There’s not much that Australians have not won in sport on this side of the Tasman and after coming up just short in the last two years, a strong contingent of Aussie golfers are chasing victory in next week’s Pegasus New Zealand Women’s Open near Christchurch.
They will take on a powerful group of Europeans and Americans and some talented young kiwis in what is arguably the strongest group of Australian golfers to shape up at the third New Zealand Open at the Pegasus Golf Club just north of Christchurch on 17-20 February.
Bubbly LPGA-based Australian Sarah Kemp, runner-up in the last years, reckons it is time to step up in the E200,000 event co-sanctioned by the Australian Ladies Professional Golf and the Ladies European Tour.
“I’ve been close enough times in New Zealand so I am hoping this year will be the one,” the 25 year old said. “I think everything is falling in place with my game. I have had my coach out as well and everything seems to be going alright.
“There are quite a few LPGA players coming to New Zealand for the event along with the best in Europe and so do well will be a real boost for the rest of the season. It’s important to get off to a good start. So if I can win one of these tournaments it will have my confidence sky high for the start of the LPGA year.”
Kemp, a two-time Australian strokeplay champion, made six of 15 cuts on the LPGA with one top-10 in 2010.
“I didn’t have a great year but I didn’t have a shocker either. I retained my card which is a feat on its own in the LPGA,” Kemp said. “That’s always the first goal.
She has a liking for the Pegasus course, if not for the Canterbury weather last year.
“For a brand new golf course I thought it was great. The only real challenge was the wind. We had a pretty windy couple of days there so if that can calm down a bit it will help. I really loved the course.”
Another New South Wales player, Lindsey Wright leads the Australian charge, currently ranked 67th in the world.
She has an outstanding 2009 when her ranking rose to a career-high 11th, finishing runner-up in the LPGA Championship and fourth in the Kraft Nabisco the same year. This followed a stellar amateur career including runner-up in the US Amateur and NCAA Championship.
In just two years in the paid ranks West Australian Kristie Smith has already given an indication she will become a genuine force in the game. She won her first professional tournament in Canberra last year as well as a win on the Duramed futures Tour in USA before heading to Europe where she was 25th on the Henderson Moneylist including runner-up in Slovakia.
The other key Australians include Sarah Jane Smith and the experienced Karen Lunn. Smith finished 71st on the LPGA moneylist with a solid 2010 season where she made 10 of 13 cuts with a best of T14 at the LPGA Championship.
Lunn, 44, won the Portugal Ladies Open, her ninth victory on the LET but her first in more than 13 years. She won the British Open in 1993 and played the LPGA Tour for seven years before returning to Europe. 4Lunn is not only a prominent figure on the course, as chairman of LET Board for the past five years and also involved in television commentary.
Two rookies, Alison Whitaker and Stacey Keating, are also out to stamp their mark.
Victorian Whitaker recently secured conditional status on the LPGA Tour following an impressive collegiate golfing career at Duke University during which time she was a semifinalist in the US Amateur.
Keating is the current Australian amateur champion, beating New Zealand’s Cecilia Cho in last year’s final, and finished fourth in final qualifying for the LET in an impressive display.
The Pegasus New Zealand Women’s Open is a co-sanctioned event with the Australian Ladies Professional Golf and the LET, held at the Pegasus Golf & Sports Club, just north of Christchurch.
Full details: http://www.nzopen.co.nz/