

I am for sure going to enjoy the beautiful sceneries this week! It’s not my first time in New Zealand. I have been to Auckland before but it’s my first time in Queenstown. The game’s feeling good. Hopefully the practice that I have done will pay off this week.

One of my key goals this year is to get into the World Golf Championships so I am working towards that. A good result this week will help. I had some positives to take from Perth as well. I was nine-under after 10 holes and that was my lowest ever start in a tournament.

I had a pretty solid year last year. I am doing pretty much the same things. Nothing much has change. Same practice routines, etc. It’s my first time playing in this pro-am format so I am looking forward to it. It can be a bit challenging but it will be a good experience.

Nicholas Fung (Mas)

I am really excited to be here. It’s my first time in New Zealand. I have heard a lot from my friends who have been here, saying that Queenstown is a really beautiful place and I need to come and witness it myself.

Now that I am here, I am glad I made the decision to play this week! I heard about the activities you can do here as well, like the bungee jump and the popular jet boat rides in Queenstown. Miguel (Tabuena) and I are planning to go  so we’re really looking forward to that.

I have been playing good so far this season. I hope I can continue to play well and build up my confidence level. This is my last year of exemption from my win in 2017. I have been working really hard on my game and trying my best to improve, especially on my putting.

The goal is to cap some good results early this season and lock my card for 2020 so I can get the monkey off my back. But having said that, I am always looking for a win. A good result this week would also put my game in good shape for the upcoming Maybank Championship back home.

- Advertisement -